Andre Villas-Boas: Things could get worse for Chelsea
Andre Villas-Boas's position is already under intense scrutiny but the manager has warned the period of transition he is attempting to introduce at Chelsea means things could get worse before they get better at Stamford Bridge.
Villas-Boas's immediate job is to revive a campaign that is in danger of falling apart, with his side outside the Premier League top four and in danger of exiting the FA Cup and Champions League.
The manager, though, has always insisted his task is to implement long-term changes to a playing staff and style while maintaining competitiveness. Recent performances, played out against a backdrop of conflict between the manager and key dressing-room figures – notably, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard – suggest not everything is going to plan, and the manager's decision to highlight Milan's four-year period without a trophy as an example of the consequences of change will do little to dilute the sense of impatience around the club.
Villas-Boas restated his commitment to do things his way with his team selection in Naples in midweek. Cole, a critic of the manager's tactics following the recent defeat at Everton, was left on the bench along with other senior players including Lampard and Michael Essien, and the manager has made it clear that he will attempt to move on anyone he believes stands in the way of change.
"It is normal, I think, to expect resistance and disappointment," Villas-Boas said yesterday. "But first there must always be a sense of responsibility to the employer. To avoid the change or being part of it the players have to continue to perform, either you continue to perform or you stop performing and you become part of the change. It is normal. The players have been excellent in accepting this as part of a job that needs to be done.
"There is an understanding it is needed. A lot of clubs have gone through it in the past. Milan went four years without a trophy to go through a major cycle of change. But I think it's perfectly normal. I think our battle is the results, the negative results. When you go through a run like this you try to look into everything and you continue to solve things but football is very chaotic. If the penalty against Birmingham [in the FA Cup fifth-round tie last Saturday] goes in we know we can win, but we draw, and that makes things harder."
Villas-Boas may feel luck has deserted him but he remains convinced Roman Abramovich, the club's owner, backs him, despite continued links with former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez.
Abramovich's support for previous managers could hardly be described as unwavering, and will be tested if, as the Portuguese suggests, the battle to finish fourth does not run smoothly.
Victory over Bolton at Stamford Bridge today will move Chelsea ahead of Arsenal and back into a Champions League spot, but the positions could be reversed if Arsène Wenger's side beat Tottenham in tomorrow's north London derby. After the last round of league matches, Villas-Boas has prepared the ground for further disappointment.
"If Arsenal hadn't scored in the last minute with a player who has already gone back to the US [Thierry Henry], we'd be fourth," said the Chelsea manager. "The fact we went fifth changes opinion. Things can further go down still and I need to prepare you guys for that. Still go further down because of the fact it is so tight in the battle for fourth place. A win will give us further belief. If we win and Arsenal win we will stay fifth but be closer to third, seven points behind Tottenham. So that is an extra stimulus, extra motivation before that Tottenham game we have to come."
If the coming three weeks deliver the results Villas-Boas wants, his plea for more time will receive a more sympathetic hearing from the Chelsea hierarchy. If not, his long-term plans may count for nothing. "We are in a hurry for everything and this sense of urgency and emergency does not respect time," he said. "Sometimes it is needed. I think there is full understanding of the owner in that sense. What would a managerial change add to this situation?"
The manager's team selection will be closely examined but it seems unlikely there will be a recall for Fernando Torres. The striker's shattered confidence received another blow yesterday when he was omitted from the Spain squad to face Venezuela after failing to score since last October. "He is a lad we appreciate a great deal and it pains me to leave him out but I wanted to be fair," said Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque.