‘They are top, top players and they know what they can do for the benefit of the team but there is only one person that is responsible which is me.’
As the gathered vultures of fleet street press circled overhead AVB gave a nice retort on his own shaky future, it’s almost as if he’s lapping up all the grief he’s been getting these past few weeks. I do like Villas-Boas. He’s a young coach with some good ideas and principles on how the game should be played and seems a good guy. Personally I think he has the ability to turn around this abysmal run we’re on but, and it’s a big but, he can’t do it on his own. You can construe from his words that he is trying to take the increasing pressure and strain away from the players, piling even more pressure on his employment, but it also underlines the fact that the boss has been too often an isolated figure. He’s been isolated on the touchline, isolated from key players and isolated from the board. I feel sorry for him. His coaching team should be backing him, straining to put right the wrongs, but too often they’ve been noticeably muted. A common sight is for much of the coaching team sitting immobile on the bench with folded arms in front of that fit female doctor. It’s not good enough. Key, experienced players have thrown their dummies out over tactics and team selections when they should be looking at their own performances first and galvanising the club to some wins. The board have yet to come out and back the management, a slave to results and to the media frenzy for blood they’ve yet to spell out what exactly the bigger picture is or publically backed the coach.
This bigger picture, as we all know, is otherwise referred to as ‘the project’. As teeth-grindingly horrible it is to have your beloved club slowly falling apart being branded a ‘project’, that’s what we’ll stick with. What the actual three-year grand plan actually entails, unfortunately, is utterly unclear now. The season not only started with fresh promise but also fresh performances. It’s difficult to remember past the completely horrendous shifts of shit he’s put in these past few months but even Jose Bosingwa looked on his game back in August. Our play tried to emulate the high press and high percentage of possession play that Barcelona and Real Madrid do so well. For those early months we looked full of verve and offered great attacking intensity, even if there was the shadow of vulnerability at the back. Either way it looked exciting, it looked like the way the game should be played.
Then we hit a bumpy few months where results weren’t easy to come by and individual errors cost us dearly. The home game against Arsenal was the turning point. Five breakaway goals changed the philosophy, AVB’s project was put on the back burner. Gone was the high defensive press. Whether the midfield were working too hard, the forwards didn’t have the legs or the centre halves didn’t have the pace to leave room behind – the tactic was dropped. We conceded possession too. The keeper, who had been passing out to split centre backs, now thumped it up field. Passes became either more direct or too slow and sideways to penetrate. Caution was the mantra rather than adventure. Maybe the players wanted to win first at any costs or maybe AVB had taken stock and thought he couldn’t deliver his philosophy with the personnel. Which makes his refusal to blood younger players all the more confusing, disappointing and, perhaps in the fan’s eyes, so ultimately damning.
We’ve had a strong youth set up for a number of years now. The results in the FA Youth Cup are consistently high. Yet progress of the younger players into the first team has been stilted. In terms of transfers AVB did a brilliant job in signing young, quality players over the summer. He established an impressive younger spine in the team, Luiz, Ramires, Sturridge, Mata and, at times, Romeu. However this policy has also been disbanded. Lukaku has been only been able to snatch at minutes despite the poor goal scoring form of Drogba and Torres. Romeu’s impressive displays have been rewarded with omission from the match day squad. Bertrand has had so little opportunity it must be embarrassing for him, for Bosingwa to get the nod ahead of him is not right in any footballing sense – performance, position or even morally. Our best talent for many a generation McEachran and the tricky winger Kakuta, have been farmed out when they could have taken a chance to shine in a mediocre season. If the project is a transitional one, from the old guard to a new generation, why are so few of our young players actually getting opportunities? Why are poor personal performances (Bosingwa, Meireles, Malouda etc) rewarded by consistent starts and hungry players left out in the cold? Us fans aren’t as fickle as the press, we don’t want to get rid of the manager every time the results get difficult. It’s the revolving door of the manager’s office, the instability amongst staff and coaching ideals, the constant pressure to get results and rely on senior players, that have left us where we are in the first place. All Chelsea fans want to see is progress when instead it looks like we’re going backwards.