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Can the media's distrust of the former Chelsea manager be linked to his apparent love of the game?
Nick Hornby's widely acclaimed tome to fandom, Fever Pitch, contains an astute observation on football managers. He writes:
The most intense of all footballing relationships is, of course, between fan and club. But the relationship between fan and manager can be just as powerful. Players can rarely alter the whole tone of our lives like managers can, and each time a new one is appointed it is possible to dream bigger dreams than the previous one ever allowed.
On the 22nd June 2011, a young man by the name of Andre Villas-Boas was appointed as the new manager of Chelsea Football Club. Villas-Boas had recently come to the football world's attention after his extraordinary exploits with boyhood club, FC Porto. With a thrilling brand of football his side went the entire domestic league season unbeaten, winning the Liga Sagres and the Europa League double. Andre was symbolic of a rising trend in young managers who had never played professionally breaking through at Europe's elite clubs. He seemed the perfect man to take Chelsea forward and transition in a new era centred on exhilarating football being played by young talents.
I'm not afraid to admit I fell immediately for the Portuguese's charm. I had seen a few of his games at Porto, been mildly interested in his work, but it took his signature on a Chelsea contract to fully accelerate our relationship. I am also pretty sure that many other fans will also admit they were similarly enamoured by our new manager, and on the evidence provided, that was hardly a piece of poor judgement.
Yet as quickly as things seemed to be heading onwards and upwards towards an exciting new age for the Blues, things seemed to be derailing and collapsing into a soulless darkness where the light seemed even fainter than it was in Carlo Ancelotti's darkest days. Villas-Boas may have been very involved in the "implementation of the project," but for a club like Chelsea that revolves around success, such setbacks to competitiveness in both England and Europe weren't going to be tolerated. After eight months together, things were over between Chelsea and AVB. "The board would like to record our gratitude for his work," said Chelsea, "and express our disappointment that the relationship has ended so early.'
I was heartbroken. At the time, I wrote a piece discussing the role Villas-Boas played in my life. In that piece, I repeatedly called Andre the ‘man', suggesting that he was "not just the new manager of Chelsea; he was a guide, a light, a hope."
After the extract provided at the top of this piece, Nick Hornby goes on to discuss how he has come to think of managers as relatives. He suggests that "Bertie Mee was a grandfather, kindly, slightly otherworldly, a member of a generation I didn't understand." It's an interesting analogy, if only for the fact when comparing my own relationship with Villas-Boas, it is difficult to think of an appropriate comparison to a family member.
(Roberto Di Matteo, is for my money, the father, a man endowed with sensible decision-making and therefore given the appearance of appearing extraordinarily wise, and possessing the ability to remain impossibly calm and detached in moments of crisis where the normal reaction is this.)
Villas-Boas is effusive, charismatic and has a penchant for inventing random words. His time in England has been marred by a distasteful relationship between himself and the country's press, with the latter often found choosing to propagate the image of Andre the crazy dictator. Barney Ronay may have been onto something when he suggested the media's dislike of Villas-Boas stems from his apparent intellectualness, and it does seem awfully fitting that a country that so prides itself on thickly intangible qualities such as lion-hearted determination and desperate Roy of the Rovers style acts of bravado could possibly distrust a manager so fixated on football.
Villas-Boas is refreshing, and the best comparison I could make was to the stepfather who takes it upon himself to show his new wife's lonely son the ropes of life by taking him to places like strip clubs (for those of you who have read Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, you will know exactly what I am talking about.) For the child and mother, that kind of relationship is brilliant, an escape into a world that had never existed beforehand.
Villas-Boas is also like the older brother that embarks on similarly radical adventures and is immediately grounded by your mother for being so dastardly foolish. Villas-Boas provides us with a delightfully blasé glimpse of a footballing life that focuses on just that, football, and it may be just that that makes him so detested by the press. After all, diplomatic observations on how the game was played don't sell papers: instead, controversial quotes that stir the pot are the ones picked out and splashed across the back page.
Peer a little bit beyond that and you'll find a man so totally devoted to football the effect can be unerring. You could have made a drinking game out of the amount of times Villas-Boas mentioned the word "project" and got pretty smashed out of the whole exercise, but that ignores the point (and leaves you with a pretty bad hangover).
Villas-Boas comes across so blindingly zealous about his ambitions that he becomes trapped in a prism of his own invention. In some ways, he is the Ted Mosby of the football world, a character so steadfastly convicted he will find what he so desperately searches for that he becomes a caricature for whom we laugh at for his hideously obvious flaws. You can't help but laugh at the ridiculousness of some of the situations in which both the sitcom character and football manager find themselves in, but you also can't help but admire their obsession, their complete drive to f
The current state of football is a prism in which the media compels us to ignore the game itself and focus on the controversy that occurs off the pitch instead. Villas-Boas is different. And thank goodness for that.