Between smiles, the manager’s dark side slips through the crack.
Andre Villas-Boas joined José Mourinho’s Chelsea coaching staff as a scout in 2004. It was his job to analyze upcoming opponents and produce reports to be used in Chelsea’s strategic preparation. This report* on Newcastle in 2005, printed by the Times of London, is only one example (although the reports were likely put together and presented similarly from week to week), and offers insight into the development of the future manager. Newcastle’s strengths, weaknesses, patterns, and tendencies were interrogated and organized into categories: offense, defense, set plays, and a set of diagrams titled “Pattern Play and Offensive Combinations”.
Newcastle’s offensive organization is broken down into phases from back to front:
From 2nd to 3rd phase their build-up has also a pattern. Normally it involves a mixture of a direct approach, with short possession football. The fullbacks like to combine with the wingers in order to progress with the ball. If space is tight Owen will do shuffle movements to the wing (usually right side) to receive. Other pattern is when Emre and Parker come short to receive the ball and immediately release the strikers in depth…
The entire report unfolds in the same quantifiable objective manner, but the breakdown also contains qualitative descriptions. Newcastle is “attack-minded and aggressive”, “quick” going forward, “deadly”, and possesses “great vision.”
Also throughout, Villas-Boas makes psychological assessments. Newcastle has “motivation + great spirit”, an offensive transition with a “quick and aggressive change of attitude”, while on defense only a “medium change of attitude.” Psychology is already important him, its value determined by inclusion in the report. It is something for his manager to consider when calculating Chelsea’s game plan.
In addition, there are twenty-four diagrams that contribute to producing the most quantifiable and measurable picture from a set of collected data, yet the information includes descriptions and states of mind not easily reducible in this way.
Andre Villas-Boas may be the first manager of his kind. Modest and ambitious, inseparable and detached from his club, he understands the new dictates of global football.
Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003. He was unknown, a minor character in dying Sovietology circles. Biographies of him were (in ways still are) aggregated factoids of his acumen, influence, and criminal activity accompanied by a thumbnail photo represented by that default outline of a headshot. From a football perspective Abramovich’s motives for purchasing Chelsea were unclear. He had no known relationship to the game or to the club. Why did an oil and gas billionaire choose the football business over the countless business options available to him?
Things are clearer from the business and life perspective. By 2003, Russia had outgrown the initial “new Russia” label. The oligarchs’ free-for-all of the Boris Yeltsin era had given way to Vladimir Putin who turned them into public enemies. To avoid the fate of now-imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Abramovich went clean. He sold off his assets, resettled in London, and turned his business interests to owning a football club. Chelsea FC was the best business deal at the time, and a pleasurable small business venture. England provided security and generous tax breaks for his wealth, and London offered the quality of life for his family. He may have severed associations to a murky entrepreneurial past, but he brought with him a softer version of the unpredictable and ruthless practices.
Carlo Ancelotti has been relieved of his duties in the most vulgar sense of “with immediate effect”.
While remaining fans waited out the pain of M62 traffic amid Goodison Park’s littered aisles, Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties at Chelsea. There is little surprise; speculation about his future had been growing for some time. Had a top Premier League manager been asked about his future as often as Ancelotti? The smell of a slow death was covered up by his casual Zen-like acceptance of fate. His shrug and frown a sign that he had taken of control by yielding it (or tacitly admitting that he hadn’t anything to yield in the first place). The shocking part comes from the expediency of his dismissal following his post-game press conference.
General opinion had been making a case for Ancelotti’s stay based on leading Chelsea to its first double, his history of achievements as a manager and player, and his affability and integrity. For all the advantages that controversy brings to the media, the majority support of the manager perhaps points to a combative position—not anti-Chelsea or anti-Abramovich—but a collective fight against pointless madness. Why really was he sacked?
One of the great mysteries of the Premier League season was Chelsea’s severe drop in form in November and December, which saw them go 2-4-3 in league matches, taking only ten points from a possible twenty-seven after starting the season 8-1-1, taking twenty-five points of the first thirty. This was a prolonged slump for a team like Chelsea. In January and February, the club began to turn things around, and from March though the end of the season Chelsea went 8-2-2.
If the club hadn’t re-discovered the early season form that touted them as the league’s projected winner in October, any number of explanations from an aging squad to the narrow formation to Ancelotti’s uninspiring calm composure would have been sufficient. By chasing Manchester United into the final weeks of the season, after long being declared out of the title race, derails the customary analyses. Which conditions had changed so radically during this period to account for the severe slump? Nothing convincing has been put forth.
It is reductionist at this point to say that Ancelotti was sacked for not winning the Champions League. Although Roman Abramovich seems to be refining his performance review in this direction, to date no manager has been sacked for not winning the Champions League in a season when the Premier League has been won. And since no Chelsea manager under Abramovich has won the Champions League when not winning the Premier League, it must be assumed that Ancelotti’s sacking was based on the failure to take the consolation prize of league title, which has its origin in the mysterious mid-season slump.
Ruthless, autocratic, and seemingly aloof feed the opinion that the Russian billionaire cares little for the club, but this may not be the case.
My parents were very supportive of my youth soccer career. They attended nearly every game from Kindergarten through high school and made sure that I attended every practice. They organized pizza parties and help fund the team through materials and equipment. My father coached a number of my teams and my mother often made the team banners.
I can recall looking to the sideline and seeing my dad, red-faced, screaming “GET IT OWWWWWWWUT!!!!!!!!!!” at the top of his lungs, repeatedly; what we were doing on the field made him a madman until we cleared the ball out of our defense. At ten years old, this could take a while.
Occasionally, I’d catch him throw his clipboard down into the ground, not unlike Arséne Wenger does with a water bottle. I can’t explain how, but in the heated moments, my father’s glasses would fly off his face like a bird with a broken wing. He wasn’t tossing them like he did the clipboard, so my only guess is that it was from the radiating pulses of the fit originating in his temples.
When the game became too intense, my mom couldn’t watch. If we were taking a penalty kick she would turn around and walk a straight line away from the field until it was over.
More often, I’d also catch my mother on the sideline contorted into a position as if she was just about to kick an invisible ball. Her weight distribution wasn’t right, but she created a well-mapped conversion of what was taking place on the pitch. She was feeling and visualization what we should do or were about to do. This was her version of “Get it out”.
Deeply invested in the game, her contribution was to enact a series of desired motions and silent physical expressions.
Not unlike Roman Abramovich. The Russian seldom speaks to the media, remains inconspicuous, and at times prefers his yacht (who wouldn’t) to the owner’s box. When present, his shadowy public support has been interpreted as indifference or as a waning interest in his plaything. But there is sensitivity and emotional connection in that disconcertingly cuddly face. Now and again we see it.
Exorcism, expectorant, purge. Arsenal finally beat Chelsea and lobby for their equality.
Not much more needs to be said.
Clearing this mental hurdle invoked less the image of a runner than the pole vaulter. Everyone knew the importance of beating Chelsea if this season was to be any different from the last. Yet it becomes more poignant seeing a celebration of this magnitude after scoring the first goal. There was still an entire second half to play, but scoring first, establishing initiative, and taking control, was in the player’s minds, the missing piece, the thin single edge they had not yet acquired.