/ 22 June 2011

Villa-Boas could face tough decisions at Chelsea

How to dismantle an aging squad while quickly satisfying the sky-high demands of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is the complex equation Andre Villas-Boas will have to solve if he becomes Chelsea’s new manager.

It’s the same problem Carlo Ancelotti was wrestling with before the Italian coach was abruptly sacked, minutes after Chelsea’s final game of last season at Everton.

The team had just finished second in the Premier League, 12 months after winning a league and FA Cup double in Ancelotti’s first year in charge. These are the parameters Villas-Boas would be operating in if the club’s confirmation of its interest in the Portuguese coach is followed through with a contract — as expected.

Ancelotti’s major flaw was failing to win the Champions League, a trophy Abramovich has coveted since he took control at Stamford Bridge in 2003.

Villas-Boas has never coached a team in the Champions League — he has only been a coach for two years — and would have to quickly adapt to the demands of high-level European competition.

Sweeping to the Europa League title in his first season at Porto suggests he would be well equipped to do this but the pressure on him at Chelsea will be much greater than it was at Porto. Abramovich is a man of few words but he is quick to lower the guillotine if the best is not achieved.

No manager has survived in the oligarch’s reign if they haven’t won at least the Premier League title the previous year.

Plenty of money
With Abramovich’s deep pockets, Villas-Boas would have the funds to bring in new players as the Blues attempt to topple Manchester United in the Premier League and Barcelona in the Champions League.

But it won’t all be about throwing money at major transfers. It will be more about carefully and systematically rebuilding a team whose spine has been together since the days of Abramovich’s first coach, Claudio Ranieri.

The Petr Cech-John Terry-Frank Lampard-Didier Drobga axis has been an undeniable success since the quartet were brought together in 2004, guiding Chelsea to league titles in 2005, 2006 and 2010.

But Lampard’s best years may well be behind him, Drogba is set to be second in the pecking order of strikers following the Abramovich-inspired signing of Fernando Torres in January, and both Terry and Cech are increasingly prone to errors. Indeed, at 33, Lampard and Drogba are the same age as their new coach, while Nicolas Anelka (32), Ashley Cole (30) and Florent Malouda (31) aren’t far behind.

Villas-Boas will have to decide early whether to stay with Chelsea’s old guard for another season or start afresh.

Stick, and he has a number of highly paid players in the dressing room whose powers are beginning to wane. Twist, and the Portuguese coach will endure a season of transition with the demands of winning a major trophy still thrust upon him.

Known to favour a 4-3-3 formation, there won’t be room for both Torres and Drogba, while Chelsea is being heavily linked with another raid on Porto for its strikers Hulk or Falcao. Villas-Boas would also probably need to sign a right back and another central midfielder as Jose Bosingwa and John Obi Mikel have failed to hit the heights at Stamford Bridge since moving for a reported combined fee of £30-million ($49-million).

Abramovich, who dismissed Ancelotti with 12 months remaining on his £6-million a year contract, is already working on his next investment in the club.

A £15-million ($21.5-million) exit fee has been paid to release Villas-Boas from his contract at Porto and the west London club said on Tuesday it was hoping to finalise personal terms with him soon.

But such are Abramovich’s whims, and his history of hiring and firing, that Villas-Boas would have to get used to being permanently on shaky ground.

He just has to look at the way Ancelotti was treated — having been notified of his dismissal in the bowels of Everton’s Goodison Park ground seconds after finishing his post-match news conference — to know that. — Sapa-AP