The AVB Doomsday Syndrome

So much promise....

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.

No caption needed...

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…

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by JGD on 2011/12/01 at 5:56 PM

    Abramovich is the rich daddy who buys his son outrageously expensive gifts that the kid doesn’t really want. Though we’re going to start seeing the purge of the old guard very soon at Chelsea. Drogba and Anelka are good as gone. Non-AVB guys like Malouda, Essien, Alex, Obi, and Ferreira might be shown the door as well.

    AVB has managed to snag a few of “his” toys (Mata, Romeu, and Lukaku) to go along with the promise of youngsters like Sturridge, McEachran and Kakuta. I’m also not going to judge AVB until the 2nd half. It’s not often that new managers can come in and hit the ground running. Look how a more experienced manager like Jol is performing at Fulham. And Jol has been given carte blanche to bring in whomever he wants.

    The key to AVB’s future at Chelsea ultimately hinges on Torres. He’s Abramovich’s crown jewel and if he can’t score goals, the buck will stop with AVB. Torres actually hasn’t had a bad year, he’s playing quite well off the ball, getting good touches. Unfortunately, Abramovich doesn’t pay him to get assists. If Torres doesn’t start scoring soon, it’s going to be trouble for management at Stamford Bridge. Again.

    Reply

  2. Posted by sparkie on 2011/12/02 at 1:00 AM

    As a diehard supporter of the Washington Redskins and Man Utd – I can’t help but compare the actions of Roman to Daniel Snyder of the Redskins. “The Danny” has made the same mistakes in buying more baubles than are needed – and the meddling costs the team. It’s an age old habit in pro sports – but is played out on a very grand stage in West London. Good drama – and it will be interesting to see if AVB can indeed remake this squad.

    The Torres experiment is beyond laughable and is getting uncomfortable.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Triz on 2011/12/02 at 4:42 AM

    Q; A general has short distance gun while his opposition has long range guns. What kind of battle does a general want? a)close range b)long distance. If you said b then you might be the next AVB. AVB is intent on playing his style whether it suits his team or not. Chelsea’s avg age is 26.8 currently and the average age of treble winning Inter Milan of 2010 was 29.6. So age alone isn’t the answer. Even ManU of last years with Scholes & all wasn’t that young.

    Is Mourinho playing Real Madrid the same way he played Inter Milan? No. Real Madrid almost average 3.5 goals per game. As a coach you play to your team strength and if you want to change style you slowly get the tools (players) to play that style. What AVB is doing is embarrassing his current crop of players by sticking to his naive notion. I bet this way he will loose (if he hasn’t already) the respect of the locker room.

    Reply

  4. Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/12/02 at 10:58 AM

    I know age is a popular talk track in the media and I don’t mean to argue with the author but….

    It seems to me that age is more of a long-term problem, like what will happen 3 years from now. The age doesn’t seem to be an issue at this point in time…

    Cech is 29 – Friedel is 40+, a top level goalie can play well into his mid-late 30s
    Cole and Terry are 30 – maybe heading to a decline but 30 is not all that old for a defender
    Ivanovic is 27 – seems to be prime for a MF.

    I don’t want to go through everyone but it seems to me that AVB’s dilemna is that he knows he needs to blood newer younger players but he can’t risk poor results while someone like Lukaku comes into his own. This is not long-term sustainable.

    If AVB’s team was struggling because of errors from the new guys then the age angle would make more sense to me. AVB’s job is at risk because the old guard has played Chelsea out of title hopes already, has the in a precarious position towards CL knockout stage qualification and has made top 4 EPL position far from a certainty.

    Reply

    • “AVB’s job is at risk because the old guard has played Chelsea out of title hopes already, has the in a precarious position towards CL knockout stage qualification and has made top 4 EPL position far from a certainty.”

      This was essentially the point I was making. Chelsea hasn’t tinkered enough, gotten enough, had enough youth recently to know what they have. Granted Romeu and Lukaku are 20 and 18 respectively, and (as well) they have only been with Chelsea one season, but there doesn’t seem to be a bridge from the old to the new with Chelsea.

