I felt sick. I felt there was something so wrong. I was even hoping that by some miracle it would be reversed. That’s how I felt when I learned that Jose Mourinho had left Chelsea. Rumours were flying days before but I refused to believe in those. Jose had just had his worst season with Chelsea – with a league cup trophy, a FA cup trophy and coming runner-up to Man Utd in the league by 6 points. I was hoping that Roman and Jose would patch up and we would start afresh. I knew I was being too optimistic but the news of Jose leaving Chelsea still hit me hard. That’s how I’m feeling now.
I can’t deny a word that’s on the official website about Chelsea’s performance, results or lack of improvement. The season under AVB has been disappointing to say the least. Our performance have been poor. Our results are terrible. We don’t seem to be improving. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. By Roman’s standards, AVB did get more chances and opportunities. Frankly, there were three or four results after which I was feearing AVB would get the sack. He survived all that but succumbed yesterday.
The big difference between the earlier dismissals and this one is, only AVB got himself into a power struggle with the players. His predecessors were senior-friendly and hence didn’t have the misfortune of a terribly broken dressing room with not only senior but also old players. Most of the earlier managers tagged along with the senior players and got their support and service. When things didn’t work out, it was a genuine gap of ability and never a question of commitment. Under AVB, quite clearly, you could see that players not wanting to play well. You could see players talking to the media on things they should not. You could see players being visibly upset or annoyed. Many of the senior players didn’t want to perform on the pitch for AVB.
My major gripe with Carlo was how he dealt with the senior players. He treated them like superstars and simply pampered them at the cost of results and development. When AVB came in, I expected him to treat players fairly and pick the team on merit rather than on seniority. I wouldn’t say AVB did a great job of that but he was certainly trying. We now gather that it was not easy for him to do this with the super-egos to deal with. AVB also did not cover himself with glory with the way he reportedly treated Anelka and Alex. That made things very nasty among the senior pros. I do feel that AVB was naive in his approach with the players and the media but to his credit he was trying. What’s surprising is that AVB’s style and approach to man management in Porto was very different. He was a players’ man. Some of the stories around his player interactions at Chelsea don’t match with his reputation in Porto. And even then, his approach was no worse than Fabio Capello with England.
The buck always stops with the manager. But the manager is well within right to expect some basic ingredients to build his recipe for success. One such basic expectation is that he gets players that are committed to the success of Chelsea FC. He did not get that. He wanted players who played for the pride of the club and at worst for the hefty weekly wages that they get – he didn’t get that. His tactics and plans mean nothing if the players decide to give anything less than 100%. If it’s a matter of ability and motivation, I’d have said it’s AVB’s job to get the best out of them. If it’s a matter of attitude and if that’s prevalent among senior pros, AVB doesn’t stand a chance.
This has been a terrible season and as always we’ve found a fall guy in the manager. I must appreciate Roman’s consistency with this. Everytime Chelsea falls behind, he’s sacked his manager. Almost sounding like ‘you’re the manager and you’re responsible for everything’. The age old management principle will tell you that responsibility needs to go with authority. One without the other is of no good. In Chelsea, managers always have the responsibility but not so much authority.
In Roman’s defence, what could he have done? He could have had the showdown conversations with the players and coaching staff – which he’s reportedly done a few times this season already. They haven’t quite worked. We need to improve quickly or we could miss the champions league spot by April. Something needs to change. To keep AVB on the job might only make things worse as we have some badly broken relationships. He could have taken the extreme step of relegating the non-coperating players to the reserve or something. Ill-treatment of Chelsea greats over a newbie manager from Portugal? Doesn’t sound like a popular idea. The easy way out is to get rid of the rookie foreigner managing the team over the senior pros that are the legends and greats in Chelsea FC.
AVB did make a number of mistakes. From his tactics to man management to media handling – it was exposed that he was not a seasoned pro. And that to manage a dressing room like this he needed to be more savvy in these areas and did come short. None of this should mean that he may not improve. I’m sure this Chelsea stint for him was a great learning experience for him in football management. One thing he did confirm was that he was not special. He had good ideas. He had vision. He got the right supporting team. He bought some good players. But the way he got himself in a messy situation and the way he dealt with the situation showed that he’s not special. He had a very ordinary season by all standards. Roman did exactly what he’d have done to his managers with similar records. If AVB had somehow managed to stay in No.1 or No.2 and had all these mini-battles going on with these players, he’d have got a lot of support from fans, media and the owner. Now, that’s an art – to let the players know where they stand and still get the best out of them while they’re here.
