Callow Villas-Boas could never lay the ghost of Mourinho

Brought in to overhaul Chelsea's ageing team, the 34-year-old fell victim to the Stamford Bridge old guard, writes Jack Pitt-Brooke

Although Andre Villas-Boas has become the latest manager to exhaust Roman Abramovich's patience as Chelsea manager, he leaves as a man apart. While Jose Mourinho built a team, and Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti stewarded it, Villas-Boas's remit was destructive.

Brought in to change the players and the team, he was meant to be the first truly post-Mourinho manager. But the Portuguese's shadow is still so powerful at Stamford Bridge that his compatriot was trying to strip away everything that made Chelsea successful. Abramovich was happy to let him do it. But when the problems of transition saw Chelsea humiliated in Naples in the Champions League last month, and with their participation in next year's competition increasingly threatened, it became too much.

It would not be too generous to Villas-Boas to describe it as the impossible job. The impression Mourinho makes on football clubs is so deep that it is difficult to re-discover any momentum or motivation in his absence. The mess at Chelsea since 2007 is rivalled by the mess at Internazionale since that glorious European Cup final of 2010, again won by Mourinho. At Chelsea, he left a set of players with intense personal loyalty to him, with a style of reactive football taught by him. The successes of the post-Mourinho years, Hiddink's FA Cup win and Ancelotti's Double, were both based on the successful harnessing of that Mourinho side.

Villas-Boas was asked to do the opposite. He was to bring the transition that Chelsea needed, replacing the Mourinho model with his own dynamic, attacking approach which had been so successful at Porto last season. "It's not just a question of winning, but winning with a certain flair," he said at his unveiling. "Everyone likes attacking football. We are proud defenders of the beauty of the game. It makes no sense for us to get into a club like this and play dreadful football."

The plan was for a dynamic, Barcelona-inspired 4-3-3, with emphasis on passing and pressing, and all much quicker than Ancelotti's side. "Our game looked slow last year and we're trying to raise the speed of our ball possession," he said before his first game. "We just hope we can build a philosophy for ourselves over the course of the season that's different to what we had last year, and is a good one."

To help with this process, Villas-Boas bought two Spanish midfielders, Juan Mata and Oriol Romeu, and Portuguese Raul Meireles, whom he managed at Porto. Along with the Brazilian pair Ramires and David Luiz, and the £50m Fernando Torres, he had an alternative core to build around.

When, after the defeat of Wolves in January, some followed Villas-Boas's request that they celebrate with him, it was all post-Mourinho players: Romeu, Luiz, Meireles, Ramires and Jose Bosingwa. Villas-Boas never enjoyed the same relationship with the old guard.

The season started well enough. After an opening draw, Chelsea won three on the trot in the league. Even Torres was playing and linking well, despite a bad miss at Old Trafford when Chelsea were unfortunate to lose 3-1 to Manchester United. But they followed that with three more league wins and a 5-0 home defeat of Genk in the Champions League which suggested that the players were taking to the new system.

The turning point was a 1-0 defeat at Queen's Park Rangers at the end of October, in which Jose Bosingwa and Didier Drogba were sent off and John Terry was alleged to have racially abused Anton Ferdinand. Perhaps due to fragile confidence, perhaps due to fragile leadership, Chelsea's form never recovered.

Their next league game was even worse. The high defensive line, a foundation of Villas-Boas's tactical plan, was cut to pieces by Arsenal. Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick in a 5-3 win and the sight of Terry stranded on the ground, further up the pitch than he was used to, told the story.

Invincibility at home was a central part of the great Chelsea era. They did not lose a league game at Stamford Bridge between February 2004 and October 2008, a run of 86 games. Villas-Boas's Chelsea went on after that Arsenal game to lose at home not only to Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool but also, rather improbably, to Alex McLeish's Aston Villa.

Villas-Boas could never fully divest himself of what he inherited. Every time his new approach stumbled, with the players slow to adopt his methods, he was reminded of the enduring strength of the Mourinho plan. His best result as Chelsea manager was probably a 3-0 home defeat of Valencia in a vital Champions League game, achieved with a defensive approach and some throwback Drogba heroism. Or the 2-1 defeat of Manchester City six days later, won by a Frank Lampard penalty. Since then, Chelsea have won just three of 12 league games.

For all the fleeting effectiveness of the great Mourinho lieutenants Drogba and Lampard, Villas-Boas knew that his job was to wean Chelsea off that dependence. His answer, with Lampard, was to pick him in the easier games but not in the hard ones. That decision cost him on that infamous night in Naples. With Lampard on the bench, he put Ramires and Meireles in central midfield. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani tore them apart, and Chelsea lost 3-1. The Champions League is achingly important to Abramovich, and the evidence that they are further away from winning it than ever did not help Villas-Boas.

Likely elimination may be one thing, but failing to re-qualify is quite another. But the malaise at Stamford Bridge has infested their league form to the extent that a top-four finish now looks like a challenge.

By the end, only Abramovich's trust was keeping Villas-Boas in his job. "What will be the reaction?" Villas-Boas wondered last week. "It will be one of the two, a continuation of the project and full support or just the cultural pattern [of dismissals] that has happened before." As Villas-Boas has discovered, some things at Stamford Bridge are very deeply ingrained.

AVB: managerial record

Academica de Coimbra (October 2009 – June 2010)

P30 W11 D9 L10 Win % 36.7

In his first managerial role, kept the club in Portugal's top flight.


Porto (June 2010 – June 2011)

P51 W45 D4 L2 Win% 88.2

Completed a treble of trophies with Porto last season by lifting the Europa League in Dublin in May. Also was unbeaten in the league.


Chelsea (June 2011 – March 2012)

P40 W19 D11 L10 Win% 47.5

Despite his promising reputation lasted less than nine months.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape