Thursday 14 December 2017

Plotting players 1 Villas-Boas 0

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

'Our poor sequence of results stretches back more than three months and there has been little sign of it coming to an end... we are in a results-driven industry and felt we had no choice but to act now."

Roman Abramovich would probably agree with the sentiment, but before appointing Roberto di Matteo to take charge of the club until the end of the season, he would have been wise to read these words from Jeremy Peace, the West Brom chairman who sacked Di Matteo 13 months ago.

At that point, West Brom had lost 13 of their previous 18 games in all competitions and had just one win in 10, but despite only being outside the relegation places on goal difference there was the usual nonsense that the sacked manager just 'needed more time'.

Those who held that opinion would have been brave to repeat it on Saturday as Di Matteo returned to the Hawthorns and saw West Brom go 10th in league and closer to Chelsea on points than they are to relegation. It turns out what West Brom actually needed was a decent manager.

Bizarrely, though, it's that defeat to his former club that has earned Di Matteo a promotion at Chelsea, and he now finds himself in the peculiar position of being not good enough for West Brom a year ago, but now the man to lead Chelsea through one of their most important periods since Abramovich took over.

Maybe it's all part of a masterplan by the Russian to test his players and, if they fail to make the Champions League, he'll be justified in dumping them. With so many of them seemingly having the ear of the owner, though, that scenario appears unlikely.

Instead they've got rid of a manager whose victorious campaigns in the Europa League and Portuguese League are now being used as a stick to beat him with by the 'best league in the world' brigade.

"Our football is extremely different to Portugal," said Ray Wilkins yesterday. "No disrespect to Porto, but it can be a breeze winning titles with them. It's not as hard. The Premier League is an extremely hard place to be."

So in that "extremely hard place", Chelsea have got rid of Andre Villas-Boas due, in part, to the lack of experience he has picked up in his 34 years and replaced him with a 41-year-old whose greatest managerial experience was getting West Brom promoted from the Championship.

If overachieving to gain promotion to the Premier League is the criterion, Mick McCarthy must be annoyed not to have got a call.

Villas-Boas' greatest problem was that while Jose Mourinho had Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to build a team around, Villas-Boas also had Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba to build a team around. And time has moved on by seven years.

Youth and experience is a combination which many squads set out to achieve but, in Chelsea's case they have conspired to produce the worst of both worlds. They have the younger players who aren't good enough to push the older ones out of the way and start a new era for a new manager, and older ones who are good enough to produce the goods on an occasional, eye-catching basis but who can leak stories and set an agenda that suits their cause.

"The manager's been different class... he has complete respect from the whole squad," said Terry of Luis Felipe Scolari, two months before he was sacked amid rumours that he had, in one of the great modern cop-out phrases, 'lost the dressing-room'.

"He's got my full support. I love Carlo," the Chelsea captain said of Carlo Ancelotti, 10 days before the Italian was given his P45.

Of course, Terry doesn't do the hiring and firing but, other than Abramovich and Mourinho, nobody has had more influence at Stamford Bridge in the last decade. Next on that list would be Frank Lampard, whose inability to retain possession or control a game hasn't stopped him from being lauded by the press on the rare occasions he did something right.

Earlier in the season he came off the bench to score a penalty against Manchester City that, judging by the reaction of Lampard's admirers in the press corps, couldn't have been scored by anyone else in the world.

Lampard described his relationship with Villas Boas as "not ideal" while Ashley Cole briefly forgot his plan to do as little as possible against Napoli by getting back on the line to keep Chelsea in the tie.

Cole was lauded for his professionalism, while his ignoring of the manager's instructions and a performance that was just above the level of a stroll was swept under the carpet.

At least Roy Keane gave Alex Ferguson the perfect excuse to ship him out with his MUTV rant but the Chelsea cabal contained far too many politicians to allow Villas-Boas the same opportunity.

There's an old saying that managers use when choosing an assistant: 'Don't appoint an idiot and don't appoint a threat.'

Villas-Boas couldn't have imagined that Di Matteo would be the man to succeed him but, when it comes to Chelsea, it seems there's nothing any manager can do about the threats in the dressing-room.

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