AVB also had the option of getting rid of these players in the pre-season and let no negative influences impact his project. Jose Mourinho got rid of a legends like Raul and Guti and replaced them with players like Higuain, Benzema and Khedira. He was much more organised in his approach. Probably, that’s the power of experience. Having hired a 33-year old manager who’s been in active football management for only 2 years, you can’t blame AVB for his inexperience. We knew that when we hired him. We didn’t just hire him off the street. The decision of AVB has cost us about £30m – Carlo’s severance package, AVB’s release clause and AVB’s severance package. And before spending such big money, we knew that he’s going to be short of experience and we should have known it will have some impact on how he deals with situations. So there’s no point no raising eyebrows on how naive he has been. But, what we did not sign up for was missing out on champions league football and now that looks like a real possibility.
Reports say that Roman had a long conversation with the players after sacking AVB. He seems to have blamed the players for AVB’s sack and that they should take equal responsibility for the mess that we are in now. That’s a bit of a relief to see that Roman has not put all the blame on poor AVB and has identified where the real problems lie. AVB reportedly also had issues with our reserve team manager because he wasn’t getting enough players coming through from the reserves to the first team. On the same vein, he sent Josh McE on loan, Romeu is disappearing and Lukaku is nowhere to be seen and let’s not even talk about the van Aanholts.
The issue with Chelsea FC is much bigger. Our success and failure on the pitch is a sum total of the effrorts of various parties – first team manager, first team players, reserve set up, youth set up, transfer policies, executive management and the owner. They all need to play ball. There can’t be lack of output or intent from any of these. Unfortunately for the manager, the culmination of all the efforts of all these parties is what we see on the pitch, for which the first team manager is supposed to be responsible. Not a fair world. If Chelsea had a sound youth system, if Chelsea had a number of young/reserve players waiting to burst into the first team, if we were making the smart transfers (had we bought Modric!) and the right contract negotiations – the output of the Chelsea first team on the pitch could be much better. And suddenly the first team manager would look so good. What AVB’s experience here would teach him is with the expectation management. Going forward, he’d insist on everyone playing ball or the expectations be set accordingly.
AVB’s not the first nor would he be the last to go through this disaster at Chelsea FC. He might have left us in a dire situation. I’d still give him credit for one thing – no one has ever brought the player power in the Chelsea dressing room as AVB has managed to. While other managers tagged along with the players, only AVB tried to do something else. We can debate all day long on what methods did he adopt. But the fact is, he tried. And the fact he tried would put a lot of pressure on under-performing players and bring a lot of skeletons out of the cupboard. For that, I’d thank AVB. The next manager would exactly know what led to AVB’s sack and would operate accordingly. Now, Roman also seems to have taken the hard stance on the players and their lack of support and co-operation to the manager. All these should mean turning a new page in this Chelsea journey. This summer should be the most crucial in Roman’s Chelsea. This summer we should see the old guard retiring, from football or to the bench, and a new playing eleven taking on the field – of which none of them would have won a premier league medal.
The weeks after AVB’s appointment were the best days of Chelsea in recent times. There was a feeling of relief, hope and excitement. We were really hoping AVB to be a long term manager that would lead us to the second phase of the Blue Revolution. I never thought back then that this could so short-lived. I feel really sorry for AVB. As a young and hungry manager, he must have come to Chelsea with some great dreams and ambitions. He left Porto where was already a hero and was being worshipped. But he left the Porto job while he was at the peak and he came to London for this massive challenge. He must have thought he would really take his managerial to another level with his Chelsea project. I hear that he was too obsessed with this project that he was working awfully long hours and was even sleeping in the training facility very often. Unfortunately his Chelsea dream has come to a crashing halt. I hope this was a great learning experience for AVB and he would definitely make it bigger in the football management world. And like it happened with the Jose, our paths could cross again.
I’d thank Andre Villas Boas for what he’s done for us and I’d wish him all the very best for all his future endeavours and I’m sure he will have a great career. Goodbye AVB!