At the age of 33 he has shown all the signs to become one of the greatest. As a player he never had the talent to make it to the highest level, but as a coach he has exceeded all expectations, backed by plaudits of some of the greatest and a philosophy that encapsulates everything his employers strive to be.
In Chelsea’s hour of need they needed a new hero. The master has long departed the castle, and has with ease in his time away won the trophy that has eluded Chelsea for so long. The club oligarch has turned to a man whose youthful enthusiasm and attention to detail was a key to Mourinho’s success in the first years of the Russian’s tenure. Desperate for the Champions League, he has run through seven managers in the eight years he has been in control of Chelsea. Andre Villas-Boas is the next man in the revolving carousel of managerial talent. At the age of 33, he is tasked with the challenge of leading them to the greatest victory of all.
His credentials are beneath those of his successors, but this does not diminish his challenge or his confidence. Quite rightly, he does not give excuses. His skill, the personnel at his disposal and his funds (although diminished by Financial Fair Play) are just cause to achieve all his success.
His story has crowded a lot into thirty three years. He may not be the Special One, but he could be so much than that.
Born in Porto in 1977, Villas-Boas was part of an upper-class family with two sisters and a brother. He attended a wealthy private school where teachers remarked upon his absorption with football. PE teacher Jose Eiro spoke to the BBC and said that even in school he would be bringing in match reports of the weekend’s Porto game for his classmates. Despite the school’s academic leanings, football was the only career for Villas-Boas.
He was a member of the Porto sports club at the age of three, going on to become a obsessive fan of the football team. He played for Ramaldense, where he became a goalkeeper, where lack of talent saw him moved into midfield. It’s become common knowledge that he wasn’t very god, but the club captain argues somewhat for the negative. “He had great stamina. He talked a lot on the pitch – he was already working for Porto by then — and he always took up good tactical positions. “
The evidence is already there of Villas-Boas’s destiny. Although his original career choice was to be a journalist, he, not unlike Mourinho, looked for options to move into working at a club. The chance encounter with Bobby Robson would seal his path into coaching.
In 1994 Villas-Boas confronted the legendary Porto coach to question his selection policy. He then buffered the argument with an extensive report that impressed Robson to the point he took the young teen to the club to show him the workings. He then introduced Villas-Boas to Mourinho, the first encounter in a crucial relationship.
Robson was so impressed with the acute understanding of the game that Villas-Boas shared that he arranged for him to enter the FA’s coaching course to accrue his badges despite his tender age. He also organised a placement at Ipswich Town to gain experience in the field.
Villas-Boas moved onto a new course in the Inverclyde National Sports Centre where he spent fourteen years completing his C, B, A and Pro Licence. Villas-Boas took these qualifications into his first full-time job as technical director of the British Virgin Islands, where he aimed to improve the quality across the board in junior and senior level, a dedication remarked upon by the man who employed him, Kenrick Grant. “He made a plan for all the teams, youth to senior, and had a manual with tactics and training plans, full of information. He was great with computers too.” This meticulous approach would be replicated in his next role as scout under Mourinho’s technical staff. He was in charge for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, where a 5-0 loss to Bermuda ranks amongst one of his greatest learning curves.
Having stepped into the limelight as the youngest international manager in the world, Villas-Boas would move onto coaching the U19 side at Porto where the arrival of Jose Mourinho signalled one of the biggest power shifts in the European game in the last decade. Villas-Boas was offered a job with the senior team as a scout, where his perfectionist traits contributed to detailed opposition reports which would take days to prepare. Mourinho won the Champions League, undoubetedly with the help of some very meticulous dossiers, before moving to Chelsea and sending ripples through the English game. Villas-Boas was called “my eyes and ears’ by Mourinho and at the time Villas-Boas spoke to The Independent about his role at Chelsea.
“My work enables Jose to know exactly when a player from the opposition team is likely to be at his best or his weakest. I will travel to training grounds, often incognito, and then look at our opponents’ mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions and presenting a full dossier to Jose.”
This detailed approach to strategy echoes Mourinho’s own commitment and philosophy, and also earned Villas-Boas a sceptic reputation amongst other Premier League clubs, probably because the tactical side of football is not as widely acknowledged as more popular traits such as physicality.
Villas-Boas followed Mourinho to Inter, but it was time for the boy scout to became a manager.
Academica, languishing in the relegation zone, were ready to take a gamble on the ginger-haired protégé of Mourinho. The president of the club, Jose Eduardo Simoes spoke to BBC Football and said that he can “certainly imagine him winning the Premier League and Champions League in two years time”. This is because of Villas-Boas’s “capacity to motivate his players”. The two share a close relationship, a comment on Boas’s character as a generous, modest and polite person – a trait exlempified by his offer to Simoes to “watch Chelsea any time you wish”.
The two left on mutual terms as Villas-Boas returned to the club of his childhood obsession, FC Porto. At Porto Villas-Boas was a storming success, taking the club to a treble of domestic and European success in the Europa League. They were widely acknowledged for ruthless attacking play and domination of the league. Villas-Boas managed his side like a family, a fact recognized by right-back Pedrinho. “Outside of training he was more like a friend, always wanting to know about your family. Another thing that impressed the players was that he was always first to text you or call you if you got injured. If a player went into hospital for an operation, he would be the first visitor. He cared.”
Villas-Boas will need to quickly establish his leadership skills and man-management abilities in the ego-dominated environment of Chelsea. In recent years personalities like Drogba and Terry have dominated the club’s success on the field, which has led to a marked increase in their presence in the change room and off the field. Villas-Boas will need to win over the influential personnel if he is to be a success, while achieving the results required to match the owner’s ambition, all done in the swashbuckling style that many claim was a main factor in his move to Stamford Bridge.
Villas-Boas likes his teams to attack. This is the apotheosis of Mourinho’s match strategy. When he was on placement at Ipswich Town, the manager of the time George Burley said that his philosophy was “clearly influenced by Bobby’s love of attacking”. Villas-Boas sees the game as entertainment rather than the result-based approach encouraged by Mourinho, and this was resembled in Porto’s set-up, an asymmetric 4-3-3 where the teams was widely balanced and organised in defence, midfield and attack. It was, in a way, a traditional formation, where defenders defend, midfields link, and attackers attack. However, a key fundamental was overlapping fullbacks and creative expression. Villas-Boas does not set his team in a pre-determined play – he instead encourages freedom of choice.
“Players can only achieve their true potential if they are not shackled and are able to stand on their own two feet. Creativity in my players is important. I love the unpredictable part of the game. I strongly believe that players have to express themselves to their full potential, they must be able to make choices during the game.”
Villas-Boas will resemble a changing guard at Chelsea. Where previous managers were all well-versed in terms of accomplishments and impressive CV’s, Villas-Boas brings a much more inexperienced reputation to the party. This is after all only his third year of management. Much will rely on his treatment of the Chelsea dressing room. By winning over a squad that has been through turmoil, a revolving door of change and controversy beyond any other era in Chelsea history, he will go some way to establishing more success in his managerial lifetime.
The return of “Little Carrot” is an appointment delicately poised between success and failure. Villas-Boas has all the keys to the success that Abramovich and all the Chelsea rapport crave – it’s now down to the most expensive manager in history to unlock the door.