The Renaissance of Football’s Forgotten Boy Genius: André Villas-Boas
The day is January 30 1994. Sir Bobby Robson had just arrived at the Estadio das Antas (Porto’s 3rd & longest occupied stadium) to take charge of FC Porto. It was the year the life of a 16 year old Portuguese teenager – Luís Andre Villas-Boas – would change forever. Alongside him in the FC Porto dugout was the charismatic Jose Mourinho. Sir Bobby had a relatively good playing career which say him score 124 First division goals for Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.
For José Mourinho, a short 3 year spell at lower Portuguese division sides led to an early retirement at 24 which paved way for the Setubal U-17 job in July 1987.The duo had experience playing Professional football but that was not the case for the young AVB.
Having never played football at any level, his Analysis & scouting of the opposition was unlike anything Sir Bobby had ever seen for someone of his age. This made Sir Bobby to instruct the club to pay for his UEFA C coaching license when AVB was just 17.
At the time, José and AVB became close friends and studied scouting reports together. The legendary English manager with José on his right hand side and the assistance of Villas-Boas, Porto won back-to-back league titles and two Portuguese league cups between 1994 and 1996. The trio had masterminded complete dominance of Portuguese football. But young AVB was always ambitious.
With his reputation growing as one of the best scouts and analysts in European football, opportunity came in 1999 to become the Technical Director of the national team of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and on New Year’s day 2000, he arrived in Tortola, BVI’s capital city to resume work.
His task was clear, Improve training methods and revolutionise the playing system. Alongside BVI native Gregory Grant and American William Moravek, the then 22 year old Andre Villas-Boas guided “The Nature Boyz” to their highest ever FIFA World Ranking of 160.
To put that into context, they are ranked 208 in the October 2019 FIFA World Rankings, just two places above the worst national teams on the planet, San Marino & Anguilla. It was evident that the foundations of the young tactician was laid, 4000 miles away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the city of Porto.
After leaving the British Virgin Islands set up, he returned to Porto in 2001, working as the coach of the U-19 Team with Octavio Machado as manager and later re-uniting with Mourinho (when the former was sacked after a group stage Champions League exit).
Mourinho promoted him to the first team as Opposition Scout. His task also included analysis of opposition sides and Evaluation of games as well as improving team shape and confidence of star players like Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Maniche, Deco, Derlei and new signing, Benni McCarthy. This proved fruitful in the end. With Mourinho flanked by Baltemar Brito, aided by José Morais, Silvino Louro and a 26 year old AVB, Porto won the League, Champions League & the Super cup of Portugal.
His relationship with Mourinho served as his path to management and the the Special One’s influence on him was as important as Sir Bobby Robson’s in the 1990’s. Chelsea came calling in 2004 and AVB followed José Mourinho to London, this time as Assistant Manager. It would be a position that he retained when his compatriot moved to Internazionale as well.
It was at Inter that Villas-Boas would receive his UEFA Pro License, 13 years after he received his UEFA A license when he was just 19. Working with Mourinho was a massive plus and it was not a shock when a host of clubs approached him for managerial appointments.
At the start of the 2009/10 season, Relegation bound Académica de Coimbra appointed him as first team manager. Twenty three matches later, Académica finished the season in 11th place and reached the Semi finals of the Portuguese Cup. Media speculation linked him to the vacant jobs at Sporting CP and Porto and on 2 June 2010, he signed as manager of FC Porto. He guided the Portuguese giants to 12 consecutive wins in the league, Europa and a Super Cup triumph. All this after the departure of Bruno Alves and Raul Meireles.
The signings of Joao Moutinho, Jamés Rodríguez and Nicolás Otamendi (players all under the age of 22 at the time) for a combined 22 million Euros, it laid the foundations for a trophy laden season. AVB led Porto to four trophies by going the entire season unbeaten in the league & winning the Europa League at 33 years and 213 days (a European record). This also meant that AVB had been part of Managerial set ups at FC Porto that won 11 trophies (4 league titles, the Champions League & Europa League twice) between 1995 and 2010.
