At some point you just have to feel sorry for a coach…. regardless of team affiliation. The execution time is quickly approaching with bated breath and grim reaper fingerprints. This is the time where Roman Abramovich gets itchy on the trigger finger, picks up a cell phone from Moscow and calls the front office of Chelsea Football Club to let them know that Chelsea will no longer be requiring the service of Andre Villas-Boas. In the five years since Jose Mourinho left there have been six different coaches of Chelsea. Now two of these were interim head coaches, one coaching for only one game since there was no one else (Ray Wilkins). However, the mantra still remains in Chelsea.
“Win all the trophies you want, but your job isn’t secure unless you win the Champions League”
These aren’t all coaches that have failed. To be sure you had the dour Avram Grant and the slightly incapable Luiz Felipe Scolari, but you also have the intriguing reign of Carlo Ancelotti, in which he won the League and the FA cup and was still fired.
This information actually compares rightly to another club, Real Madrid, who fired their coach (Manuel Pelligrini) when he was performing a pretty decent job of coaching the assets in front of him. People tend to forget this but the 2009-2010 Real Madrid team actually had the second highest point total in the history of La Liga. Second to that year’s Barcelona team. They only lost 4 times in league, and had a ridiculous goal differential of +67. They were first in La Liga as late as the 30th week in the season (season only lasts 38). Of course they went out early in the Copa del Rey and were knocked out in the round of 16 in the Champions League. Despite the success on the field and despite the fact that the 2009/2010 Barcelona team ranks as one of the best teams in the history of soccer, Manuel Pelligrini was fired and his replacement was the indefatigable Jose Mourinho.
Somehow, I tend to think that if Abramovich’s pride could stand it, he would make the same decision as Real Madrid now. Except that he has tried to make the same decision. He hired the faux-Mourinho in his attempt to try to bully his way back into the final of the Champions League. You will hear people say that Villas-Boas and Mourinho aren’t the same coach, and to be sure there are differences; however if you step back and look at the coaching situation in abstraction Abramovich is basically the 55 year old divorcee whose blonde wife left him for a plummer so he goes out and finds a younger blonder wife to replace her.
Mourinho and Villas-Boas are both Portuguese. They both coached at Porto before going to Chelsea. They both had success at Porto, winning the league (in the case of both coaches) and winning the European competition in which they were entered (Champions League for Mourinho, Europa League for Villas-Boas). Villas-Boas was 33 when he took over at Chelsea and Mourinho was 39. Mourinho had 4 seasons of head coaching before getting the Chelsea job, Villas-Boas had three. Villas-Boas was a staff member/assistant under Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. There are far too many coincidences to simply think that Abramovich was looking for a warm body to fill the spot in Chelsea.
However, along with his predilection for Portuguese coaches, Roman also has a bit of a tickle for overpaying for strikers. In 2006 he picked up the now infamous Andrei Shevchenko for 30 million pounds. You could say that it was mutual disagreements, you could say it was transfers or playing style but later Mourinho took the fall for Abramovich’s poor decisions and was out. Last year Abramovich picked up Fernando Torres for 50 million pounds, and it appears that once again the coach will take the fall for the owners poor decisions. The problem here hasn’t necessarily been scoring, the problem really has been Chelsea’s increasing creakiness everywhere else. As of the start of the 2011/2012 season, Chelsea had an average age of 26.8, oldest in the Barclay’s Premier League. They only had three senior club members under the age of 20, and were still relying on the old stalwarts of Cech (29), Terry (30), Cole (30), Ivanovic (27), and Lampard (33) to form the nucleus of the squad. If we add in some of the other players that frequently play, Malouda (31), Bosingwa (29), Alex (29), Anelka (32) and Drogba (33) we can almost see a starting 11 of Chelsea players over the age of 30. Now this isn’t to say that experience and age aren’t good things, however at some point Chelsea are going to need to get dramatically younger. In the 2005-06 season (Mourinho’s second to last) there were only three Chelsea players 30 and older (Crespo, Makelele, and Cudicini).
The problem really might just be that Villas-Boas has been given a team of players that are rapidly approaching (if not on) the backside of their career. Yet, he will (of course) get the blame. This is the downfall of being a manager, you set the players out in their positions and find out that your team is lacking. Certainly this isn’t to absolve Villas-Boas of criticism, because it seems that at times he isn’t quite sure what he has with this team. Between 2009 to 2011 Chelsea had a Goals Allowed of 32 and 33. Already this year they have allowed 17 and scored only 28, a goal differential of +11, and we aren’t even half way through the BPL year. In 2009-10, during the double winning season with Ancelotti, they scored 103 goals and had a +71 Goal Differential. During that season Drogba had 29 goals in the league. In the next two seasons after 2009 the age of the squad increased and the reliability of scoring and stopping goals decreased. It turns out that the hyper-mobile David Luiz is not particularly a great partner for the non-mobile John Terry, and now defensively Chelsea have been exposed more this year. If you combine an aging squad short on goals this year with the purchase of a striker who has been almost a complete non-factor in the season AND a player who defensively doesn’t seem (right now) to be a fit with his partner, you have a problem with scoring and stopping goals.
In comparison to the teams that surround them Chelsea has one of the worst Goals Against record in the top 10 this year. The only teams in the top 10 of the league that have shipped more goals than Chelsea are Arsenal and Norwich. In comparison to another team currently dealing with managerial difficulties… (Sunderland)… Chelsea have let in 17 and Sunderland have let in 15 in the same number of games played. The biggest difference there is that Chelsea are still scoring goals while Sunderland are struggling.
Unless somehow the mighty “Who-Song” of Chelsea supporters has increased the size of Abramovich’s heart this Holiday season, Villas-Boas is seemingly heading towards the heap of Chelsea coaches who have tried, succeeded/failed and been fired. There is no disgrace in this for a young promising manager as awaiting him will surely be a post in a top flight league somewhere else. You can always change the manager, but the owner is a different situation entirely. It remains to be seen if Abramovich is getting a bit petulant with his football club, and whether the new financial rules (and minuscule dwindling of his personal fortune) will dictate Chelsea’s ability to buy talent in the future. It also remains to be seen if Abramovich can really compete with the new standard of leveraging club assets and oil sheikh money. However, right now it seemingly is another coach, and another unreasonable failure. And so… we wait…