Virgin Islands recall their days in the sun under former coach
Andre Villas-Boas has become the most talked-about manager in world football since agreeing to take charge of Chelsea, but when he started his first job as coach of British Virgin Islands 11 years ago the players could not pronounce his name.
The Portuguese prodigy was just 21 when he became the youngest international manager by taking charge of the BVI team, as part of his role as the tiny Caribbean nation's technical director of football.
His captain Avondale Williams, a central midfielder who has now succeeded Villas-Boas as national team manager, remembered yesterday how the players, many of whom were several years older than their new boss, struggled with his unfamiliar names and called him Luis – pronounced Lewis.
"He didn't mind us calling him that, we certainly respected him," Williams told The Independent yesterday from his home in BVI, a British dependent territory with a population of just 22,000, famous for its glorious beaches and its offshore banking industry, and to a lesser extent its rum production and drug trafficking.
Villas-Boas had taken a post as the country's technical director of football without revealing just how young he was. He said a few years later: "I was basically the country's coach. I was a kid, but they didn't know that. I only told them my age the day I left the post. It was such a grand job for a 21-year-old."
Despite his youth Villas-Boas managed to make his mark on a country that was ranked 161 in the world, and whose national stadium is a ramshackle sports venue known as the Sherly Ground, capacity 2,000 or so, in the capital Road Town.
Williams said: "He was about two years younger than most of us, but impressed us. He came in with a programme for us and we were all very interested. He was very keen to share his ideas about the game."
Villas-Boas set about the monumental task of trying to make the BVI team – who are known as the "Nature Boyz" – a more competitive outfit by instilling in them a sense of purpose. Chelsea's new manager was famous for writing detailed dossiers on the opposition in his previous spell at Stamford Bridge during Jose Mourinho's reign, but kept things fairly simple with the enthusiastic amateurs of BVI.
"He told us that we had to put the team first," Williams said. "He got us passing the ball better, and put the emphasis on attacking. But he also got us defending better as a team. He had a lot of ideas that were quite different to us."
Villas-Boas also impressed his new charges with his personality. "He was a quiet person but sometimes he would come out with us on the town. He was an outgoing character, and could be very funny sometimes. He had a great sense of humour and would enjoy a joke with the team," Williams said.
The improvements to the team however were not generally reflected on the pitch. BVI did punch above their weight to record victories over Antigua and St Martin, but were found out in a World Cup qualifier against Bermuda, losing 5-1 at home and 9-0 away.
Williams said: "We didn't have a high calibre of players to work with, so it was hard. But he started to have an impact on us. You could see he would leave to work for a big club like Chelsea one day. But I didn't think it would happen so quickly. Not at 33, more like 40."
Villas-Boas left the sunshine in 2001 to coach the Under-19s at Porto and was later promoted to become an assistant to Mourinho. But remarkably his impact is still being felt today among the picturesque palm trees of BVI. Williams now manages the national team and is a disciple, of sorts, of the Villas-Boas philosophy.
"Some of the changes he made to our youth football have been very helpful. I certainly learned many things from him, and still use them today," Williams said.
Results, however, still have a long way to go. Last year they lost 17-0 to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Championship, their biggest ever defeat. Villas-Boas will hope to leave a more lasting legacy with his latest adventure.
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