Chelsea owner Abramovich demanded explanation of AVB’s Napoli game team selection
CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas revealed he had to supply an explanation of his team selection against Napoli to owner Roman Abramovich via technical director Michael Emenalo.
Villas-Boas explained why he left Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole out of Chelsea's starting line-up in the 3-1 defeat, and is adamant both that he picked the right team and that he retains the support of Abramovich.
His future, though, is on a knife-edge, with indications that Abramovich’s camp is genuinely split on whether he should remain manager.
The fact that Abramovich preferred to ask questions of Villas-Boas through Emenalo, and other confidantes, hardly appears encouraging. Given his limited coaching career, Emenalo’s senior standing at Chelsea has long been the source of outside bemusement but he is particularly close to Abramovich.
“I have not spoken to him [Abramovich],” said Villas-Boas. “I have spoken to persons near to him. He is disappointed about the result and asking questions about how we set up the team and they were duly explained.
“I spoke to the people close to the owner to transmit the message. People like Emenalo and these people. That is the normal way we communicate. He just wants to know the thought process.
“We shared ideas regarding what happened in the game but we still have 90 minutes to play and we strongly believe we can turn the tie around.”
Asked whether he had sought fresh assurances from Abramovich about his position, Villas-Boas said: “My assurance is my work and his words and my project for the following seasons. I don’t ask every day on the phone, ‘Am I going to be here tomorrow?’
“I don’t have any regrets regarding team selection against Napoli. I did the best for the team and it was the selection I felt was completely right. The team was well set up.”
The main surprise was Villas-Boas’s decision to start with both Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole — two of Chelsea’s most experienced players — on the substitutes’ bench.
Lampard outlined his annoyance directly to Villas-Boas but the Chelsea manager yesterday described his relationship with the club’s senior players as “very good”. He also denied reports that Cole had openly questioned his tactics in a team meeting.
Chelsea, though, have now gone five games without winning and Rafael Benítez, the former Liverpool manager, is in pole position to replace Villas-Boas if he is sacked. Benítez’s agent, Manuel García Quilon, said on Thursday there had been no official approach from Chelsea, but did outline the Spaniard’s desire to again manage a leading Premier League club.
If Benítez were appointed, it is understood that Chelsea would prefer a short-term contract until the end of the season when other candidates, such as Pep Guardiola and even Jose Mourinho, could become available.
Villas-Boas yesterday described Benítez as “one of the most successful managers in world football”.
Among the attractions of Benítez would be his experience and how, at Liverpool, he seemed to entice the best out of Fernando Torres Villas-Boas, though, rejected the suggestion that he was suffering at Chelsea due to the fact that he has had such a short career in management. “Ridiculous,” he said.
Villas-Boas did, however, take full responsibility for the club’s faltering form. “I have made a lot of mistakes, of course,” he said. “There is one person who takes responsibility. That is myself and the players don’t have to take it and they shouldn’t take it.”
Chelsea face Bolton in the Premier League tomorrow, with Villas-Boas seeking his first win at Stamford Bridge for more than a month.
Chelsea went 86 games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari but Villas-Boas questioned whether Chelsea’s home ground had ever intimidated opponents.
“When you go to any away ground there is always an emotional strength coming from the fans from that ground,” he said. “I don’t think there is a fear factor at the Bridge. I don’t know if there ever was a fear factor at the Bridge to be fair. There is a fear factor at a couple of grounds in this country.”
Villas-Boas then cited Old Trafford and Anfield as such places. Chelsea yesterday also confirmed that John Terry has undergone successful knee surgery, with their captain expected to be out for up to six weeks.