Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Villas-Boas fired for breaking coaching's golden rule

And so Andre Villas-Boas is gone, cast to the recycling pile like a dapper cardboard cut-out in a suit that's slightly too small.

Roman Abramovich may as well have employed a cardboard cut-out, as he almost certainly would have performed better in the job with the highest expectations in England.

It's not that Villas-Boas is a bad manager – that's not even close to the truth. He's an excellent manager who, in this appointment, simply picked the wrong battles to fight. The result is that his head is now deservedly displayed on a spike outside Abramovich's castle alongside those of the myriad managers who've run afoul of Roman.

Villas-Boas' remit was to scratch his Russian patron's itch for beautiful football.

And to focus more on refreshing the squad with youth.

And, most importantly, to win – preferably the Champions' League.

As is the case with 21st Century management, employing a manager is to employ his style. It's now almost impossible to divorce the man from the method, and therefore Villas-Boas was brought to West London to play the same football with which his Porto sides traipsed through Liga Sagres and the Europa League.

That style of football, however, utilised a high defensive line which didn't suit a backline whose key components could be outrun by the Eastbourne Zimmer-frame Relay team. The Chelsea of 2011-12 wasn't built to thrive in such tactics, and the young boss didn't alter his methods quickly enough to stop the slide (!) into fifth place. In isolation he may have survived such tactical idealism, but when combined with an openly antagonistic relationship with stalwarts Lampard, Anelka and Alex, the thirty-four year old could not be persevered with.

Villas-Boas followed what has now become the management norm: steadfast adherence to one's tactical ideals is favoured over pragmatism. This is slightly disturbing, as it directly opposes the first rule of coaching: play to your team's strengths. This rule can be ignored only when working under an extremely patient overlord – and even then only occasionally. It takes time to adapt a team to a gameplan, especially when those players are as hard-nosed as John Terry; it takes far less time to adapt said gameplan to a set of world-weary multimillionaires.

It would have been almost impossible to resist overtures from noted sweet-talker Abramovich, but it appears now Villas-Boas should have twigged that he wasn't the best fit for the position. In sport, however, common sense often plays second fiddle to self-confidence. All of self-confidence, rationale, common sense and ambition are also easily concealed by the coin on offer.

The next manager to take the star cross'd position will have his own ideas how to play the game. For his sake, and for the heart health of the entire Chelsea fan base, he should realise the key to achievement – and therefore longevity – at Stamford Bridge is ultimate pragmatism.

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