LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Andre Villas-Boas, manager of Chelsea talks to Frank Lampard during the FA Cup with Budweiser Fifth Round match between Chelsea and Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge on February 18, 2012 in London, England. Chelsea have parted company with manager Andre villas-Boas and appointed his assistant Roberto di Matteo as interim coach until the end of the season. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
I guess we all saw this one coming. Andre Villas-Boas has been under immense pressure since October, and things have been getting worse and worse as time's gone by. Eventually, Chelsea were going to get to their breaking point, and that turned out to be the 1-0 defeat against West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. Roberto di Matteo will take over for the remainder of the season as the Blues prepare (supposedly) to splash out big money on another new manager this summer.
How do I feel about it? I was a massive Villas-Boas fan from his time at Porto. He'd taken a struggling team - remember, they'd finished third the year prior to him coming aboard - and moulded them into an unstoppable force, earning a treble that included the Europa League trophy while playing some phenomenal football. I fully endorsed Chelsea's move for the 33-year-old at the time, and now I'm left feeling a little bit silly over the whole thing.
There were many reasons to criticise Villas-Boas during his time at Chelsea. He might have been a strong tactician, but his innovations a) didn't work and b) left us vulnerable. Some of his substitutions and lineups left strong room for doubt*. His insistence on playing Jose Bosingwa and Raul Meireles when they were both going through awful spells was bizarre enough for people to question whether or not Villas-Boas was only using them because they were Portuguese.
*Although people got into the habit of unreasonably getting on him for substitutions that, for me, made perfect sense. That's what happens when you're struggling, I suppose.
But ultimately, his tactics were of nowhere near as big a concern as his relationships with those inside and outside the club. We obviously don't know, and never will know, what exactly went on between Villas-Boas and the senior players. Right now, all we're getting is sensationalised media crap, and that stuff is barely worth paying attention to (something people should think about before they ask for, say, Frank Lampard to be publicly flogged).
More obvious than the internal fighting was the external bitchfest with the football media. Villas-Boas didn't like them and made that pretty well known. I don't blame him, because they're generally awful tabloid hacks, but if you're managing Chelsea and catch the ire of the papers, you're probably dead. So it proved here.
There's going to be a lot of noise made about the revolving door policy at Chelsea, but that's really a red herring. You don't make managerial decisions based on previous ones, a policy that everyone and their mother seems to be espousing. Sacking Felipe Scolari doesn't mean you keep around Villas-Boas for longer. Chelsea simply need to try to make the right move when they can, ignoring the narrative that's popped up around them.
Was this the right move? Probably. Chelsea are playing their worst football for years, they're on the verge of being knocked out of the Champions League, and they're currently not in a position to get back in for next year. You can assign the blame how you like, I guess, but if Andre's the boss, he's in large part responsibly for the predicament. I know that many would have liked to see his 'project' be given more time, but a season like this would have fatally undermined the manager for the rest of his career, and I just didn't see it working out.
The timing isn't great, primarily because Guus Hiddink's already off the board, leaving Roberto di Matteo in charge, but the move was mostly about getting rid of Villas-Boas rather than fixing the team. The squad should be much stronger than it is, even using the 'old guard' and their tactics, and if di Matteo doesn't mess with things too much, the idea is that inertia should guide us to at least fourth. Whether or not that will happen I don't know, but I understand the reasoning. The manager's presence was hurting the team.
Leaving the rest of the season aside, Chelsea will go on a hunt for a new manager this summer. The early front-runners are, predictably, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. I'd be happy with either of them - I think they're both more than capable of turning the ship around, and their deficiencies are probably overstated. But I'm by no means sure we'll get either one. Chelsea are a waning star, and it'd take a lot of money for a manager to take the risk of trying to reignite the sparks.
Anyway - I'm fairly ambivalent over this whole deal. I liked Villas-Boas, and I wanted him to succeed, but it was beyond clear it wasn't working and we all knew that was going to happen. At the end of the day, we all have to get on with our lives, get behind the team, and hope things get better. That's what being a fan is all about, right?
PS: I'm hearing a lot of 'I feel sorry for Andre Villas-Boas' today. Personally, I'd feel more sorry for him if he wasn't now making ludicrous amounts of money to not do any work.