It’s raining, and Andres Villas-Boas is getting wet. He’s squatting, but rain is trickling down the arc of his back, and
supporters in the stands are mocking the whole pathetic spectacle. He’s wearing a heavy, Wenger-like coat, but it doesn’t matter, because dampness is definitely in this guy’s future – you can just tell.
Watching AVB try to turn stodgy, defensive Chelsea into a genuinely entertaining football team was sad in a way that could’ve been kind of funny – but wasn’t. And it always seemed to be raining.
When Villas-Boas signed for Chelsea, he was young, energetic, and so enthusiastic about 4-3-3 that he made the whole notion of an attacking trident seem way more exciting than it was ever going to be. AVB’s treble-winning season at Porto marked the peak of football’s obsession with the Mourinho-esque Euro-snob manager: as Grantland’s Brian Phillips put it, you couldn’t “mow a field in the Iberian Peninsula without finding six or seven sharply dressed and tactically savvy managers under toadstools and rocks.”
These days, although fans are not exactly immune to the power of good looks and rolling consonants, they are much warier. No one wants his club to fall into the AVB trap. Which is a shame, since Villas-Boas’ performance this season proves that his failure at Stamford Bridge was more a function of Chelsea’s pervasive ridiculousness than of anything else. Just ask Rafa Benitez what he thinks…
That’s not to say Villas-Boas didn’t make mistakes at Chelsea. Last year, his stubborn adherence to the gospel of 4-3-3 frustrated fans and players; this campaign, he’s been much more flexible. When injury ended Sandro’s season in early January, AVB turned Dembele and Parker into Spurs’ default midfield partnership, and the two have excelled. He’s also rejiggered Spurs’ forward line, rotating the likes of Sigurdsson, Bale, Lennon, Dempsey, and Holtby in an effort to compensate for Defoe’s long absences and Adebayor’s continued descent into that magical world where overpaid athletes complain, sulk and refuse to score goals.
A couple of weeks ago, Spurs right back Kyle Walker went out of his way to describe “the gaffer” as “class — even in terms of man-management.” That’s quite a compliment, especially considering Villas Boas’ uncomfortable relationship with the Chelsea squad, which, to be fair, contained John Terry, arguably the most difficult character in English football. Jaded by his experiences with Terry and Roman Abramovich, a lesser man than AVB might have returned to continental Europe, taken a cozy job somewhere in Italy or Spain, and spent weekend nights talking tactics with an articulate center back over gigantic cigars and a bottle of something foreign-sounding.
But Villas-Boas isn’t like that. Villas-Boas didn’t leave the city.