Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

James Lawton: Patience may not be a virtue for Roman Abramovich as Chelsea stumble

Andre Villas-Boas

One day it might just dawn on the man who started off making plastic ducks in a Moscow apartment block. In some ways winning in football is not too dissimilar from becoming one of the richest men in the world. A lot of it has to do with timing, knowing when to hold the cards and when to toss them aside.

The least disposable of all those Roman Abramovich has strewn so impatiently across the table at Stamford Bridge was Jose Mourinho.



Carlo Ancelotti was certainly worth a second look, especially when you measured his track record and general knowledge of the game against the tyro who was being fitted for his shoes, and even the oligarch grasped the value of Guus Hiddink.



But Andre Villas-Boas, what does he do with him?



It's getting near impossible to believe that he shouldn't junk all the free advice he has been given down the years, all those solemn reminders that every story of significant success in football can be traced to the moment a club identified outstanding quality in their hired professional and pledged their long-term support.



However, the boy prodigy from Portugal is surely pushing this impeccable theory to breaking point.



He has now been in office at Chelsea for almost precisely the time Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup-winning coach of huge experience, took to persuade Abramovich that he was an expensive mistake.



As it happened, Scolari's record was rather better than the one Villas-Boas now boasts, 20 wins in 36 games against 18 in 36, a winning percentage of 55 per cent against 50.



Unfortunately for Scolari, the owner of vast mineral rights in Mother Russia was never going to be assuaged by such piffling data.



He wants swift evidence of a winning dynamism and, if Scolari had a slight edge over Villas-Boas in the win and loss column, he was just as quick as his young successor in turning the dressing room from a happy home of millionaire brothers-in-arms into a hot bed of rebellion.



Villas-Boas's decision to haul in his players for Sunday training after the dispiriting weekend defeat at Everton might have made more sense if his relationship with the squad had not already appeared quite so fragile.



Abramovich's increasingly frequent visits to the club's training ground can only reinforce the idea of a coach feeling the pressure from both above and below his precarious position at a club which is not so much underperforming as threatening to fall through the floor.



If it is true, as the vibes increasingly suggest, that disaffection with Villas-Boas has reached a point where the resentment of some players is being replaced by something uncomfortably close to outright pity for a man out of his depth, each new visit from the owner must bring a new pang of dread.



It is a chill even such an iconic figure as Kenny Dalglish must have felt at his troubled weekend when the word came from across the Atlantic that, if Liverpool have largely absent landlords, they are still very much aware of the rise and fall of the club's corporate image.



In this case, an editorial lecture from the New York Times on the need to clean up Liverpool's profile to the point where it might sit more comfortably with that of their stablemates, the Boston Red Sox baseball team, was surely as threatening to Dalglish's peace of mind as the latest evidence that the signings of Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are beginning to resemble some of the last words in football inflation.



Dalglish at least has the underpinning of the Liverpool support, a luxury that Villas-Boas can only envy as he sees – and hears – large sections of Stamford Bridge withdrawing a benefit of the doubt that was hardly overwhelming from the start.



His tendency to hit the wrong note is a weakness that leaves him a little more vulnerable with each disappointing result.



When Ancelotti suffered a reverse his touch was infinitely more relaxing. After one defeat at Wigan Athletic the man who won the Double at the first time of asking was at his most disarming. "The big secret," he declared, "at times like this is not to make a drama of a single defeat. You have to remind the players of who they were a few hours ago ... you have to remind them that even the greatest teams sometimes have to lose." At such times Ancelotti drew the benefit of a great playing career.



Villas-Boas, of course, never played the game professionally. Nor did his mentor Mourinho, it is true, but then Mourinho is a genius who makes his own rules and creates his own experience.



Certainly, for Villas-Boas the brilliant momentum he achieved at Porto has at times appeared to be no adequate substitute for the kind of understanding an Ancelotti might have brought to the feelings of his players at some of the rougher passages of Chelsea's season.



The idea that players should involve the coaching staff in their goal celebrations seemed like nothing so much as an invitation to rejection. Players, inevitably, live in their own closed worlds, and at certain times outsiders – even if they happen to be coaches of impressive pedigree – only intrude at their peril.



There are other and perhaps more substantial issues, the tactical confusion, the persistence with the agonised Fernando Torres, the strange exile of new signing Gary Cahill, the disconcerting level of Jose Bosingwa's current form, and the sense of Daniel Sturridge's growing dissatisfaction with his banishment to wide positions. None of these is a portent of any early breakthrough.



Abramovich may growl that whatever he does he is damned. He may also count up the occasions he has been urged to be patient. Better, though, to remember that mere time is never an asset if you've neglected to put the ducks in a nice, coherent row.