For a while yesterday, Andre Villas-Boas sounded ominously like Steve Kean at Blackburn. The board are behind him, the players are behind him, his job is safe, there is no problem with playing at home ("only the results"), it is just a matter of "working hard and continuing to believe".
The Chelsea manager, just six months into the job, insisted he would not be sacked this season, even if they lose at Newcastle tomorrow lunch-time, exit the Champions League against Valencia next week, then slip further behind Manchester City in the title race. "I will keep my job. I am very confident. I was brought in for a three-year project," Villas-Boas said.
All this may be true, but few outsiders believe it. That is the problem with managing a club like Chelsea, with its global profile and institutional instability; a "crisis" is only ever a couple of defeats away – and they have suffered five in nine games. History tells us that such a run of results is usually accompanied by dissent within the dressing room and concern among the board. The next step tends to be exit manager, stage left, nursing his bruised ego with a large cheque.
Not this time, promises Villas-Boas, there is a long-term project and he has been told he will be given time to finish it. Maybe he will. Unlike in recent weeks, his demeanour at the Cobham training ground yesterday suggested that he had indeed been given a genuine vote of confidence. Gone were the spiky, waspish replies, in their place an open, occasionally jovial approach and the dramatic claim that his "philosophy is not a cancer".
"This seems like a lecture, but bear with me," he said with a smile, before engaging on a curious defence by statistics of Chelsea's much-criticised defence. "We have conceded 17 goals. Bearing in mind we conceded five goals against a top team [Arsenal] and Manchester City haven't suffered a beating against anyone else because they are solid and compact, but still they have conceded 12 goals. So we are speaking about a difference of five goals.
"Is your defensive organisation called into question because of a five-goal difference with the leader? And four with Manchester United. And one with the third-place team [Tottenham]? You are questioning the way we defend, saying the players are not adapting to the philosophy. I say that is wrong."
Villas-Boas admitted, however, that he had to adapt the tactical approach he brought with him from Portugal. "At Porto we'd involve the player in the No 6 position [holding role] a lot in the build-up play. You've seen Oriol [Romeu] and [John Obi] Mikel more involved, Raul [Meireles] also. In Porto the No 6 would sometimes leave his position to become a more attacking midfielder and surprise opponents. We tried it here but it didn't work. In the Premier League, transitions [counter-attacks] can hurt you a lot, they are much more direct than in Portugal so it's important for the No6 to stay in position."
Several players were believed to be unhappy at another experiment this week, the diamond midfield utilised in the Carling Cup defeat to Liverpool without, apparently, training-ground preparation. However, Villas-Boas insisted: "My players are with me. They believe in what we are doing. I know this from working day-to-day with them. They are taking the philosophy on board. The philosophy is not a cancer, we are not speaking about something which is wrong. The philosophy is playing good football for the fans, good football to try and win games – we have been trying to improve the style of play, to be more attractive, and to win trophies."
That is a demanding task, which at present is not being met, but Villas-Boas added it was too early to judge. "You can only consider this at the end of a season when you look at how many trophies you have won."
At present, "none" seems the likely answer and the manager admitted: "Statistically the run of results is unacceptable." He added that luck, and "the unpredictability of the game", was as much a reason as performances. "At Porto last year luck was on our side. In important games opponents missed chances. That is the reality of football managers, luck plays its part. I don't think confidence is at a 'crisis point'. We just have to pull ourselves together. We can only work hard and believe we can reverse the situation."
Villas-Boas added that he had recently spoken to owner Roman Abramovich and would have money available in the transfer window next month. "Any season that you go without a trophy is a failure for a club of this dimension, but [if that happens] I think I will still get time. I have that assurance."
* The recent discovery of a seven-inch knife in a dressing room at Chelsea's Cobham training ground has prompted a security alert at the club, reports today's Daily Mail. Chelsea officials initially thought a youth-team player might be responsible but all members of staff were cleared after an inquiry.Reuse content