I like Andre Villas-Boas.
Not because I'm a direct relation or close friend and therefore obliged to stick up for him under some laboured notion of doing the right thing. Not because I have Arsenal-leaning motives and take sadistic pleasure in his masterful implosion of Spurs' season. Not because I belong to the hetero-confused group who find his carefully trimmed ginger beard and neatly combed hair in some way erotic.
I like him for a reason far more pathetic than all of these reasons. It's a reason which I am having a lot of trouble reconciling with the part of me that views football from arm's length; knowing that it is far too ridiculous a beast to ever allow close enough or it will breach my snarky defences and bite me till I'm rabid with sincerity.
I like Andre Villas-Boas because he's just some guy, like me.
He isn't your usual model of seasoned ex-pro, having already enjoyed a playing career unobtainable to us footballing incompetent hoi-polloi, then becoming doubly enviable with their next career move upstairs. He is just some guy who managed to become a football manager.
Who wouldn't want that? Other than people who value their job security, diverse working environments free from alpha-male dick swinging and the peace of mind that comes with not being constantly harassed by vitriolic strangers telling you how bad at your job you are?
Granted, AVB might not be the complete salt-of-the-earth boy-dun-good man(ager)-of-the-people, having been given a fairly substantial leg up in life through his parents fortuitously deciding to live in the same apartment block as Sir Bobby Robson whilst he was still a teenager. But he still had the cojones to knock on Robson's door and give the veteran manager advice on how to run Porto. Impressed by the upstart's gumption, Robson had the junior Villas-Boas placed on a coaching development scheme, and the rest is history. And by that I mean "available via Wikipedia."
There's a clip doing the rounds of Andre looking absolutely crestfallen after Paulinho's red card against Liverpool, in which a substituted Kyle Walker appears to give him a conciliatory pat and walk off without so much as glance, leaving the manager alone in his dugout, in the rain. Fighting back his welling tears, Andre snivels and stoically juts out his jaw in defiance.
He looks about himself and remembers that he's not just entertaining a wallowing masochistic fantasy in his bedroom, he's in a packed stadium and this is really happening to him. He turns away and heartbreakingly shakes his head, not so much at the officials' decision, but at life's unfairness. A 5-0 defeat later and one wouldn't have been surprised if he had foregone the formality of the post-match teamtalk in favour of just sitting in the dressing room, broken and motionless, staring at nothing in particular whilst everything moved about him in high speed.
Radiohead is playing.
There's an air of the character Max Fischer of the film Rushmore about Andre. Max is a precocious fifteen year-old who attends a private academy, but seemingly neither achieves academically or comes from a background wealthy enough to justify his inclusion at the school. This doesn't deter Max, who dedicates his time to creating the image of himself as the model student. He dresses himself in an overly smart blazer and beret combination, heavily involves himself in all extra-curricular activity, puts up a front of intellectual superiority over the other students and concocts a grand scheme to a-woo the female teacher of his affections by single-handedly getting an aquarium built on the school playing fields without any permission. Of course, things all blow up in his face and (SPOILER) he is expelled from the academy he so dearly wanted to ingratiate himself by, ironically, trying to stand out from the crowd. He finds sympathy unforthcoming from his fellow students, who all delight in his failure, happily decrying the charlatan for daring to dream.
Likewise, as Villas-Boas has now been unceremoniously sacked, a chorus of jeers sounds from the pundits and fans, mocking the young manager for having the temerity to think he could hack it at this level. Where managers like Steve Clarke or Martin Jol can expect their dismissals to be scrutinised on a tactical level, Villas-Boas has already had a significant amount of personal character assassinations levelled at him, suggesting he shouldn't have even bothered with this management lark at all. String him up. Make an example. Quell any potential future upstarts and pretenders.
And yet, his failure is a glorious one for his having tried and come so far in the first place. He typifies the flawed, unrealistic dream that "anyone can achieve anything, even against the odds." He defied conventional wisdom by managing a group of players, despite never having been one himself. By setting Tottenham's record Premier League points tally of 72 points (the highest ever achieved by a club which didn't qualify for the Champions League). By taking on a Chelsea dressing room filled with entitled, aging egos. By gutting and replacing a whole squad of players in a single transfer window. By relentlessly attempting to play a brand of pressing, high-line defence, attacking football, even when it yielded fewer goals scored than conceded.
Sure, some of these, particularly the latter two, seem a defiance of conventional wisdom too far. The sort of defiance that, like building an aquarium on a sports field without permission, might see you justifiably given the boot. But before we ruthlessly dissect Andre's shattered dreams, however correct the findings of the post mortem that will deem them ultimately worthless may be, let's just take a moment to admire the sheer ambition of the man.
He wanted to become a football manager, so he became one. He thought that for £26 million, Roberto Soldado would score a lot of goals, so he bought him. He says he now wants to compete in the Dakar Rally, so good luck to him.
If you want to read more articles by Tristan Cross visit www.ftbpro.com