Look, I like Andre Villas Boas. I thought and still think that he can do a long term job for us. In Chelsea FC though, there’s something called a minimum requirement. No manager has continued after not winning the league title. Jose Mourinho lost the league title in 06-07 and he was sacked as soon as 07-08 started. Avram Grant didn’t win the league and was a whisker away from winning the champions league and still lost his job. Scolari barely lasted half a season and he had to go. Ancelotti won the league and held his job. The next season he lost the league title and got dismissed.
AVB’s season started and progressed like Ancelotti’s second season with us and is now going worse than Scolari’s half season stint. In other words, in true Chelsea FC standards, he’s in ripe sackable form. We are struggling for the champions league spot, leave alone winning the title. Champions league will continue to be a dream this season too. I don’t think we can beat Napoli at home. And even if we do, I’m sure we’ll get knocked out next round.
Calling for the manager’s head is not unheard of in the Chelsea circles. That too when AVB’s season going this bad, you should only be suprised if we’re are not talking about it. There’s this familiar pattern – the media starts talking about it, the manager gets asked and he ignores it and talks about stability and consistency, the manager gets asked and he says it’s the owner’s decision and finally the manager gets asked and he says he doesn’t care and that he can get a job next day. AVB is now at the stage where he says that it’s the decision of the owner and that everyone agreed on the strategy, vision and plan for the club.
What they may not have agreed is that while we are trying to achieve the strategy we might not be playing in the champions league. For a club of Chelsea’s current stature, champions league spot is a must and a minimum. With van Persie not getting injured and our team morale going from bad to worse, the chances of our champions league spot are going thin.
Historically, we have shown a lot of energy and enthusiasm and have picked up form in March and April. We can still do that. But when that used to happen, the senior players were the ones who took the bull by its horns and turned things around. This time though, it’s the senior players that seem to have a problem. AVB and Lampard have gone to the media on each other. Though they were gracious in how they dealt with the media, the fact that this issue had to come to the media says that there’s certainly fire, the smoke of which we see.
The big change between last season and this season is the status of the senior players. Under Carlo, they were untouchables. Under AVB, that’s not the case. Last season, Carlo was firmly behind the senior players and that feeling was mutual. Senior players wanted Carlo to stay. Not surprising given that he gave them too much time on the pitch than they deserved and got his loyalty back. AVB talks business. He’t not afraid to say he will pick his best eleven and drop senior players. So when he says that and drops Lampard to the bench, the message is clear – ‘you’re not in my best eleven today’. That can be hard message for our seniors. I don’t fault AVB’s intentions. Like him, I feel senior players should be phased out. But what I don’t know or see is how AVB communicates this to his players. You can make or break a concept through poor communication. Probably, as fans, we’d never know how these managers commuicate to the players on a personal level.
Sometimes, it feels like some players want to make a statement that’s in contradiction with AVB’s plans. They seem to want to say AVB made a mistake with his approach. When players want to tell their manager ‘we told you so’, it always terrible for the club’s success in the success.
In the game against West Brom, Chelsea’s attitude was fine. It was as much as you’d need to beat West Brom away. But what was missing was that killer instinct. This thing called ‘killer instinct’ is a higher degree of attitude we currently possess. We need this ‘we gotta win this match or we’re dead’ mentality. And I’m super-certain that players won’t play with this mentality when things are not going well with their manager. It’s in fact impossible. Our attitude now is all about the efforts. The killer instinct is about the burning desire to convert those efforts into results.
Now some players are showing their passion on the pitch in such a way that you can’t doubt their commitment. But I’d say ‘thank you for the efforts, but until I see the results, your passion doesn’t mean much to me’. And that’s why I keep saying if I were to take sides between the rifting senior players and the manager – I’d go with the manager. This is no disrespect for the senior players. They are legends and their part to play in Chelsea’s history is probably over and they must realise that and move on. AVB is the future.
Sometimes players get too comfortable with the thought that the ‘buck stops with the manager’. It’s time that we start identifying where exactly is the problem. I still don’t think it’s a problem of abilities. Like I mentioned last season, this Chelsea team should be able to finish top four. Last season, the players had the full backing of Carlo, hence I was questioning Carlo more than the players. This season though, there seems to be a conflict between the players and the manager and hence I’m not going to go too strong on the ‘buck stops with the manager’. Is every servant of the club – players or assistants or managers – doing their best with the interests of the club? In the case of the manager, it’s easy. If the team doesn’t do well, it impacts him directly. But the same equation is not for the players. And some players can take full advantage of it. That’s why I don’t want to pile everything on the manager this season.
This could be the worst season ever under Roman’s ownership. I’d like Roman to stick with AVB. No matter where we finish on the table, I hope he backs his man. Like Real Madrid did with Jose Mourinho, give AVB the free reign on the players and the team. Jose had the pedigree but also Chelsea is not as big an institution as Real Madrid. If Real Madrid can do with Jose, we should be able to do with AVB. Allow AVB to restructure the team, identify clearly who are out past, present and future. Allow AVB to get the players he wants and let go the ones he doesn’t want. In short, let him manage.
Media would continue to make it painful for AVB. They will ask him after every match if he’s gonna stay, when was the last time he spoke to the owner, how’s his relationship with the players etc. I must say that AVB has dealt with pressure very well. There are times where he’s been a bit naive but on the whole, for the kind of pressure he’s dealt with so far, he could have broken down easily if he was not the man of character. He’s still maintained the dignity of himself and the people around him. He’s hungry for success. He doesn’t see Chelsea as a retirement plan. Roman paid fortunes to remove Carlo and hire AVB. And that’s not for him to deliver one trophyless season. AVB is meant for the long term. AVB is the future. I hope he is.