The full scope of Andre Villas-Boas' disastrous reign as Chelsea manager was unearthed Monday when it emerged the freshly sacked boss had cost the club more than $1.7 million per game – making him the most expensive managerial mistake in soccer history.
Figures leaked to the English media put the price of the 34-year-old Portuguese coach's acquisition and severance package at just over $68 million, a staggering cost for a stint that spanned only eight months and 40 games.
Villas-Boas, widely known as AVB, was fired following a defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, and departed with Chelsea on the brink of being eliminated from the Champions League and in severe danger of failing to qualify for that competition again next season.
For Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, such an outcome was more embarrassment than he could bear, but the Russian oil billionaire is far from blameless in this sorry saga.
Abramovich has always struggled with deciding whether the club is his business or his hobby, fluctuating from trying to make smart financial decisions to getting all gooey-eyed at rubbing shoulders with superstar players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard.
Perhaps from the moment when he allowed Lampard and Terry summer use of his multi-million dollar private yacht four years ago, a culture pervaded at Chelsea where player power was a potent and damaging force.
Last summer Abramovich realized that had to change, and tasked Villas-Boas with the challenge of ushering in a new era with a focus on youth and a power structure that was not centered on the likes of Terry, Lampard, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole. Abramovich found out the hard way that entrusting a 34-year-old coach with the responsibility of limiting the power of established stars similar in age to himself was a mistake – a brutal lesson that cost the owner a chunk of his fortune to learn.
In order to get Villas-Boas, who was dubbed as the new “Special One” in deference to his fellow countryman Jose Mourinho, Abramovich first had to get rid of previous chief Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti's failure to win another English Premier League title and Chelsea's exit from the Champions League proved to be his undoing, but sacking the Italian veteran didn't come cheap, costing $22 million in payoffs.
Then there was another $20 million that Abramovich gave Portuguese club Porto to gain a release of Villas-Boas, who had just lifted the Europa League trophy in his first full season with the team. Now, with AVB on his way, Chelsea is liable to pay out his entire contract, estimated at $26 million.
No one is blameless in Chelsea's mess. Villas-Boas certainly did not help his own cause, alienating his players and the powerful British media with his aloof, arrogant approach. Forcing senior players Nicolas Anelka and Alex to train with the youth team and park in a separate lot when they refused to sign new contracts angered the likes of Terry and Lampard, who did not appreciate seeing their friends snubbed. Mutinous seeds were sown, and by the time Villas-Boas so desperately needed a win to save his job at Napoli in the Champions League two weeks ago and at West Brom last weekend, his players had no desire to fight for him.
Those same players must carry their share of the blame for Chelsea's dire season. The level of entitlement many of the Chelsea squad appear to feel is staggering.
Players paid astronomical sums of money have failed to show the proper application because they didn't like AVB's methods. Such excuses do not wash, and whoever the new boss is – assistant coach Roberto Di Matteo has taken over in the interim – would be well-served to issue a swift reminder that the players are employees who owe commitment in exchange for their paycheck.
Abramovich, too, is in many ways the architect of his own frustration. He is discovering now that for all his money, there is no quick fix to problems that he allowed to manifest for far too long. His troubles began when he pulled the trigger by getting rid of Mourinho in 2007, but he has only piled on the problems by repeatedly ditching managers ever since. From the time Mourinho left and Villas-Boas was hired, four other managers were hired and discarded. The five coaches – Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Ancelotti and Villas-Boas – were from five different countries.
No club in the history of the game has enjoyed success with such a Steinbrenner-esque revolving-door policy and Abramovich needs to realize that building stability requires some element of patience.
With every firing, the job becomes more of a poisoned chalice, and as things stand, it will need a mightily strong character to have any chance of making a success of it.
Mourinho is the bookies' favorite, primarily because he is unhappy at Real Madrid, but there must be doubts as to whether he would consider returning to Stamford Bridge, where he led Chelsea to back-to-back EPL titles in 2005 and 2006.
However, British soccer correspondent Rob Beasley told me in an interview on my radio show, World Football Daily, that Mourinho had discussed the issue with him in an email conversation. Beasley said Mourinho felt that despite his previous personality clashes with Abramovich, he would be confident of overseeing significant improvement at Chelsea.
Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has been strongly linked, while Joachim Loew, current manager of the German national team but out of contract after this summer's European Championships, is also thought to be a contender.
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