It should tell Andre Villas-Boas something that on the day he renewed his attack on those television pundits he considers to be persecuting Chelsea, it was overshadowed by a disclosure that came right from the very heart of his club.
The story that Villas-Boas had told his players to include him in their goal celebrations, broken by The Sun on Saturday morning, was a classic training ground scoop, the like of which any newspaper would have valued. It gave an insight into the lengths that Villas-Boas was prepared to go to display an outward sign of unity and it also carried the faint touch of the absurd.
At least the club, to their credit, did not try to deny the story, obeying an old rule too often ignored that the conspiracy to cover up is often more damaging than the original disclosure. A Chelsea spokesman confirmed it was correct. "The manager has asked the players to look across and recognise him and his staff on the bench after a goal," he said. "He believes that by celebrating together it shows we are all in it together."
On the great range of stories a club would not wish to be made public this was at the less dangerous end of the scale. Embarrassing? Well, put it this way, even the most loyal Villas-Boasista would have to concede that there is something of the David Brent philosophy about instructing your subordinates to make public their loyalty to you. But one self-deprecating joke at his press conference tonight and Villas-Boas will put it to bed.
It is the wider significance of the disclosure that will concern him. An instruction he gave in the privacy of the training ground – ironically one aimed at fostering a greater sense of unity in the team – has leaked. On the day that he circled the wagons against the tyranny of Gary Neville, the problems again come from inside.
Tonight, as Chelsea go into a game against Manchester City that could turn their season, the scope of the task facing Villas-Boas is clear. For all his efforts to shift the focus on to the external forces that he regards as a threat to Chelsea, it is those within that bite the deepest.
He is manager of a team that is in the process of being rebuilt and a squad that has many key players at a crossroads in their career. Nicolas Anelka's imminent departure to Shanghai solves just one problem. To be manager of Chelsea in 2011 is to be governor of a troubled province with the potential for insurrection just about everywhere. That is even before you peer over the borders at the rivals who loom there.
Villas-Boas is an intelligent young coach with a work ethic that matches his ambitions. But he is in a race against time to rebuild this Chelsea team. He has to remake them in a fashion that is successful and loyal to him and he has to do it sufficiently rapidly that he is given another season by an owner who sacked his five predecessors.
In some respects his task bears comparison with the job Sir Alex Ferguson was faced with when he took over at Manchester United in 1986. Then, Ferguson was also a young manager, although a decade older then than Villas-Boas is now. He too was trying to push back against the dominant power of the time, in his case Liverpool. And crucially he realised early on that he had to get rid of a number of seasoned, popular players at United who had enjoyed relative success under his predecessor.
In those days, players such as Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath were big names in English football. Ferguson was not. But he recognised early on that he would be obliged to shift them to rebuild the club from the bottom up. The 44-year-old Ferguson of 1986 had enjoyed more success and experience than Villas-Boas has currently and unlike Chelsea now, United then had not won a league title for 19 years. But Ferguson was afforded more time to effect change by United than Chelsea's new manager can expect.
Ferguson is not the only precedent. Gérard Houllier did the same at Liverpool with the old brigade, primarily Paul Ince and eventually Robbie Fowler. Roberto Mancini has ousted the core of the Mark Hughes regime at Manchester City including Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy – a process so brutal and public at times that it might potentially have derailed the whole thing. But Mancini prevailed.
It is that old struggle to assert himself as the alpha male that every manager who takes on the restoration of a big club must win. If it sounds a bit like the interpersonal politics of the caveman, well, that is because it is.
Arsène Wenger approached the task in a different fashion with the Tony Adams generation at Arsenal, whom he convinced to accept his methods rather than get rid of them immediately, although he did that eventually. Either way, all these coaches observe that old rule of Ferguson's that, at his own club, "the manager can never lose an argument".
Should Chelsea inflict on Manchester City their first Premier League defeat of the season then Villas-Boas will have secured his most significant victory yet at the club. It will strengthen his position and bolster his credibility. Like all reformers it is inevitable that he will make enemies, but the alternative – going with the flow, changing nothing – is unacceptable to any manager with serious ambition.
Europa folly to the fore once more
The folly of the dismal Europa League format, the misconceived unification of the Uefa Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup, is nowhere better exemplified than in the case of Fulham who play Odense on Wednesday to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition in the new year.
Fulham have already played 13 games in the Europa League, having qualified via the Fair Play league, and they began their progress in the tournament on 30 June. By contrast, Manchester United and Manchester City enter the competition by dint of their failure in the Champions League. Only in the Europa League is the entrance of two teams, largely indifferent to their participation, regarded as a boost to its importance.
Capello's targetmen miss the spot
The two targetman-style strikers in whom Fabio Capello has placed his faith in the last six months – Bobby Zamora and Andy Carroll – were respectively left out of the squad for Fulham's game away at Swansea City and an unused substitute when Liverpool beat Queen's Park Rangers at home.
The consensus is that Zamora will have to leave Fulham because of a difficult relationship with Martin Jol. Carroll was given another chance with a start against Fulham a week ago today and failed to have any impact. After he froze out Peter Crouch some time ago, you have to wonder where the England manager will turn next in this particular department. Euro 2012 is six months away and in case anyone has forgotten, Wayne Rooney is banned for the first two games.
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