Where have we heard this before? A young, smooth talking, handsome Portuguese manager has come from success at Porto to arrive in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to take charge of Roman Abramovich-owned Chelsea. But André Villas-Boas, though he bares similarities to José Mourinho, is not simply a diminished version of the real thing - he is an entity unto himself, and an extremely promising one at that. The key difference Chelsea fans will grow to notice is Villas-Boas’s commitment to attacking, unlike Real Madrid’s current manager. He is an anorak of sorts when it comes to the game. He leaves nothing to chance and studies every aspect in vivid detail. An excellent man manager. If Chelsea play their cards right, they have a real keeper on their hands.
He’s resigned from his post at Porto and Chelsea have ‘declared their interest’ in naming him as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor, but Roman Abramovich’s penchant for dismissing managers is a quality he’ll need to shirk if he has any hope in making his appointment work.
Chelsea are a team in transition. The spine of what is recognised as Chelsea’s first team is ageing - John Terry, Frank Lampard, Dider Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole are all the wrong side of 30 and the club needs an injection of youth. The acquisition of Fernando Torres’s should act as a sign of a new beginning at Chelsea: a change in system, philosophy and personnel. Torres thrived in his role as lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 at Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard in the ‘number 10’ role. Chelsea’s well documented interest in Luka Modric is a good sign, as he is an archetypal playmaker who has proven over his years at Tottenham that he is a Champions League quality player. Spurs have declared that he is not for sale at any price, but a deal going through would not a surprise in the slightest.
Though through his time at Porto, Villas-Boas deployed a fluid, attack-minded 4-3-3. This is not a million miles from a 4-2-3-1 - the only real differences are one more forward-orientated midfielder (the box-to-box role), while the other sits in front of the back four and the wingers on either side of the lone striker are pitched further up the field. Chelsea will need more backup in the midfield, as Jon Obi Mikel is not exactly the best going in the holding midfield market and Michael Essien’s fitness is always suspect. Failing that, David Luiz would be a very good defensive midfielder, but signing him would mean buying a new centre half - either way, Chelsea must sign for either, or both, positions. Ramires is an extremely talented footballer and definitely has the attributes to play the box-to-box role, but he is the only one with this capability in the squad. Essien, through a combination of age and injury, has lost some of that dynamism. Another box-to-box player is needed.
While Petr Cech is a comfortable figure between the posts, their full backs and wingers provide no cause for concern, the centre half position is another story. I am of the belief that John Terry has declined substantially in quality and is no longer the at level Chelsea need him to be if they are going to be competing for the Premier League and Champions League. As well as this, David Luiz, at this point, is slightly too erratic for the role as a main centre half at the highest level. It’s conceivable that over the coming season he could improve in this area and grow into the potential he has shown, but until then, he is not ready. His attributes dictate that he would make an excellent defensive midfielder - he’s a strong defender, good at reading the game and very strong on the ball, but he does lack positional sense - possibly a trait that a season in the holding role could teach him. Alex is a solid centre half, but next to the ageing John Terry, he does not always look wholly convincing. Further use of Branislav Ivanovic in his natural position of centre back, rather than right back, there he has been stationed many times over the last season, should be in order. Taking John Terry out of the equation - as should be the case, but probably won’t - that leaves Luiz, Ivanovic and Alex as Chelsea’s only centre backs. Even with Terry, there are only four, so more signings are clearly needed.
This all ignores Frank Lampard, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. Lampard has been a brilliant servant for Chelsea but if Villas-Boas implements his 4-3-3, there’s no real place for Lampard, especially if Modric comes in (I don’t think that he is a number 10 anyway). In order to stay as an important player at Chelsea, he must become a more deep-lying playmaker and play alongside the holding man. He has the ability to do this and he still posses a lot of talent; it is important for Chelsea to keep him around. While Anelka and Drogba are more complicated. Drogba and Torres are clearly incompatible and the Ivorian will not accept being second place. If it becomes apparent that this will be the case, Drogba will probably push for a move, while Anelka may be more contented with the role on the bench. Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge’s excellent loan spell at Bolton means that he will be in a position to challenge Torres for the ‘number 9’ position.
What’s clear is that a major overhaul is needed at Chelsea. Investing in Villas-Boas is investing in a project; in youth. Abramovich’s frivolous attitude towards managers is something that needs to change if Villas-Boas is going to work at Chelsea. He may win trophies in his first season, though it’s just as possible that he will not. He is one of the most talented tacticians in Europe, as shown by his spell at Porto, and he is also a young man. He can have many, many successful years at Chelsea, but he needs the support of his owner. If he has it, there’s no telling just how well he can do, but only if Abramovich can discover patience.