      Reply

      • Er, sorry should have finished above.

        “And this seems to be a problem with Abramovich’s obsession with players like Torres and Shevchenko, a focus on the now (or rather the past) than trying to build for the future. The problem becomes that Abramovich makes his coaches pay and then seemingly doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Although I will admit that this is harsh criticism for a squad that just two years ago won both the league and the FA cup.”

        Reply

      • Posted by BernieBernier on 2011/12/02 at 3:33 PM

        I am not sure I see the immediate connection between youth and results.

        I am unclear what the rationale is for tieing age and performance together. Yes Drogba has scored less this year than a couple years back but age is only one of the reasons. Drogba gets less starts with Torres on board. The team is more possession and quick move based with Matta on board.

        Is Terry slipping in skill or is Carvhalo much much better than Luiz?

        To me AVB’s job is at risk because Essien is hurt and Mikel is not good enough. The other main reason is that there has been no method to the madness of player signings. Its probably due to the constant turnover in management but what is the point of having both Torres and Drogba if you play a 4-3-3. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Torres and Sturridge and use the Drogba funds to get you a better winger than Malouda or a better holder than Mikel? Its not like they play the same style so that if one gets hurt you have a back-up. You have to totally different styles.

        Sorry for being testy, I just keep hearing the old age at Chelsea is the problem but I don’t get it.

        Reply

        • I don’t think it is youth and results, I think the problem is the players available and results.

          While it doesn’t help that some players are getting older, the biggest problem is that when there isn’t anyone to replace them that are really better. IE: the No one to replace Essien, Mikel not good enough, Drogba starting to slip and his replacement (to a certain extent) being Torres who just isn’t scoring goals right now, whether or not his movement is ok.

          So the Age thing is more an example of my main issue which is that Abramovich has made it so that AVB doesn’t have that many options to turn to.

          At this time I feel that Abramovich hasn’t set AVB out to succeed, and yet the manager is probably going to fall on the sword (if results go poorly).

          No worries about being testy, you have valid points re: the harping on age and I wouldn’t want to discourage passionate discourse.

          I don’t see the Age issue as being the defining issue, but the highlight of Abramovich’s purchasing habits over the last few years. Chelsea just hasn’t had very much in the way of youth recently to bring into the squad and effect games.

          The example of this are the recent transfers in:

          2009

          Sturridge (Who seems to be coming good)
          Matic – Gone to Benfica
          Zhirkov – Gone
          Turnbull – Keeper

          2010

          Benayoun – (bench player and loaned out)
          Ramires –
          Delac – Keeper
          Kalas – (on loan)
          Torres – (poor form and has lost some speed)
          Luiz – (to be determined)

          These acquisitions basically have given AVB Sturridge (for this season), Ramires and (when he plays) Luiz. Torres at this point has been too negligible for what has been paid. Same as Carroll for Liverpool at this point.

          Reply

  5. Gokhan Tore – why’d they sell him?

    Reply

  6. Posted by GeorgeCross [@BhasViswanathan] on 2011/12/03 at 6:53 AM

    You’d think Chelsea’s transfer targets would be decided by a panel, wouldn’t you? One thing to leave it to one man, but when Ambramovich chops and changes the manager as often as he does, the potential for dead would increases.

    The problem at Chelsea is that nobody has stayed long enough to be allowed to build a new team, transition some of the fading players out, whilst bringing in new blood. That hasn’t really been the job description. While Mata has been sublime, I haven’t got enough finger to point at the duds bought in the last 3-4 years. Not talking about wholesale changed, but the team does need freshening up, and a little more speed in certain positions.

    Reply

  7. Posted by John on 2012/03/04 at 7:25 AM

    ………and *poof* just like that…… he was gone…

    Reply

  8. [...] nicely with: Nyen: The AVB Doomsday Syndrome (December 2010) Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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