Villas-Boas, Mourinho begin rivalry
The teenager who used to hang around Sir Bobby Robson’s apartment in the Portuguese city of Porto was looking first for an autograph and then for a job. Knowing he could not play the game well enough to make a living out of soccer, he wanted to make a start on a career in coaching. If he ever dreamed of coaching an ambitious club in Robson’s native England, the fantasy has come true. Twice.
Andre Villas-Boas was in charge of Roman Abramovich’s team at Chelsea and, having lost that post in a matter of months, is now at Tottenham Hotspur, threatening to make the Russian billionaire regret his characteristically swift and ruthless decision to part company.
It could start to happen from the very first kick of this Premier League weekend, which begins at White Hart Lane, the self-styled ‘’world-famous home of the Spurs’’ and proving a most fertile environment for the young Portuguese -- Villas-Boas is still only 35 -- who threatens to break into England’s Champions League elite with a team first built on Gareth Bale and then, after it became clear the Welsh attacker was going to Real Madrid this summer, rebuilt with the €100 million received from the Spanish club.
Spurs used to fear their confrontations with Chelsea, especially when Jose Mourinho was at Stamford Bridge, but now they look more than equipped to face the so-called “Special One” in his second incarnation.
No longer does their budget leave them feeling second-best to Abramovich’s expensive collection. Spurs have reinvested the Bale cash so energetically that their bench -- a good guide to the strength of any squad -- now creaks with heavyweight internationals, just like that of their rivals from the other side of London.
There are so many ingredients in this cocktail of a game that it hardly needed the twist of lemon added when Chelsea, as if to state that Abramovich’s money could still talk in the era of Financial Fair Play, snatched the Shakhtor Donetsk attacking midfielder Willian towards the end of the summer transfer window, outbidding Spurs.
The former comrades will take their London sides to battle at White Hart Lane on Saturday with Andre Villas-Boas' side in far better form over Chelsea (Image:WhoScored.com).
If the Brazilian plays at the Lane -- though his early form might have persuaded Mourinho of his unreadiness for such a difficult fixture -- he’ll get a raucous reception. As will Mourinho, whose return to Chelsea has so far lacked the impetus of his original arrival in 2004, when he immediately guided the club to its first English title in half a century.
Villas-Boas, whether he likes it or not, is perceived as following in Mourinho’s footsteps. Just as Mourinho was given an enviable football education by the late and much-loved Robson, who encountered him at Sporting Lisbon and took him to both Porto and Barcelona -- although officially employed as a translator, he was a trusted aide in preparing the team -- Villas-Boas thrived by the side of Mourinho.
When Mourinho, in his turn, went to Porto, he answered Villas-Boas’ plea for a job -- and was not let down. Villas-Boas became part of the off-the-field team that carried the northern Portuguese force to not only successive national titles but first Europa League and then Champions League titles under Mourinho, who duly took him on to Chelsea and finally Inter in Italy.
But there Villas-Boas decided it was time to go it alone and Mourinho didn’t appreciate that. Villas-Boas, for his part, felt Mourinho was seeking to block his development. "Our relationship has broken down,’’ Villas-Boas said at his media conference on Friday morning. "I don’t lose any sleep over it.’’
Villas-Boas added: ''I don't think we need explanations but our relationship broke down. I think we have the mutual respect for each other and we understand what we've been through cannot just disappear, but it's not like it was before.''
The offer that split them was for Villas-Boas to take over as head coach of the Portuguese club Academica and, after a brief but promising spell in the old university city of Coimbra, the younger man found himself on the familiar territory of Porto, his home city, making history repeat itself with the national title and Europa League.
Hence the approach from Abramovich, who, having lost patience with the old Mourinho, turned to the new. But history suddenly stopped repeating itself. Amid reports that senior players didn’t rate Villas-Boas, he was sacked.
Spurs’ chairman, Daniel Levy, didn’t mind shopping for damaged goods. He knew that, when it comes to people, they can be repaired. And so far it looks as if Levy made a great appointment. Spurs did well enough with Bale devastatingly on song last season, but they look even better in the early part of this campaign, despite the arrivals of so many new players.
Paulinho, the all-action Brazilian midfielder, has been an instant hit and Spurs fans have also warmed to Spanish striker Roberto Soldado, while much is expected of Argentine winger Erik Lamela. There are plenty of others with infant reputations.
This is a squad built to last. This is why Villas-Boas wanted Levy to hire the Italian transfer specialist Franco Baldini (once assistant to Fabio Capello as head coach of England’s national team). But they must win some of their tougher games to achieve their initial top-four target and, having already lost a derby to Arsenal, Spurs will be desperate to succeed in this one.
Mourinho has a different point to prove. A run of two losses – to Everton and, in Chelsea’s opening group match of the Champions League, Basel – ended with a routine home success over Fulham last weekend but controversy rumbles on over the coach’s reluctance to use Juan Mata, a playmaker so popular that both teammates and fans voted him player of the year last season.
Although Mourinho has been refreshingly explicit about the reasons, saying that he wants the young Brazilian Oscar as his No. 10 and that therefore Mata must settle to a wider role involving more defensive responsibility, the English critical body sometimes has a problem with straight talking and Mata is beginning to be seen as a martyr.
It’s also a results business, of course, but only if Chelsea put a few good ones together will the campaigning voices be hushed.