If Chelsea are in transition, the old stalwarts must accept change
Villas-Boas' fresh ideas may struggle to see light of day, says Dion Fanning
Chelsea players woke up yesterday to reports that Petr Cech is one of the players Andre Villas-Boas plans to discard next summer, if there is a next summer at Chelsea for Andre Villas-Boas.
Yesterday's victory at Newcastle allowed the manager to continue to talk up the transformative effect that December could have, but Tuesday's game against Valencia in which they need a win or goalless draw could change everything again.
Villas-Boas has plans for Chelsea but if you can make God laugh by telling him your plans, you'd probably get a smile from Roman Abramovich too if you tried to explain where you see yourself in five years.
There were encouraging performances from Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge at St James' Park yesterday in a game that was preceded by the most moving tribute to Gary Speed.
Cech made key saves for Chelsea and John Terry gave one of those comic book Lionheart performances that bordered on parody. But he was needed, especially early on as David Luiz struggled. When referee Mike Dean failed to send him off, it looked like it would merely prolong the misery for the young defender. Later in the half Terry swept a ball away but it hit off Luiz and appeared to be falling into the net until Cech tipped it away. Terry and Cech high-fived, while Luiz, who was blameless for once, tried to keep a low profile.
This is the new wave. AVB resembles Guy Pearce's character in LA Confidential, a "college boy" of high intelligence and some ideals who collides with other members of the force who are more ambivalent and more compromised. Russell Crowe would make a very good John Terry.
Terry sometimes acts as if he believes he is playing the role of John Terry. Yesterday he played it to good effect. If some of the dramatic lunges and head-splitting dives are unnecessary, he would say it's because he remains in character at all times. With his base instincts and his often misguided passions, Terry, like Bud White, inhabits a different world to the cool intellectuals like AVB.
Arsene Wenger says AVB must persuade the senior players, but Villas-Boas does not have a player like Tony Adams, who was at the most fundamental turning point in his life when Wenger came along and was willing and open to new ideas.
Villas-Boas continues with his plans, confirming yesterday that Alex and Nicolas Anelka have been placed on the transfer list after a conversation that was "fair and direct".
It was so direct that neither is training with the first team. After "recent results and form we have decided to try to get the group together and we have decided to assign different training times for them," Villas-Boas said, concealing in his cold technical speak the reality that the pair have been discarded.
The rebuilding of the team at Chelsea is like an architectural competition run under Stalin: you can win the prize but you might not be around to see the completed work.
In January, Ancelotti was the manager when Chelsea spent £70m on Fernando Torres and David Luiz. Ancelotti might not have had much to do with the signings, but he wasn't given long to work out what to do with them.
Mata has settled in quickly but AVB is struggling to work out what to do with Torres, as Torres struggles to work out what to do with himself.
He will now only star in showreels which demonstrate what happens to a striker who has been denuded of all confidence. Torres seems to have added muscle to his build but it can't conceal his insecurities. If the stories of his isolation at the club are true, then the gym would seem like a good place for a loner to be. He was the central aspect of Chelsea's first rebuilding plan, but now he hangs around unloved.
Villas-Boas claims to be unconcerned about Luiz, stating yesterday he would be voted the world's best defender within a couple of years.
Terry, who has his own problems, must wonder what is going on. He is seen as the dinosaur who needs replacing, but the replacements are bewildered and raw.
Villas-Boas, to his credit, insisted there could be no talk of transition at a club like Chelsea. But he has his methods and for his methods to work, he needs his players.
If he can survive the defeats and his own naiveté, he might make it to the summer but he will need to get through Tuesday night first. Exit in the group stages of the Champions League and Abramovich might announce a new winner of the competition to rebuild Chelsea.
When Inter Milan hired Gian Piero Gasperini in the summer, there seemed to be some shock that a man who was devoted to one tactical system continued to play this system even if it didn't suit the players. Gasperini might have assumed he would be allowed bring in the players to suit the system but instead he was fired.
If Chelsea are a team in transition, then there needs to be some understanding that there is going to be change. Few seem to grasp that.
Abramovich has not yet gone through managers at the rate of Inter's president Massimo Moratti, but give him time. At Chelsea, he's the only one likely to get it.
Sunday Indo Sport