December 10, 2011
Villas-Boas may regret scolding media
By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency
LONDON - Revenge can be delicious, of course, even if we also know that it is best put in the freezer for a little while. But when does it make you a potential captive of your own still precarious fate? When, maybe, you grab for it quite as quickly as did Chelsea’s 34-year-old head coach Andre Villas-Boas this last week.
Exhilaration was certainly understandable when Villas-Boas emerged from intense pressure under the gaze of his impatient oligarch boss Roman Abramovich, who paid $20 million US plus to Portuguese club Porto when he bought out the wunderkind’s contract last summer — after firing the eminent Italian Carlo Ancelotti.
However, the coach’s rage over media criticism seemed somewhat excessive even after Chelsea, with tactics sharply re-modelled and a magnificent performance from veteran Didier Drogba, beat Valencia to not only qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League but also top the group.
But then after some disturbing earlier form, and unavoidable evidence that the young coach was on a collision course with the club’s locker room old guard, Chelsea had also beaten the surprise element of the Premier League season, Newcastle United on their ground day a few days earlier. Villas-Boas clearly believed that he had won back the right to ridicule his critics.
This was not the wisest of moves in the first place — especially when some of the harder-nosed observers believed that, given his alarming failure to produce anything approaching convincing defence, he had suffered not a lot more than mild reproof — but it was compounded when he singled out arguably England’s fastest-rising TV soccer analyst, former Manchester United captain Gary Neville.
The way young Villas-Boas introduced his passionate criticism of his “persecutors” you might have been forgiven for believing it was soccer’s version of a State of the Union message.
He declared, “I have words to say about the comic comments and lack-of-depth criticism from top ex-professional players. Most people don’t even bother with what they say and perhaps I make them more important than they are. But the fact they opt for the most ridiculous means I have to defend myself and my players. I have to be aggressive — I think that’s fair.”
Villas-Boas had been angered especially by widespread and biting reaction to the new fragility in Chelsea’s defence but it was a comment of Neville, who has earned many admirers for his bracing analysis in his first season in the TV studio, that hit the rawest nerve.
Neville suggested the play of Chelsea’s talented but erratic Brazilian defender David Luiz might have been controlled by a “10-year-old kid in the stands operating a play station.”
Villas-Boas stormed, “Luiz is one of the best central defenders in the world. When Neville takes a ridiculous route I have to defend. And I would say this to his face with most pleasure. What does Gary Neville know about our dressing room? What can he know?”
As they say about courtroom battling, a smart lawyer never asks a question whose answer he does not know and anyone with passing knowledge of English football over the last decade and a half could have told them that Neville was one of the most astute defenders in the business. The great Sir Bobby Charlton, one of only two Englishmen to win both the European and World Cups, was so impressed he selected him at right back in his all-time Manchester United team.
For Villas-Boas there was an additional problem. His tirade against ex-professionals — the BBC’s top analyst, former Liverpool captain Alan Hansen, was also in the firing line — came from someone who had never kicked a ball professionally.
That, of course, does not detract from undoubted flair in the coach’s dug-out but at times of maximum tension, the kind the coach had been living through for some weeks after defeat in European action by Bayer Leverkusen and then an embarrassing home defeat to Liverpool, it did suggest to some a notable point of weakness.
Neville, reasonably enough, shrugged his shoulders and added another notch to an increasingly impressive gunbelt. The hunch has to be that despite the heat generated by the TV lights he will, soon enough, know the correct temperature at which to make a little riposte.
— James Lawton writes for the Independent newspaper in England.