Villas-Boas sure Chelsea can banish ghosts of past in quest for Euro glory
The gift-wrapped box of footballing fireworks that is the UEFA Champions League is reopened this evening.
It will unveil the greatest technical and tactical show on earth. Chelsea's new manager, Andre Villas-Boas, even hails the competition as harder to win than the World Cup
Not a man readily given to hyperbole, Villas-Boas paused for considered thought before making his pronouncement after training at Cobham. It is his debut as a coach in the Champions League, so his excitement is understandable, but it also indicated an underlying understanding of the size of the imminent challenge.
Bayer Leverkusen deserve respect, especially with Michael Ballack returning, but the Germans are foothills compared to the grand peaks of Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Manchester City that make up a forbidding European landscape.
Probably only Spain could boast a squad with the starting class and strength of depth of the marquee clubs. Even then, Barcelona, the European champions, offer Lionel Messi to complement all that glittering Spanish talent such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique.
"It's the most difficult competition,'' argued Villas-Boas of the Champions League. "If you compare it to inter-national competitions, it's a lot of good teams competing for one trophy.
"The amount of top teams is even more visible this year -- Inter Milan will try to regain the trophy they lost two seasons ago and Real Madrid with the squad they have.
"There are so many in-depth squads that can go all the way.
"I've not been in the World Cup. I'm pretty inexperienced in this competition as well. Motivation plays a big part in international football, and in the World Cup for sure.
"The players are involved completely with that sole objective to win it.
"The Champions League is more difficult because it's an 'in between' competition -- most of the clubs in it are competing for domestic honours as well. It is a more difficult task because it requires more of this players' talent and more of the manager's awareness to motivate everybody."
For all the undeniable drama presented by the Champions League, as witnessed in climaxes such as last May's final between United and Barcelona, the World Cup still stirs more emotion. If lacking the technical qualities of UEFA's club showpiece, FIFA's grand occasion remains football's premier competition.
In seeking to scale club football's Everest, guiding Chelsea to the pinnacle for the first time, Villas-Boas must prove the player-whisperer, filling his team with the belief to win the competition after the trauma of Moscow in 2008 and assorted semi-final anguish. To borrow from the songbook of their famous fan Suggs, Chelsea must learn how to go one step beyond.
Ballack mentioned the ghosts chasing his old club, recalling "the Champions league final with the penalty shoot-out, that will haunt all of us forever and it will be hard to get rid of that memory".
Villas-Boas refused to countenance that John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and co had a mental block.
"No, I don't agree. They have been so close," he said. "We're always confident. We have to focus on trying to achieve it. It's not just Chelsea as a top European club who haven't won it.
"Our time will eventually come. We must try to win all the competitions we're in, with flair and style.''
Meanwhile, Andre Villas-Boas will talk to Fernando Torres about comments the Spaniard is reported to have made about Chelsea having some "slow" players. Interviewed by the La Liga website, Torres said Juan Mata was a "great signing" for Chelsea as he's "that kind of player who gives another pace to the game that's something Chelsea lacks nowadays''.