FwB #15: AVB

Courtesy Telegraph 2011

This long overdue update comes at a doubly significant time.

Firstly, although I must add this is far from a reactionary response, we are fast approaching the end of a month now known to those in the blogosphere and beyond as ‘Movember’. The last 25 days have seen this fast-growing charity event capture a certain public attention and raise some much needed funds for prostate and testicular cancer initiatives. I will be the last one to denigrate such causes; hugely worthwhile and a supremely successful campaign. The only problem though, as I’m sure you’ll agree, moustaches still have a bit of a PR problem (since, well I don’t know? Berlin 1945?), and despite the hipster’s best attempts, all ‘Mo Bros’ either look like models in an American Apparel advert, or sexual predators in a police line-up.

Secondly then, we are also fast approaching the Christmas period; that which in football is often the ‘real test’, if not only for football managers, then also for cliché-ridden sports reporters and pundits instead. But it is the former who, nonetheless have to deal with the results-driven business. Games double in their frequency most weeks come the end of December, league games are thwarted in their consistency by the ‘unwelcome distractions’ of the FA and League Cup (and if you’re Harry Redknapp, heart surgery and court cases), and fans of under-performing teams start to get itchy feet (Wolves, Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton fans I’m looking at you). One manager who, possibly unexpectedly, depending on how you read his experiences in the game, faces the end-of-year pressure is Andre Villas-Boas. Only months after taking Porto to an unprecedented treble, he took up one of the world’s most pressured positions and tried his hand at guiding Chelsea to their first ever Champions League trophy. But with inconsistent results at home, and with a final group game to go in the Champions League, Chelsea are not guaranteed progression into the knockout stages. If Villas-Boas is to remain Chelsea manager into the New Year, results will have to improve. Yet, as ever, if players and managers deserve to grace the pages of FwB, they must demonstrate a particular je ne sais quoi. ‘AVB’, as he is affectionately known, is not without his credentials, not least to challenge the purveyor of all bearded, suave and talented; Pep Guardiola. On we go…

Let’s smash through his experience then, like we’re sifting through the dreary CVs in a recruitment consultant’s email inbox. And hell, if anyone’s reads like a collection of entirely unsuitable jobs, it’s Villas-Boas’s. Head coach of the British Virgin Isles? Hardly sets you up for the demanding world of football management, but still, all great managers have to start somewhere. After the shortest of stints there (something like an intermittent year of friendlies, I guess), AVB took the job at the former-university team Académica de Coimbra in the Portuguese Priemeira Liga, lifting them out of the relegation zone and away to safety. Coupled with an impressive cup run – reaching the semi-finals of the League Cup – Villas-Boas had somewhat began to make his mark, albeit in the lower reaches of the Portuguese League. The flowing football of AVB’s reign attracted many admirers however, not least the Porto hierarchy who saw him suited to taking the hot-seat at their club following a disappointing 2009/10 season.    

 And so, this is where the unremarkable becomes the remarkable; the ‘quite interesting’ to the significant. 2010/11 was AVB’s season. Let’s just list some of the achievements him and his Porto side racked up:

 27 wins out of 30, 30 consecutive games unbeaten, unbeaten all season, 57+ goal difference, 16 game winning streak, the largest point difference between 1st and 2nd, Hulk won the player of the month award 5 consecutive months in a row, AVB became the youngest manager ever to win a European trophy, and finally, Falcao scored a record 17 goals in only 14 Europa League games.

Quite a season. The Hulk-Falcao-Varela forward line drew more praise – this time from around Europe– as the former two bagged over 30 goals each throughout the record-breaking year. AVB had now certified himself a gold-plated Porto legend, following in the footsteps of his mentor Jose Mourinho. Yet in June this year, he jumped ship, taking the reigns at a Chelsea side who had 2 months prior sacked Carlo Ancelotti. And his season has been difficult so far. Defeats to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have left owner Roman Abramovich with little to savour, despite some considerable summer outlay in Juan Mata, Roman Lukaku and Raul Meireles. The old boys of Terry, Lampard and Cole, in my eyes, are stalling a new Chelsea team driven by Sturridge and McEachran. Much like the England team is stuck in-between eras, struggling to balance experience with new blood, Chelsea under AVB are stunted with their reliance upon a faltering few.

 If Chelsea fans are to find solace in their teams’ indifferent start, it must be in AVB, which might seem paradoxical if Chelsea’s tactics are to blame. But then, they’ve not been used to a smart, suave and alluring coach since the heady days under Mourinho. If AVB brings anything – and he brings a lot – it is his bearded philosophy, grounded in the post-game nonchalance of the Mourinho-cene era. If you’re used to seeing a rather podgy, greying manager squeeze himself into a branded training sweatshirt (see Grant, Hiddink and Ancelotti), then contra the detractors you should be damn well pleased your getting a man who sees a tousled quiff, immaculately trimmed beard and a trench coat as everyday attire. Chelsea fans, there’s worse things in the world than that. Stick with AVB and you have a man with impeccable taste, lose him and you’ll be sure to return to the morose and pedestrian football of even the Mourinho years. In AVB there’s no sacrifice; good beard, good football, good philosophy. Viva la AVB!

Courtesy Reuters 2011

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