So the curtain has come down on Andre Villas-Boas's brief, tumultuous reign. A young man thrown on to the scrapheap after just nine months in one of the most demanding jobs in club football.
It is hard to look at this inevitable news without sadness for the loss of hope for a bold and exciting appointment. Yet it will be tinged with relief that all of those involved are out of their misery.
After a period of great success for Chelsea but little managerial stability, the fans were desperate for a dynasty at the top. In Villas-Boas the ingredients looked perfect. A young man, shaped by a spell at Chelsea, already successful and the most exciting new prospect in Europe. It was seen as a coup by the fans, that the Chelsea squad needed a young prodigy to coax life out of ageing superstars and bring through a new generation.
The season did not start particularly well, against opposition Chelsea would expect to storm past, but the results were OK. Yet, what had been assumed to be teething problems – the laborious build-up, blunt attack and a surprisingly porous defence – actually proved a case of terminal decline. For months now, the Chelsea ship looked like it had run aground.
The play became slower and slower. The back four were experts at passing it sideways, but novices at defending. David Luiz's deficiencies are well documented. More alarming has been the decline of Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole. The midfield defends too deep, and was too easily passed around, no matter the combination. The less said about the attacking play the better. Fernando Torres needs a confidence transplant while Didier Drogba shows up when he feels the game is big enough.
There were rumblings of discontent about certain substitutions but the Chelsea faithful never really turned on AVB. There was no chanting for previous managers. Yet the lack of a game plan became ever clearer. In the stadium bars at half-time, all the talk was of transition. But to what? If young players had been given a chance, the supporters could have understood dropped points. Instead they were left unused.
AVB did not help himself, with a stubbornness that proved counterproductive. He would claim good performances when the opposite was true; was needlessly aggressive with the media and never listened to outside advice. By the end, the general feeling was the job may just have come too early.
Ultimately, he turned to his senior players to salvage his job. They failed him, badly. Recent games, especially away from home, have not been lost by tactics, but by a lack of passion, urgency and desire. What does that say about the professionalism of players who were recently among the best in the world? What does it also say about the prospects for a new manager?
The problem for Chelsea is that one season of transition could now easily become two. There will have to be a huge turnaround to remain in the Champions League and even hit fourth place. Do these pros really need a disciplinarian like Fabio Capello to scold them like naughty schoolboys? If Rafa Benitez is appointed, there would be the mother of all backlashes. Given the threats of torn-up season tickets, he may well be reshaping the team to a half-empty Stamford Bridge.
So who is the best man for the job? If he's available, it is impossible to look past one man who once made Chelsea special. Hopefully, he will do it again.
"I just feel sorry for Villas-Boas. The players and board should be culpable. Villas-Boas should still be in charge."
"Our football is extremely different to Portugal. No disrespect to Porto, but it can be a breeze winning titles with them. It's not as hard. The Premier League is an extremely hard place to be – he's been hanging in there."
"When you are in a transition year like that, I have a lot of sympathy for him. That is a really, really talented coach we have lost in this country."
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