'Mini-Mourinho', who is only just older than Drogba, has his doubters
Villas-Boas won the treble with Porto last season, but is the young coach the right man for Chelsea? Sam Wallace reports
The journey that has taken Andre Villas-Boas to the brink of becoming Chelsea's new manager has all the components of a football fairytale. The teenage notes that Villas-Boas wrote to Sir Bobby Robson when he was his neighbour in Porto; the apprenticeship with Jose Mourinho and then the success last season at Porto achieved at the age of 33. He is only five months older than Didier Drogba.
But there is no doubt that Roman Abramovich's latest managerial appointment, beaten only by the hiring of Avram Grant in September 2007 for its sheer left-field quality, is also a huge gamble.
Where did Villas-Boas come from? It is a good question because, despite his stellar season at Porto over the last nine months, there is an argument in his native Portugal that he would never have got that job were it not for his association with Mourinho. Villas-Boas and Mourinho may no longer be on speaking terms but the connection paid dividends for the younger man.
This time last year, Villas-Boas had managed just 23 games in professional football. That was at Academica, a team from the university town of Coimbra which he took over in October 2009. He managed to keep them in the top flight with a record of eight wins, nine defeats and six draws. It was a creditable effort but the reward for Villas-Boas – the manager's job at Porto – was extraordinary.
He was given the job partly because Pinto da Costa, the club's president, believes in picking young managers and also because of the attraction of appointing a coach who had worked with Mourinho at Porto and Chelsea. From there on, Villas-Boas's rise has been sensational.
Porto won the league undefeated last season by 21 points from Benfica in second place. They also won the Portuguese Cup and, last month, the Europa League final in Dublin. Until the end of last week, it was anticipated by Porto that he would take his boyhood team into the Champions League next year, with five new signings that he had requested. As a result, Porto are furious that Villas-Boas is now leaving and that he is likely to take striker Radamel Falcao with him.
When he took over at Porto last summer, Villas-Boas made just two changes. Raul Meireles, who left for Liverpool, was replaced with Joao Moutinho. Nicolas Otamendi replaced Bruno Alves. Those who watch Porto closely say that the big question over Villas-Boas is whether he has proved himself capable of building a team at a big club rather than just finessing what was already there.
So who is Villas-Boas? He never had a playing career of any note. He is married with two daughters. He has an English grandmother, Margaret Kendall, originally from Cheadle in Greater Manchester, who moved to Portugal to start a wine-business and who partly accounts for his flawless English. He had ambitions to be a sports journalist before a number of opportunities in coaching presented themselves.
He is a Formula One fanatic. He has said in the past he would like to manage in Chile, Japan and Argentina because, he believes, a career in management is more about a manager's cultural experiences than just picking the biggest club and the biggest payday. His press conferences can last for up to an hour and a half.
As a coach he sees his style as less dictatorial and more liberated than Mourinho and he does not take himself as seriously. Joking in one interview that a manager can only work with the talent of the players he has, he speculated what might happen to him with a lesser team. "I am not the Special One. Maybe, then [with poorer players], I will be the Shit One."
His fall-out with Mourinho came when, having moved with his boss to Internazionale, Villas-Boas asked to be promoted ahead of Rui Faria to the No 2 job. He gave Mourinho the ultimatum that he was either promoted or he would leave. Mourinho told him to leave and contact between the two has dwindled away since then.
He is well accustomed to being characterised as a "Mini-Mourinho", or a Jose clone, and, in their common lack of a playing career, there is a parallel. But Villas-Boas is much lower profile and less likely to court controversy.
The pair's falling-out is so extensive that the deal to bring Villas-Boas to Chelsea was not thought to be negotiated by Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese super-agent who represents virtually every major Portuguese player and coach, including Mourinho. It is understood that Mourinho would not sanction his agent working for Villas-Boas.
How did it all start? Villas-Boas was given a job as a scout by Robson when he was still a teenager when he petitioned the then Porto manager, who lived in the same apartment block, with notes – often focusing on why he had dropped the player Domingos Paciencia. In a twist of fate it was Domingos, as he is known, who was Villas-Boas's opposite number in last month's Europa League final against Braga.
Early in his career, Villas-Boas lied about his age to get on a Football Association coaching course at Lilleshall. He also lied about his age to the British Virgin Islands football federation who appointed him as the manager of their national team in 2000.
It was not until he returned to Porto that he met up with Mourinho. Villas-Boas was already at the club when Mourinho took over in 2002 and, along with the goalkeeping coach Silvino Louro, he was one of only two existing staff who became part of the inner circle along with Faria and Baltemar Brito, whom Mourinho brought in. All four went to Chelsea with Mourinho in 2004.
As the opposition team scout, Villas-Boas was not nearly as visible at Chelsea as the likes of Faria and Brito, who sat alongside Mourinho on the bench. Villas-Boas had a brief spell of notoriety when Frank Rijkaard tried to punch him after a tempestuous game against Barcelona in 2005 and it was Villas-Boas's testimony that contributed to the Anders Frisk saga in the first leg of that tie.
Then he was just an eager young man who sat at the back of the dugout. But later this month, Villas-Boas will walk into a changing room full of the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Drogba – all of them only just younger than him – and try to emulate once more the achievements of the man who built this great Chelsea team seven years ago.
The young one
If Andre Villas-Boas is confirmed as Chelsea manager, he will be younger than his reserve goalkeeper and marginally older than his key first-team players.
Hilario 35 years, 8 months
Andre Villas-Boas 33 years, 8 months
Didier Drogba 33 years, 3 months
Frank Lampard 33 years, 1 day
Paulo Ferreira 32 years, 5 months
Nicolas Anelka 32 years, 3 months
John Terry 30 years, 6 months
Villas-Boas would join with momentum. Last year, his Porto team:
* Won the Portuguese title by 21 points, winning 27 games and drawing three
* Won the Portuguese Cup
* Won the Europa League
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