As his flight to Naples lifts out of Gatwick this morning Andre Villas-Boas could be forgiven for gazing out of the window and giving silent thanks for Arsène Wenger and his determined efforts to wrestle back for Arsenal the mantle of the Premier League's "crisis club" every time it looks like Chelsea have the title in the bag.
The Chelsea manager is having a rough time of it at the moment but, when the bleakness of that home draw with Birmingham City on Saturday in the FA Cup fifth round threatened to overwhelm his club, Arsenal went one worse. Four hours later they were eliminated by Sunderland, thus blowing their chances of winning a first trophy in seven seasons.
Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, he does not have the track record in English football of Wenger, or the goodwill towards the Arsenal manager – albeit much of it is now running out. Let's face it, the young Chelsea manager may survive the season or he may catch a bad result against Napoli in the Champions League tomorrow that prompts Roman Abramovich to sack his sixth manager.
If that happens, we may never get an answer to all those big questions: whether the job was too much too early; whether he was the right man in the right club at the wrong time or whether you can really manage Chelsea if you are two years younger than Hilario. But one thing's for sure, if he is going out, he is doing it his way.
The press conference Villas-Boas gave on Thursday made a good deal more sense than many of the pronouncements of his predecessors who found themselves caught between powerful players and a demanding owner. Villas-Boas stuck it straight to his Chelsea players when he said that he did not really care what they felt, as long as he had the backing of Abramovich. "I'm not concerned about [what the players think]," Villas-Boas said. "I have the full backing of the owner and it is down to the owner to make the decision on how much further he wants to go with the running of the actual project... my authority is total, because it is the owner's authority."
Bravo, Andre. Someone had to say it. Slaying the beast of player power at Chelsea was never going to be easy but so much better to attempt to do so than just sit back, go with the flow and try, as other Chelsea managers have, to placate both the bolshie dressing room and the demanding owner.
For those who diminish Villas-Boas one can only respectfully point out that a manager who is prepared to take a hard-line stance with the Chelsea dressing room is exactly what the club has been needing since Jose Mourinho's departure.
It is curious that while everyone accepts that Chelsea's team has to be overhauled if it is to have any longevity, the first man attempting to do so without mollifying stars such as Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba is held up as a figure of fun.
Anyone can see that rebuilding Chelsea is going to take a good deal more resources. Villas-Boas was jeered at Stamford Bridge on Saturday for substituting Juan Mata and had to deny reports that Drogba had given the team talk at half-time.
If the price to pay for changing the club and ending the reliance on the old regime of players is one season without a trophy then would not Chelsea supporters accept that? If it takes two seasons for Villas-Boas to make the transition from relying upon the old boys of the Mourinho era to building a solid base for the next generation then so be it.
It may seem harsh on the likes of Lampard and Drogba, but that happens to be what football is all about. In the old days they would have been looking at the proverbial framed picture of a Spitfire, a testimonial and a sports shop. At least the modern game's rewards means that neither will ever have to work again if he so chooses.
As usual with Chelsea in the last three years, Guus Hiddink is the spectre at the feast. If Hiddink was serious about re-establishing himself as a manager in the top leagues, he would not have taken the Anzhi Makhachkala job.
Who knows if Abramovich will change his mind about backing Villas-Boas? In the meantime the manager has no choice but to press on, tell everyone that he has the owner's support, keep faith in what he is trying to do and, if it comes to that, at least go out on his own terms.
"Don't 'lose' the dressing room", so many managers are told. "S** the power of the dressing room" is, in effect, what Villas-Boas said this week, "this is what we pay you for so get on with it." Sounds good to me.Reuse content