In an age where media accessibility is such a big part of football, what a Manager says in public is a good indicator of their judgement. In his post-match interview yesterday, Sir Alex Ferguson was honest in his assessment that a Tottenham side, despite being weakened with big absentees, were better than his Manchester United side for the majority of the match and he got his tactics wrong in the first-half.
Tottenham’s approach and industry was excellent in the first-half; both central midfielders, Jake Livermore and Sandro, pushed onto Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, not allowing them to dictate the game. Tottenham won the ball quickly when United had it, and so had the lion’s share of possession, and a territorial advantage where Wayne Rooney and Danny Wellbeck were isolated and largely out of the game. Had United included Ryan Giggs as a third central midfielder instead of a striker they may have outnumbered Tottenham in the middle, and it wasn’t until the second-half when both of United’s wide-players pushed on and Rooney dropped into midfield that they started to feel comfortable, by which time they had the cushion of a lead which had come against the run of play, the stadium was emptying and the heads of Tottenham’s players had dropped.
A Manager who often spoke less sense in public than Ferguson in his time grasping onto the reigns of an English club was Andre Villas-Boas, who was allowed to dig himself into holes at press conferences, as he was invited to criticise refereeing and the media treatment his club received, not so much creating the siege mentality Ferguson once mastered, as one that looked like the new state of paranoia Kevin Keegan created in 1996. (And of course Chelsea are far from having no friends in the press, as the deliberate unsettling of Luka Modric in pre-season and the barely credible reporting from some high-profile journalists of the playing performance of senior Chelsea players are a reminder).
But despite Vilas-Boas’ erratic outbursts Chelsea’s decline on the pitch had started before his arrival and in fact prior to Christmas 2010, when the double-winning side that had started the following season well, looked suddenly short of confidence and lacking in creativity. The expensive plan to bring in Villa-Boas was based not just on his track record of success in Portugal, similar domestically at least to Jose Mourinho, but also because he encouraged a style of football the Owner liked; his model at Chelsea to begin with was to get them playing higher up the pitch, but the failure of his players to pressurise the opposition when they weren’t in possession led to them being opened up at will, perhaps best demonstrated in their home defeat to Arsenal this season.
The biggest problem Villa-Boas faced of course though was the notorious “strong dressing room”, and after results had gone against him, he was brave enough in his most important game, away to Napoli, to drop players he felt weren’t playing for him, and were clearly leaking against him, as was obvious even that evening, as journalists and commentators were spun the team news from the disenfranchised. Villa-Boas’ team played well that night, although poor defending, from players that were seemingly bought by other people then himself, cost them.
The excellent Ad Hoc Films documentary ‘QPR: the Four Year Plan’, broadcast on BBC2 last night, gave an insight into the chaotic and unworkable situation where a succession of Managers had their autonomy continually undermined until the change of regime the club really needed took place, when Gianni Paladini was replaced as the decision maker above the Manager by Amit Bhatia. For all of Chelsea’s senior Directors, from the outside, it appears all big decisions are made at the behest of the Owner, and the autonomy of those below is curtailed.
For all the huge financial investment from the Owner in the last few years, Financial Fair Play rules may mean that rate of spending will slow, especially if Chelsea miss out on Champions League income in the next two seasons. There has been vast sums wasted with over-priced transfer fees, misjudged signings retained on expensive contracts, and a failure to allow any Manager to develop a team – typical of a current financial style of management in an industry that looks like it may soon see life long social institutions go to the wall.
With an ageing squad that needs overhauling, Chelsea failed to see through their own plan, and were apparently considering Rafa Benitez even before yesterday, suggesting an approach more like Russian Roulette than a Three Year Project.
‘QPR: the Four Year Plan’ was like a mockumentary in large parts, with over blown characters in charge at the very top, unintentionally funny dialogue and the continual changes in Manager like a satire on Football. A camera crew at Chelsea would surely produce a contender for a documentary Academy Award, so rich is the mine of their inner workings. And it could be the only prospect Chelsea have of winning something in the near future.