André Villas Boas steps out from José Mourinho's shadow at Porto
José Mourinho's former protégé André Villas Boas has engineered a stunning revival at Porto that has put him on major clubs' radar
in The Guardian's The Sport Blog, 15.04.2011
The spectre of José Mourinho is rarely too distant when Chelsea enter the process of a managerial appointment. The irony on Wednesday, as it emerged that Carlo Ancelotti was set to be relieved of his responsibilities at Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, was that the Portuguese was present and correct in London.
Mourinho watched his Real Madrid team win 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur to smooth their passage into the Champions League semi-finals and he spent the majority of the post-match press conference complaining about yellow card-related suspensions and the Spanish press. The discussion only switched to his former club Chelsea and Ancelotti long enough for him to state that while a return to the Premier League appealed, his immediate future lay at the Bernabéu. "I stay at Real Madrid next season," he said. "Unless the press sacks me..."
It can sometimes feel as if there is a yearning at Chelsea to return to the glory days of Mourinho, who won everything bar the Champions League during his three-and-a-bit seasons in west London. There is certainly a faction within the squad who would welcome him back. But if the master cannot be persuaded to succeed Ancelotti, then what of the apprentice?
André Villas Boas is the hottest young coaching talent in Europe. The 33-year-old has taken Porto to the Portuguese league title with games to spare – the team's record to date is worth recording; P26 W24 D2 L0 F61 A11 – while success in Europe beckons too. Porto are into the semi-finals of the Europa League, after seeing off Spartak Moscow 10-3 on aggregate, a 5-2 win in Russia last night sealing an emphatic victory. This is Villas Boas' first full season as a manager and his impact has been nothing short of sensational. Porto finished third in the championship last season, behind Benfica and Braga.
Villas Boas, though, has a cross to bear and it is the moniker of Mourinho Mk II, Mini-Mourinho or any number of variations on the theme. He does not like it, principally because he has always been his own man, strong-minded to a fault, but also because his relationship with his one-time mentor has cooled. Yet the superficial similarities are so great that Villas Boas knows that he must live with it.
Like Mourinho, Villas Boas was not a player of repute and, like Mourinho, he was given his introduction to the professional game by Sir Bobby Robson, largely on the strength of his fluency in English. Villas Boas, who has an English grandmother, lived in the same apartment block as Robson, when the latter was the Porto manager and he pestered him for a break.
Characteristically, Robson responded to the 16-year-old's enthusiasm and he took him to watch Porto train and hired him to work in the club's scouting and statistics department. He would also arrange for him to enjoy work experience with George Burley at Ipswich Town and to take his coaching badges at Lilleshall.
"It was a long time ago," Burley said, "but I remember André as a really nice fella, who was very intelligent and wanted to learn. It's great to experience different cultures. I myself was brought up under Sir Bobby Robson and if he called, you helped him."
Villas Boas coached Porto's junior teams and he spent a year, at the age of 21, as the director of football of the British Virgin Islands but his career kicked on when Mourinho returned to Porto as the manager in 2002, after his job at Uniao Leiria. Mourinho appreciated Villas Boas' eye for detail and work ethic, and he appointed him as the club's head of opposition scouting. When Mourinho moved to Chelsea and Internazionale, he took Villas Boas with him in the same capacity.
Mourinho initially worked as a translator for Robson at Porto and Barcelona before he impressed him with his coaching acumen. He would be named by Louis Van Gaal, Robson's successor at the Camp Nou, as an opposition scout. "José analysed opponents for me and he did it very well," Van Gaal said. "You have to educate your assistants as well as your players."
By the time he moved to Chelsea, Villas Boas' pre-match scouting included personalised DVDs for each player. "I travel to training grounds," he said, in an interview at the time, "often incognito, and then look at our opponent's mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions and presenting a full dossier. José is obsessed with detail."
Villas Boas struck out on his own in October 2009, leaving Mourinho and Inter for Academica in Portugal's top-flight, who were without a victory and demoralised. He guided them to mid-table respectability and, in the process, persuaded Porto to re-employ him last June. It is believed that Villas Boas fell out with Mourinho in Milan, over his ambition to be promoted.
Villas Boas is wedded to 4-3-3 and a fast and dynamic, pressing style. His team is organised and motivated, and they are enjoying their rewards. So is Villa Boas, who has been linked to Liverpool and a number of Italian clubs, chief among them Roma. He says that he only wants to be a manager for 10 years, so all-consuming is the job, and he looks every inch the young man in a hurry. Villas Boas stands to emulate Mourinho by adding the Europa League to the domestic championship in his first season at Porto. Chelsea will be aware of his credentials.