It was bold and arguably somewhat rash of Andre Villas-Boas, after his Chelsea team’s last gasp defeat at home by Liverpool to announce defiantly that it would too much for the club’s billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, to dismiss him. The Russian having paid £13 million to Porto to acquire him, with an obligation to pay him off heavily were he to get rid of him.
Goings on in the spectacular court case in which his former patron Boris Berezovsky is suing Abramovich for vast sums of money on the grounds that he was intimidated into under selling him control of a massive utilities company – oil and all that – suggest that even such sums as Villa-Boas mentions are negligible to Abramovich. Did he really give a yacht to the autocratic Putin? If he did, it was arguably a wise investment. Clash with Putin and no matter how rich an oligarch you be, disaster follows.
Richest of all the oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who dared support a political party against Putin, still languishes in eternal solitary confinement. Berezovsky, once a close ally of Putin, fell foul of him, narrowly escaped assassination in Moscow and fled to London, resisting two attempts to extradite him.
As Chelsea set off for their difficult and potentially vital Euro fixture in Leverkusen, the signs were, that Abramovich, at least for the moment, will show the patience that he never showed with Jose Mourinho, a far larger figure than Villas-Boas, and with Ancelotti.
But if I were Villas-Boas, what would trouble me would be the fact that Guus Hiddink, arguably one of the foremost managers in the game, has just left his role in Turkey and could come back any day to the Bridge, where, in a short spell, he did so much so well. There was initially talk that he could return as general manager, but he is more than capable, if required, to take over the reins at managerial level.
There is talk of Villas-Boas inheriting a team in decline, in serious need of younger blood. True, up to a point, but surely the potential younger talent is already there, if only Villas-Boas were prepared to us it; and in any case, is he making the best of the squad he has got?
Surely the impetuous and erratic Brazilian David Luiz is far less reliable and effective at centre back – where he seems at times to have a rush of blood to the head – than would be Alex, mysteriously sidelined, or Ivanovic, who could so easily be moved from right back into the middle.
And although Sturridge can give fresh drive to the attack, why, if youth should have its fling, is the teenaged playmaker Josh McEachran ignored, though he has been eulogised by Villas-Boas? And there are other youngsters of high promise in the likes of Romeu, Lukaku and Bertrand. It was away back in 1952 at The Bridge, after an extraordinary goal strewn win for Manchester United that Matt Busby declared to me, a propos of young talent. “If you don’t put them in you can’t know what you’ve got.”
Meanwhile, a high defensive line may have worked at Porto but it was surely dicing with death to apply it at Chelsea, not least with its pivotal member, John Terry losing pace and command.
Ironically, it occurred to me watching the Liverpool game, that Kenny Dalglish, in taking off the ever splendid Craig Bellamy – Mancini’s overbearing loss surely being Liverpool’s gain – was tacitly admitting that a draw would be an acceptable result. As it was, one England, ex-Chelsea, full back in Johnson waltzed past another in Ashley Cole – hardly blameless – to score that belated and dramatic winning goal with his “wrong” left foot.
So when, if at all, will Abramovich throw his toys out of the pram, as he did that day at Villa Park when Chelsea under Mourinho went 2-0 down?
One other thought; what possessed Villas-Boas to send on poor, permanently out of form, Fernando Torres on after 84 minutes? A £50 million transfer which may be deemed Abramovich’s folly, though of course he can afford it.
By Brian Glanville