Rory Smith: Is Villas-Boas heading the way of his predecessors?
A stagnating squad, transfer failures, faltering form. The Chelsea manager faces an unmistakeable sense of déjà vu
To Andre Villas-Boas, it is "a negative spiral". Carlo Ancelotti, seeking the comforting delusion of euphemism, referred to it as "a bad moment", even as it spanned 11 games and four months. Luiz Felipe Scolari denied it was a crisis. Jose Mourinho, ever different, insisted it had to do with eggs and omelettes. Chelsea, locked in a vortex of fear and doubt, have been here before. They are becoming the Premier League's ouroboros, a serpentine club condemned for eternity to eat their own tail.
The fates of his predecessors will provide Villas-Boas with scant comfort as Chelsea consider the possibility of being eliminated from this season's Champions League before Christmas; their Premier League form is such that they may be out of next year's before long, too. Under such circumstances, his employment into the new year would seem far-fetched.
The 34-year-old, though, will know the parallels run deeper than simply the demise of those spectres who haunt his post. Like Mourinho, Ancelotti and Scolari, he finds winter bringing discontent to players and staff, his tactics questioned, his attempts to re-energise the club asphyxiated. Villas-Boas is exhibiting the symptoms of Chelsea's chronic infection.
It is easy to identify the Special One's exit as the moment Chelsea stopped being a club on the brink of becoming football's newest superpower and reinvented themselves as a dysfunctional state. After all, Mourinho had won two Premier League titles and an FA Cup in his three seasons, only to find himself out of favour with Abramovich after a run of three games without a win.
As with all his successors, though, it is not the nosedive in form that precipitated his departure so much as the tensions behind the scenes. It is telling that Mourinho's dissatisfaction stemmed from clashes with Abramovich over transfer policy; as much as anything, it is the Russian's refusal to overhaul his squad that has ensured Chelsea are dogged by déjà vu.
Mourinho wanted to sign a central defender in January 2007 but was refused; Chelsea's spending had been done the previous summer, on Andrei Shevchenko, foisted on him by his owner. Together with the unwanted apparition of Frank Arnesen as head of youth development and Avram Grant as director of football, the Portuguese felt undermined. On 30 September 2007, he walked.
Luiz Felipe Scolari
The Brazilian, too, thought he was undone by Abramovich's intransigence in the transfer market. "Everyone knows he needed to make the team younger," said Acaz Fellegger, the former Portugal manager's spokesman. "The same team had been together for four years."
A side too old to change, a club unwilling to undergo a revamp of the playing squad. "Scolari had wanted Robinho but Chelsea didn't want to spend the money," added Fellegger. "Others were supposed to follow in the January transfer window."
They did not, and Chelsea's form collapsed. On 9 February 2009, Scolari was summarily dismissed. It was said he had lost the faith of his senior players. Not nearly so quickly, though, as he had lost faith in them.
It is the dark days of last winter that will haunt Villas-Boas most. Ancelotti, to some extent, only has himself to blame: winning the Double last year went a long way to convincing Chelsea that a generation of players bought largely by Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri could still compete.
The Italian, though, was not responsible for the departure of Ray Wilkins, his trusted assistant manager, and his replacement by Michael Emenalo, weakening Ancelotti's standing in the eyes of the players. Nor, it seems, did he wish the arrivals of Fernando Torres and David Luiz, for a combined £74m, in the January transfer window. In one fell swoop, Chelsea's squad was unbalanced and funds for reinforcements disappeared. The "bad moment" never really ended. Ancelotti was fired less than an hour after the season finished.
And so to Villas-Boas. He has failed to overhaul an ageing squad, partly through his own inaction – he has abundant say in transfer matters but failed to accomplish all he might during the summer – and partly through his inability to force high-earners out of the club.
His team lacks pace and intensity, as well as balance, testament to years of mismanagement in the transfer market. Their play lacks cohesion. Emenalo, now technical director, remains a powerful figure, while rumours persist that Roberto Di Matteo, his assistant, is neither happy nor popular at the club he graced as a player. The parallels are clear. All that differs is their fate. For now, Villas-Boas seems safe. History weighs heavily upon him.
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