Villas-Boas more Pep talk than Jose on first Chelsea team-building day
New manager put the emphasis on the collective when he met his players at training yesterday
Comparisons are inevitable between the new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas and his mentor Jose Mourinho, under whom he worked for seven years from 2002 to 2009, at Porto, Chelsea and Internazionale; yet it is the methodology of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona that is a greater influence on his day-to-day work.
That was made clear yesterday when Villas-Boas met the Chelsea players for the first time, at 9am in the Surrey sunshine at their Cobham training ground. He introduced his backroom staff and broadly outlined his approach to training, which will include much more work with the ball, particularly after the early stages of pre-season training are over.
The 33-year-old former Porto manager spoke of his belief that success comes when players and staff work together, and he rammed home his message that they all "motivate each other" through greater collaboration, better communication and stronger support. The players were also reminded of their responsibilities as representatives of the club and were given a revised and expanded version of the club rules, but the tone was said to have been respectful, not confrontational.
Then it was down to business. Villas-Boas and his No 2 Roberto Di Matteo were all smiles as, at 10 am, captain John Terry led the players on to the training pitch for some ball work. The players then underwent physical tests, which included a check on their eyesight and reaction times, before another training session in the afternoon.
Over the coming days and weeks Villas-Boas will attempt to shape Chelsea to his own design which, while in some respects influenced by Mourinho, will ultimately come to more closely resemble the great Barcelona side of Guardiola. Or at least that's the plan.
Villas-Boas made it clear at Porto last season that Guardiola is someone he would like to emulate. He said: "Guardiola is always an inspiration for me because his methodology gets his team playing fantastic football. I left Inter to go and do my own thing [away from Mourinho], [and] Guardiola's quality and philosophy were a template for me every day. He embodies the philosophy of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels – very important people who emphasised the importance of spectacle in our beautiful game."
Having failed to tempt Guardiola away from Barcelona, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has opted to recruit someone cut from the same attractive and ambitious cloth. Yet Villas-Boas also comes with the added bonus of having worked closely with Mourinho.
Like Mourinho and Guardiola, he shares a devotion to preparation and thoroughness, and that will be one of the major changes at Chelsea, after the more relaxed reign of predecessor Carlo Ancelotti. Villas-Boas will hand out personalised DVDs and dossiers to each player as pre-season progresses, and they will be heavy on detail.
His dossier on Newcastle United written in 2004 in his role as opposition scout for Chelsea is available to read on the internet. It runs to four pages of tightly written text and contains 24 diagrams dissecting the various tactics and formations adopted by Newcastle, under various headings such as "Solano's inside behaviour - provocates between the lines [deadly vision]". Chelsea won the game 3-0.
The three young managers also share an unshakeable belief that unity and togetherness is the way to succeed. Villas-Boas's attempt at a sound-bite by calling himself the "Group One" at his unveiling last week was clumsy, but did reinforce his philosophy of collective responsibility. Tactically all three manager are also similar, favouring a 4-3-3 formation.
However, like Guardiola, Villas-Boas believes the best approach is to dominate the opposition through your attacking abilities, rather than the more defensive, cautious method favoured by Mourinho's sides.
When Villas-Boas said he was a "proud defender of the beauty of the game" in his first appearance as Chelsea manager, he was setting out a very different pitch to that of Mourinho, who directed his Inter team to concede possession to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final second-leg last year so they would not lose their defensive shape.
Like Guardiola, Villas-Boas believes his role is to create an environment in which players can blossom. While at Porto last season, he said: "My job is to nurture talent, to allow players to explore their capabilities to the full. You have to free them and let them make their own choices. I'm no dictator."
Players at Porto embraced this approach. The captain Helton said: "It's the freedom he gives us. He looks after us." This contrasts with the rigid instructions that Mourinho handed out to his charges during his time at Stamford Bridge, so much so that former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman once said he became afraid to shoot for fear he would be criticised for missing the target and losing possession.
Villas-Boas has also built a reputation for being kind and understanding to his players, again in contrast to the dictatorial Mourinho, who does not think twice about freezing certain individuals out of the picture. Helton said of Villas-Boas: "He's a great guy. He's a friend more than a coach, and he treats all the players the same."
Striker Radamel Falcao, who may yet be reunited with Villas-Boas at Chelsea, also said of the former Porto coach: "He has made 24 players at this club feel relevant and important and that is not easy."
Villas-Boas certainly seems to have a much more approachable side to him than Mourinho. Oliver Dacourt, who played under Mourinho at Inter, said last week: "I had some problems with Mourinho, but Villas-Boas always acted like nothing had happened. He has a great human touch and the players all loved him."
Hulk, Porto's Brazilian striker, said Villas-Boas's desire to engage with his staff inspires great loyalty. "Under him I became a better player and felt respected. He made me always want to do a good job for him," he said.
Villas-Boas demonstrated his ambition by leaving Porto, where he and his young family were settled, and taking on another challenge at Chelsea. Yesterday he invited his players, many of whom have won many more trophies in their careers, to show a similar level of aspiration once more.
'No firearms': How Chelsea's new rule book might read
The Chelsea players were handed a set of rules yesterday by their new manager Andre Villas-Boas. Robin Scott-Elliot imagines what it might have said:
Ola! my new work-place colleagues,
Welcome back. Remember to prepare to fail is to fail to prepare – or should that be the other way round? (Russian!) Bear with me, my written English is a work in progress – like yours JT! No, seriously, here are my commandments. There are 10 of them:
1. Be on time for training. We start at 9 (if you're not from the UK get your agent to set your watch to the correct time). There will be a time machine (manned by Kerry Dixon) in the car park where you must punch in. Don't punch Kerry
2. You can call me Andy
3. No firearms on the training ground – use the gun drop in the car park (the work experience guys will man it)
4. You shall not covet a move – remember, as we say in Portugal, your neighbour's chicken is not always fatter
5. You shall not covet your team-mates' partners' ass. Or ox. Let's sleep the sleep of the righteous brothers
6. #stayonyourfeet. River Ferdinand is right – I have no time for divers. Apart from cormorants. They are lovely birds, sleek and alert. Like Fernando
7. Pass to Fernando
8. Stop hiding Fernando's shorts
9. Don't worships idles [sic]
10. Don't ask about managing the Virgin Islands. It is not what you think. This is my whole raison d'etre, we must become new footballers for a new Chelsea. Think outside the box. Apart from you Fernando
Kind regards, Andre 'Andy' Villas-Boas
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