A dead man walking, when the phone call arrived for Andre Villas-Boas yesterday to confirm his execution, the grimness was complete. That Portuguese Barry White burgh hasn't got so much to give west London anymore.
The timing, after Chelsea’s defeat to West Brom, suggests Roman Abramovich is already looking beyond this campaign, when it is actually far from over.
Chelsea could win more than Manchester City or United this season. They have a two-goal deficit to claw back at Stamford Bridge against a porous Napoli side and are still in the FA Cup. But seven league losses – a figure registered under Jose Mourinho in 78 matches – illustrates the humiliating chasm the Blues are now reeling from.
But sacking the Portuguese wasn’t the solution. He is the seventh manager in less than nine years to depart during the Abramovich reign, but he is not the first to struggle to impress the egocentric prima donnas who continue to pollute the club.
Villas-Boas never got the chance to sell Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and John Terry. The “Factionous Four”; whiny alpha males unaccustomed to being told what to do but accustomed to mollycoddling and pandering.
Andre Villas Boas' Chelsea career in pictures:
He was undermined in front of Abramovich and yet it is his owner’s credibility that has plummeted again. Disharmony saw Scolari sacked and even Mourinho allegedly, so when will Abramovich protect the club and his reputation by backing a manager over players?
Countenancing Cole, who ostensibly had the nerve to tell Villas-Boas that Chelsea would never win anything with “your tactics”, is one problematic example.
Villas-Boas’ three-year deal was reportedly worth £14m, and Chelsea spent £28m paying off Ancelotti and FC Porto. That’s £42m to sack, appoint and sack two managers.
Lampard, a true blue, has emerged as a rotten apple. This is a 33-year-old midfielder who cannot accept he is a bit-part player at a big side, despite his potency flagging. If a squad role is good enough for Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in Manchester, then it’s good enough for Lampard.
Is it not a conflict of interest too that he has holidayed on Abramovich’s yacht? Information was snitched to Mourinho about Villas-Boas eulogising Barcelona during the recent Copa del Rey Clásico. The usual suspects come back to the aforementioned quartet.
And who replaces Villas-Boas? Roberto Di Matteo. A coach who certain squad members apparently lack respect for and who was sacked by the Baggies last season. Chelsea, purportedly a big club, are scraping the barrel.
To rub salt into the wounds, Rafael Benitez is a frontrunner to succeed Villas-Boas. He guided Liverpool to a fortunate Champions League victory, but his domestic performances were erratic on Merseyside. Furthermore, Chelsea supporters were one of the most vocal set to sardonically heckle the ‘fat Spanish waiter’.
Abramovich has installed Di Matteo as caretaker until the end of the season, purportedly hoping that he will snare Pep Guardiola. But would the Spaniard want to take charge of upstarts whilst inhibited by the Russian's shadow?
Simply put, Mourinho is the only man who could be accepted at all levels, and a spot of house-hunting in the capital last week will only heighten expectation of a return. Returning to Chelsea for an ego like him would be a step down however, even if the satisfaction of gaining success after his one-time protege's failure.
Juan Mata expressed his regret at the departure of the man who brought him to Stamford Bridge:
Gary Cahill, who was signed for Villas-Boas rather than by him, and the impossible task of rejuvenating the squad in under a year, reaffirms the hastiness in sacking a manager in March. Villas-Boas made mistakes, mainly in defence and in his distant man-management, but personnel conspired against him and he was ultimately the erroneous appointment.
And who is held to account for that? Is Abramovich really a doyen of Portuguese football or, more likely, does an advisor brief him on a potential manager’s suitability? Managers are often painted as the fall guy, but Villas-Boas needn’t feel responsible for the side’s fading star.
He inherited a sinking ship and found that too many aboard had too much baggage to prevent the plunge. But to be jettisoned from this plank bears no shame. Although he failed, his reputation hasn’t diminished.
If Chelsea want to become a great club, then the manager needs to be trumpeted as the main man. Otherwise the hot seat will continue to be a lucrative meal ticket for the ambitious and the avaricious during the global recession.