From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.28 :: Jul. 14, 2011

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FOOTBALL / KICKING AROUND

The non-playing managers

There has been a long history of brilliant managers who had very little success as players. New Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas joins a long list of such greats. Over to Brian Glanville.

Suddenly and dramatically, the 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas abandoned Porto, after a season of dazzling achievement winning no fewer than three titles, one of them the Europa Cup, to sign a three-year contract with Chelsea, who paid Porto GBP13 million for the manager. Money, admittedly, which figuratively would come out of Roman Abramovich's back pocket. That Villas-Boas is a precociously gifted managerial entity is beyond dispute.

He needed only a single season at Porto to achieve his various triumphs. He is no stranger to Stamford Bridge, as he has worked there in a junior capacity under his fellow Portuguese, the Special One, Jose Mourinho.

But, like Mourinho, one of the most interesting aspects of his career is that he has never played professional football. And perhaps the greatest stumbling block for him at Chelsea could be the form, the lack of it, of Spanish centre forward, Fernando Torres. Abramovich paid GBP50 million to Liverpool for a striker who, so far, at The Bridge simply hasn't struck.

Torres, still clearly not fully fit at the South Africa World Cup, was notoriously indulged by Spain's manager, Vicente Del Bosque to the extent of calling him on as a World Cup final substitute in time. Back at Liverpool, his early season form remained a parody of powers, as supremely shown in the European Championship finals in 2008, when he was simply irresistible.

At Chelsea, he continued to fire blanks, but the doomed Italian Carlo Ancelotti was damned if he did put him in, damned if he put him out with Abramovich — who had previously wasted GBP30 million on a bring Andrei Shevchenko — determined to see Torres play. In effect, Ancelotti's position was rendered untenable and out he has gone, even though the previous season he'd won the FA Cup and League double.

Who knows whether Torres will find his old form after the arrival of Villas-Boas. He can only hope and pray that he does. Meanwhile it is fascinating to see him follow his mentor Mourinho as a non player manager who has achieved remarkable things; even if they don't equal Mourinho's triumph with Porto in the European Cup.

The words of Arrigo Sacchi have rung down the years. “You have to have been a horse to be a jockey.” So inept was Sacchi as a footballer that his little local club told him he might as well coach their junior side. This he did with such success that in time, he found himself in charge of the youngsters of Fiorentina. In due course, somewhat to his amusement, he found himself manager of Milan where his 4-4-2 tactics bore substantial fruit, and ultimately manager of that Italian international team which in one way or another he took to the World Cup final of 1994 in Los Angeles, where it lost only on penalties, after extratime, to Brazil.

Mourinho's father was a Portuguese international of some sort but Mourinho himself took a circuitous course to managerial duties twice, in Portugal and in Spain with Barcelona, acting as interpreter and then assistant to Bobby Robson.

His brief playing spells in a number of minor Portuguese clubs were of little consequence. In Porto then, with Barcelona, after assistant spells with three Portuguese clubs, he learned from Robson and matured as a coach, lasted less than three months as Benfica's manager, but flourished with lesser Leiria in a July to January spell.

Porto then gave him their senior job and he proceeded to take them to European FA Cup and the Champion's Cup in two victorious seasons. Then as we well know he would take over in turn Chelsea and Inter Milan, winning his second European Cup, and then Real Madrid. Quite an act to follow but young Villas-Boas has made a precious beginning. He worked as a scout for his maestro, Mourniho, at Chelsea and Inter before becoming manager of Portuguese Academica in 2009. He rescued them from relegation and then returned to be the main man at Porto, with such remarkable success.

Can he succeed at Chelsea who have given him a three-year deal estimated to be worth GBP4.4 millions. Even if he doesn't, he can rest secure that Abramovich can make use of his money, as he has so regularly been obliged to do, when sacking managers in the past.

Actually, there is nothing remotely new in a majority of clubs, Chelsea among them, appointing what you might call a playing manager. Leslie Knighton, for one. Beginning his career at the humble assistant level with the tiny Castleford club South Shore, he went on to take charge of Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Birmingham and Bournemouth. The domineering Sir Henry Norris who'd moved Arsenal across the Thames from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913 appointed Knighton in 1919, sacked him in 1925, to appoint the legendary Herbert Chapman.

At that point, the Gunners lost at the foot of the 1st Division, but Knighton had shown skill in tracking and somehow recruiting, often in face of opposition, a host of gifted young players, on whom Chapman built his famous sides. You don't indeed have to have been a horse, to be a jockey.



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