Friday, June 24, 2011

A Good Man is Hard to Find

photo by Free-ersvia PhotoRee

The spinning wheel that is the Chelsea manager search came to a rest earlier this week with the not-so-surprising announcement that Andres Villas-Boas (British announcers are going to have a field day trying to pronounce this one) has been named the new manager at Chelsea, after releasing himself from bondage in Porto and freeing the way for the Son of the Special One to return to Stamford Bridge. 

In some ways, this move makes perfect sense: young, talented and up-and-coming manager, looking to make his name in Europe, is seduced by the prospect of a dream appointment at the top of one of England's "big" clubs, a club where he once worked at the right hand of the Master. But look more closely, readers -- and the reasonings for this move become even clearer. This isn't just the story of Andres Villas-Boas wanting to come to Chelsea to increase his own personal glory.  It's also the story of a domineering, perpetually meddling and megalomaniacal owner, and the struggle to find someone who is talented enough to manage the club, yet also pliant enough to to live under the sizable thumb of a certain Russian thief.  I mean Billionaire.

It's certainly possible that Villas-Boas was Abramovitch's first choice for manager all along. After all, his is an inspirational story. Only 33 years old -- indeed, younger than some of the players he will be overseeing next season -- Villas-Boas has been coaching professionally for more than 15 years.  Despite an undistinguished playing career, the former Porto man represents the new breed of football coaches: those who study video and statistics even as they break down game film to analyze a team and players' tendencies and abilities. 

He's already won many of the trophies that are there to be won: his Porto side claimed the Europa League last season, and prior to that unexpected success Villas-Boas was a leading assistant coach on teams that have won the Champions League, the Premiership, the Scudetto, and the FA and League Cups.  So the Portuguese mini-mastro didn't exactly fall into the headman job: he's earned it on many levels.

But herein lies the rub: with all the world his oyster, why would Villas-Boas choose the one job that virtually guarantees he'll eventually be handed his walking papers? The job that ate the Special One, Jose Mourinho, as well as his classy replacement, Carlo Ancelotti.  The job that Guss Hiddink must have turned down on numerous occasions. The job that is thankless, because there's never more than one true boss at Stamford Bridge, and his initials won't begin with AV or B, although his last name will contain all three of those letters plus a few: I speak, of course, about Chelsea's maverick owner, the Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovitch.

But again, why would Villas-Boas take the job?  The world may never really know. Perhaps its ego: he's already won the league with Porto and needs a new, larger home to greet him every morning. Perhaps its challenge: he's already won the Europa League with Porto and needs a new Champions League-sized mountain to climb. Or perhaps its the oldest of all inspirations: the almighty dollar (or in this case, the pound). Or maybe it's a combination of all three.

But it's much easier to figure out why Roman would want Andres Villas-Boas for the job. Here's a young, clearly talented manager, who's ambitious, hard working and had great career success at an early age.  He hasn't been weighed down by "putting in the years" to earn his stripes, and likely has no limits at all to his dreams. Roman likely sees Villas-Boas as someone who can bring the ultimate dream of all dreams to Stamford Bridge: the Champions League trophy.

Roman's ego would never allow him to bring back the one person he likely truly wants, the one person who was so achingly close to delivering on Chelsea's Champions League promise, and the one person who so painfully held the trophy aloft only two short years after leaving the Bridge: Jose Mourinho. 

And Guus Hiddink, one of Roman's most trusted advisors, clearly didn't want the job, for he knew how it would all end: in trophies, possibly, but in an acrimonious, unceremonious way, as well, possibly even a dismissal on the team bus. Much easier to remain as a trusted advisor, perhaps even as the Director of Football Operations for the Blues, or to continue in his current and cushy post as the Head Coach of the Turkish National Team.   No stupid man, this Hiddink.

Which leaves us with who?  Does anyone seriously think Mark Huges was under consideration?  The Chelsea faithful would have gone mad if a United legend with a spotty head coaching track record had taken the helm.  Harry Redknapp?  There's no way in the world Uncle Harry would take the Chelsea job, especially with the England job perhaps becoming available in the relatively near future. He's much too smart to get involved with a owner the likes of Abramovitch.

I'm not aware of any other names that even seriously surfaced for the job other than those four (with the latter two being added to the mix by the English press, and likely never under any real consideration) and it all makes perfect sense: Roman was looking for the right mix of success and pliancy. Andres Villas-Boas offered the right resume, and just as importantly, the right willingness to step into a situation that requires sublimating his own ego to that of the owner. And a good man is hard to find -- in fact, sometimes they cost up to £15 million.

Did Roman get the right man, or did he get one of the few "right" men willing to work under the conditions that exist at the Bridge? Only time will tell.

This is farlieonfootie for June 24.

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