andre villas-Boas showed his first signs of frustration yesterday with Chelsea's struggling striker Fernando Torres when he said that the club were investigating comments made by the player that some of his team-mates at the club were "very slow" and partly to blame for his lack of goals.
Torres gave the interview during international week and it was replicated in English on his personal website although that version of it has since been removed. The 27-year-old, who is expected to come back into Chelsea's team tonight for their first Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen, said that the "older" players at Chelsea were "very slow", and that Juan Mata's arrival could change the team's style.
Having left Torres out of the team to face Sunderland on Saturday, Villas-Boas said that if the interview was "unauthorised" he would expect to fine the player. However, given that it was undertaken while the player was on duty with Spain, there is not likely to be any sanction from the club.
On Torres, Villas-Boas said: "We are going in-depth to regain the tape of that interview. We'll see if things play exactly as they are in that interview. We want to go in-depth a bit more. Anyhow, it's one player's perspective. I don't think it's a perspective that the manager shares. I don't have to share my players' ideas sometimes."
The version that appeared on Torres' website quoted him thus: "When I changed clubs I knew it was going to be a slow process, although I didn't expect it to be so long. Chelsea is, (of) the English teams, maybe the least English. They have a slow way of playing; to always have the ball makes the rival fall back easily so they leave no holes (space behind the defence).
"That is because of the kind of player Chelsea has: an older player, who plays very slow, who has a lot of possession and that's what the club is trying to change now."
Torres has scored just one goal in 22 appearances for Chelsea and Villas-Boas conceded yesterday that the striker was "not happy" to be left out of the 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light.
Didier Drogba has had dental surgery following his collision with Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy and Villas-Boas said it was by no means certain he would play in Sunday's game against Manchester United.
On leaving Torres out of Saturday's game, Villas-Boas said: "I didn't tell him he was part of the rotation. I just made the changes. Any top player who's not part of the squad, or the selected players, is not happy. I'm glad because maybe you can stimulate them to go one step further, or motivate them a bit more. When they come back into the first XI, they can still perform. Not that that was the case, but generally."
His decision to drop Torres was a bold move and, as such, it had to work. It certainly did, but almost too well because in Daniel Sturridge, who scored a brilliant second goal against Sunderland, Villas-Boas now has a young player who could potentially be to Chelsea what Javier Hernandez was to Manchester United last season. But can the manager afford to play him at the expense of Torres?
The likelihood is that Sturridge, who was suspended for the first three league games of the season, will operate wide of Torres tonight in Villas-Boas' preferred 4-3-3 formation.
In an ideal world, with Drogba injured and Torres out of form, Villas-Boas would no doubt like the option of deploying Sturridge as a centre-forward with two natural wingers either side of him. But he knows he has to persist with the £50m Torres.
Torres, and his awful goalscoring form, is the elephant in the room and until that improves a tension will exist in the team. The Champions League, Villas-Boas claimed yesterday, is harder to win than the World Cup and it certainly does not make it any easier when you are trying to accommodate an expensive out-of-form striker and an extremely ambitious owner while maintaining the balance in a squad bursting with egos.
On the targets agreed with his ever demanding owner Roman Abramovich when he took the job this summer, Villas-Boas was unwilling to expand. "I don't think it's fair to share those conversations (he had with Abramovich). Let's put it generally: we must try to win all the competitions we're in, with a certain flair and style. That's our priority. (The Champions League) is the most difficult to win, for sure. I don't think I'll be judged on it."
In the Champions League, there is a fine line between a manager looking like a genius and finding himself out embarrassingly early in the knockout stages as Carlo Ancelotti did in his first season at the club.
It will be no different for Villas-Boas in the new year when he is -- barring a disaster between now and Christmas -- into the business end. There is one school of thought that Ancelotti never recovered, in Abramovich's estimation, from the defeat to Inter in his first season.
"This club has been present in semi-finals, one of them (lost on penalties) and we came close in the first one against Liverpool," Villas-Boas said. "Then they (Chelsea) made it to the final, where they merited it. They were close again when Barcelona reached that first final. I don't want to repeat myself, but we've been close to getting it. We just try to be close again this season to go all the way."
However, as Villas-Boas knows but is too smart to say, he has not been brought in to get close to winning the Champions League. He is there to win it. (© Independent News Service)
Chelsea v Bayer Leverkusen,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 7.45