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Saturday 16 December 2017

Bridge mutiny is conundrum for Abramovich

ONE day it might just dawn on the man who started off making plastic ducks in a Moscow apartment block. In some ways, winning in football is not too dissimilar from becoming one of the richest men in the world. A lot of it has to do with timing, knowing when to hold the cards and when to toss them aside.

The least disposable of all those who Roman Abramovich has strewn so impatiently across the table at Stamford Bridge was Jose Mourinho.

Carlo Ancelotti was certainly worth a second look, especially when you measured his track record and general knowledge of the game against the tyro who was being fitted for his shoes, and even the oligarch grasped the value of Guus Hiddink.

But Andre Villas-Boas, what does he do with him?

It's getting near impossible to believe that he shouldn't junk all the free advice he has been given down the years, all those solemn reminders that every story of significant success in football can be traced to the moment a club identified outstanding quality in their hired professional and pledged their long-term support.

However, the boy prodigy from Portugal is surely pushing this impeccable theory to breaking point.



Persuade

He has now been in office at Chelsea for almost precisely the time Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup-winning coach of huge experience, took to persuade Abramovich that he was an expensive mistake.

As it happened, Scolari's record was rather better than the one Villas-Boas now boasts, 20 wins in 36 games against 18 in 36, a winning percentage of 55 per cent against AVB's 50.

Unfortunately for Scolari, the owner of vast mineral rights in Russia was never going to be assuaged by such piffling data.

He wants swift evidence of a winning dynamism and, if Scolari had a slight edge over Villas-Boas in the win and loss columns, he was just as quick as his young successor in turning the dressing room from a happy home of millionaire brothers-in-arms into a hot bed of rebellion.



Haul

Villas-Boas's decision to haul in his players for Sunday training after the dispiriting 2-0 weekend defeat at Everton might have made more sense if his relationship with the squad had not already appeared quite so fragile.

Abramovich's increasingly frequent visits to the club's training ground can only reinforce the idea of a coach feeling the pressure from both above and below his precarious position at a club which is not so much underperforming as threatening to fall through the floor.

If it is true, as the vibes increasingly suggest, that disaffection with Villas-Boas has reached a point where the resentment of some players is being replaced by something uncomfortably close to outright pity for a man out of his depth, each new visit from the owner must bring a new pang of dread.

And the news that players had openly criticised tactics and team selection during Abramovich's visit to Cobham is a startling development.

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