Villas-Boas leads the way as cult of youth takes firm grip
Published 23/06/2011 | 05:00
In the eyes of Frank Lampard, it may be impossible to separate the spectacle of Mr Villas-Boas, newly elevated as Chelsea manager, from plain old Andre, the Jose Mourinho lieutenant once charged with nothing more onerous than dispensing DVDs.
To clarify, these DVDs were not intended for leisure viewing -- there are no recorded incidents of Didier Drogba having said: "I fancy 'Any Given Sunday' tonight, please" -- but rather as finely grained statistical breakdowns of each player's opposite number.
Thus was the image of Villas-Boas the scientist, the pillar of tactical erudition, forged. Whether Lampard or Drogba, both born within a year of him, can muster the suitable deference for their 33-year-old mentor appears scarcely to matter.
After all, if we supposed age had any significance, we ought to note that Villas-Boas became technical director of the British Virgin Islands at 21. Fair enough, the national team of this little archipelago are among the world's worst, losing their last game 10-0 to Dominica, but you get the idea: the man who cut his teeth there is a hyphenated byword for precocity.
Indeed, in the 19 seasons of the Champions League only two managers younger than Villas-Boas have even competed: Viktor Goncharenko (31) of BATE Borisov in 2008, and Ricardo (32) of Paris St-Germain in 1997. Both failed to escape the group stages, which will not be permitted at Chelsea. But age, said one of the Premier League's youngest-ever managers, should not prevent Villas-Boas being successful.
But Villas-Boas embodies management's cult of youth. Across Europe the trend is the same, as clubs in need of a revival look to a charismatic talisman, preferably under the age of 45, to sweep away disenchantment in the dressing-room. At Roma, the answer is Luis Enrique, once of Barcelona and appointed at 41 to the task of leading the Italian club back to the Champions League.
Markus Babbel, likewise, has had no cause to look back since leaving Liverpool in 2004. An instant success in the dugout, he led Stuttgart to third place in the Bundesliga before moving to second division Hertha Berlin, guiding them to promotion in his first season. It is some CV for an efficient, if hardly exceptional former centre-back not yet 39.
Then there's Temuri Ketsbaia -- beloved at St James' Park for scoring an extra-time goal against Dinamo Zagreb which took Newcastle to the top tier of European football for the first and hitherto only time in their history.
But it was his work with Anorthosis Famagusta, based in Greek Cypriot Larnaca but named after its original home in the Turkish quarter, which sealed the greater distinction.
Anorthosis had seldom even heard of the Champions League before Ketsbaia, possessed of a manic zeal, was exhorting them in 2008 to a 3-3 group-stage draw against Inter Milan -- managed at that time by the ageless Mourinho.
At 45, he may be fulfilling a childhood dream as manager of Georgia, his homeland, but a higher calling surely beckons.
We ought not to discount, either, the managerial record of Leonardo on both sides of the Milan divide. This urbane character is still, lest we forget, just 41. Or that of Laurent Blanc, four years the Brazilian's senior and with a French league title to his credit at Bordeaux, not to mention the kudos of taking France to top spot in their European qualifying group.
The comparisons need not even be confined to Europe. Out in the wastes of Utah, Jason Kreis, widely expected to be the successor to US coach Bob Bradley, became -- at 38 -- the youngest coach to lift the MLS Cup with Real Salt Lake.
Equally, Villas-Boas' ascendancy to the Chelsea job reflects an inclination in England, too, as Karl Robinson, aged 29, took over the mantle at Milton Keynes Dons from Paul Ince.
On Villas-Boas, Robinson was nothing but effusive: "If you have the opportunity to take on a big challenge, you have to face it full-on and enjoy it."
That much is guaranteed with the prodigiously talented Portuguese. Not many managers would risk alienating their childhood club by the alacrity that Villas-Boas has shown in forsaking Porto for Chelsea.
Perhaps the most telling statement of a curious affair was when Chelsea claimed that he matched their "ambition". If Villas-Boas is even fractionally in tune with Roman Abramovich's vaulting schemes -- which would seem to involve winning a minimum of four trophies at the first attempt, preferably with a couple of hundred sumptuous goals thrown in -- then his 33 years truly are an irrelevance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)