Eyebrows were raised when the teamsheet was released for the Napoli game. John Terry, the Chelsea captain, was ruled out through injury, thus inducing AVB to play the less-than-ideal centreback pairing of Gary Cahill and David Luiz, both of whom proceeded to give a performance over the 90 minutes that would have made Laurel and Hardy proud. Far more baffling, however, was that Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien were all benched. The three that took their places in the starting XI- Bosingwa, Ramires and Meireles, all had shockers. Bosingwa came off after 10 minutes with an injury, thus inducing Villas-Boas to use up a precious substitution early. The Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp raged that it was “managerial suicide”, and judging from the shambolic performance that ensued, in which Chelsea were arguably fortunate to escape from just 3-1 down, he wasn’t wrong.
All that being said, some sympathy has to be given to Andre Villas-Boas. Managing Chelsea, for all its glitterati and glamour, is an unenviable task. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba have egos to match their salaries, and even the usually soft-spoken, diplomatic goalkeeper Petr Cech has a high enough sense of self-worth that he would not be averse to speaking out against the manager. It also is these five players, however, who have been dominant players in Chelsea’s success of the last few years. In the 2009-2010 season when they won the double for the first time in the club’s history, it was Lampard’s goals, Cole’s marauding fullback play, Terry’s defensive blocks, Drogba’s invention and Cech’s crucial saves that won it. Love themselves these men definitely do, but not for no reason.
The revelation that several Chelsea players were still in contact with Jose Mourinho, the manager who’s shadow every man following him has been living in, couldn’t have helped things. AVB must have been hurt to think of Frank Lampard or Ashley Cole sending their former boss a snide text every time AVB got it wrong (and there have been plenty of those this season). Furthermore, Frank whining to cousin Jamie, only to have Redknapp relay everything the Englishman says on TV, has got to be the most counter-productive way to try and get starts. As the age-old phrase goes, it takes two to tango, and the Chelsea camp is most definitely divided into a group of those who are Team Andre Villas-Boas, and Team, well, Andre is a Village Idiot.
It is difficult to say where one can go from here. AVB has a vision for Chelsea’s future – the word “project” has rolled off his tongue continually this season – but I have a few words to describe how Chelsea is right now, none of them project, all of them four-lettered. The club is descending into a downhill spiral of internal politics and backhanded comments, with more drama than a month’s worth of Eastenders. I am not saying that Roman should sack AVB, because, frankly Chelsea have gone through more than enough managerial transitions to last a lifetime. Plus, Chelsea’s players need to take accountability for their atrocious recent performances and start playing for the team. But a big share of the blame does lie with Andre Villas-Boas, and he needs to get a clue, and fast, because the clock is ticking, and as Carlo Ancelotti, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant can attest to, patience is not something the Russian has in abundance. For the majority of Chelsea fans, however, we have long given up on AVB. He would have to perform miracles to turn this sorry mess around now.