Andre Villas-Boas is running out of time. The first-year manager faces a player revolt, and that grim reaper of Chelsea managers, owner Roman Abramovich, has been spending an awful lot of time around the team in recent weeks.
Chelsea is level on points for fourth place in the Premier League. But it could fall as far as seventh within two weeks. Decisions about the club’s future direction won’t be made at season’s end. Those are being deliberated at this very moment, and Villas-Boas needs points in the standings to advance his cause. He claims that Abramovich still supports him, but it seems like he’s one loss away from receiving the dreaded “vote of confidence”.
It’s all going wrong for Villas-Boas because he bit off more than he can chew. He’s tasked with managing Chelsea’s transition from one era to the next. But he didn’t court the favor of the club’s (overly?) influential senior players for long enough to ensure a smooth ride.
He did anything but pass his first political test by publicly backing John Terry when the club captain was accused of racially abusing an opponent. That decision may have created fissures in the dressing room.
When Nicolas Anelka and Alex told him they wanted to leave the club, Villas-Boas disrespected the two popular veterans by freezing them out. That move may have destroyed his relationship with a group of players who wield massive amounts of clout at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea has won just two of its last 10 Premier League games, leaked accounts of player mutiny gush out of the locker room, and us media buzzards are circling around the club waiting for the (seemingly) inevitable.
The only thing that can halt Chelsea’s slide and save Villas-Boas’ job is to give in to player power. He needs to get more out of the players that have fought him — publicly and privately — for at least the last two months, and has to do so immediately.
Exactly how he can do that is anyone’s guess, and pulling that off would take a minor miracle. An Oscar-worthy display of humility is a good starting point. He should apologize, like South Park‘s Randy Marsh, and grovel at the feet of the players that created Chelsea’s glory years.
By admitting defeat in an internal battle, Villas-Boas would create the illusion that the players are in control, and give the fiercely proud clique something around which they would rally. Some negative energy would instantly vanish from the Blues’ camp, and they might even start winning home games again.
Villas-Boas made the mistake of bringing revolution to a situation that required evolution, and was met with a fierce counter-revolution. Declaring a cease-fire could see results improve over the next six weeks, which would be the difference between the young manger staying on or falling victim to the reaper’s sickle.
If he is able to pass this stiffest test of his fledgling career, Villas-Boas just might survive this season and next. The third year of a manager’s reign is important, as it usually marks the point where his methods are embraced throughout the club, and momentum carries the unified group over the bumps that are sure to pop up over the course of a season.
Otherwise, Abromovich might just take the course I prescribed for Villas-Boas and humble himself at the feet of the “Special One”. It sounds far-fetched, and there’s no way Jose Mourinho would Leno his former protege like that … would he?