News had spread like wildfire about a young Portuguese coach who had just won the Europa league and as expected the English media linked him to the Vacant post at Chelsea. The idea was simple; a repeat of history. The key men of Mourinho’s reign – Lampard, Drogba, Terry and Ashley Cole were still important figures at the bridge. The “New Mourinho” as the media called him wanted to forge his own legacy.
Perhaps, he went about this the wrong way because when fans see their team lose to Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the space of two months with the “Old Gang” sitting on the bench, pressure will begin to mount on that manager. After a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the Champions League, Chelsea’s Technical Director – Michael Emenalo asked for explanation on the omission of Lampard, Essien and Ashley Cole from the starting Line up. The Straw that broke the camel’s back happened a week later. After a shock 1-0 defeat to West Brom, he was sacked for the 1st time in his career.
A second London club gave him the opportunity to bounce back and on 3 July 2012, AVB replaced Harry Redknapp as the manager of Tottenham. It was at Spurs he reinvented himself as a manager especially in his first season. Two manager of the month awards & Narrowly missing out of the 2013/14 Champions League by a single point ended with a club record 72 points league finish.(The highest points tally ever by any Premier League club and not finish in the top four).
His short-sightedness in the Previous season by not adequately preparing for the exit of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid caused an atrocious start to the 2013/14 season. The Welshman accounted for 33 percent of the goals a year before. Replacing him with Erik Lamela was definitely one of the strangest decisions in top flight football. After 11 goals conceded in two games against Liverpool and Manchester City, Spurs sacked him for the 2nd time in his career.
Between 2014 & 2018, AVB had a complete journeyman career. From winning the Russian Premier League with Zenit to replacing former Manchester City manager, Sven Goran-Eriksson at Chinese Super League Club, Shanghai SIPG then a short career as a car racer, he came back to top flight European football when he was appointed the manager of Olympique Marseille, replacing Rudi Garcia in May 2019.
After a shock opening day Ligue 1 defeat to Reims at the Velodrome, Marseille have gone on a 7 game unbeaten streak including victories over Saint-Etienne and AS Monaco. They now occupy the second position on the log, behind Paris Saint-Germain going into the last international break of the year. Under the management of the legendary Andoni Zubizarreta as Director of Football, Marseille secured the services of Argentine Striker – Dario Benedetto for 14 million Euros. Becoming AVB’s second signing at the club. So far he’s proven to be a bargain and with a return of five league goals, he sits in 4th place on the top Ligue 1 Scorers list. equal with PSG Duo – Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi.
Villas-Boas has made Marseille to be a compact unit in defence and fluid in attack. Utilising his famous 4-3-3 system with Dimitri Payet as an inside forward on the left. Currently they are unbeaten in the last 5 home league games and only Strasbourg and Montpellier have a better record.
His coaching staff is young and exciting too and with an average age of 44.4 years, it is one of the youngest in Europe’s top 5 leagues. AVB is leading OM’s march to Qualification for the 2020/21 Champions League alongside former Real Madrid, Chelsea and FC Porto defensive stalwart, Ricardo Carvalho. Dimitri Payet is having a return to form under the Portuguese too.
With 4 league goals in 9 appearances this season, he has equalled his goal tally of last term and the Frenchman is loving it. His four strikes have come against Lyon, Nice and Monaco. Delivering a Man of the Match performance against Lyon by becoming the First Marseille player to score twice against the “Les Gones” since Andre Pierre-Gignac in 2014. After the game, Payet didn’t hold back on AVB’s predecessor – Rudi Garcia.
“They have two different visions of Football. The most obvious difference is that we now have a coach today who speaks French fluently and doesn’t try to shy away from the hard things. That’s the difference between AVB and the former one.”
Andre Villas-Boas is getting what may be his penultimate chance to etch his name into the stones of the European game once again. The Portuguese “boy wonder” as Gabriel Marcotti called him in 2010 is here to make doubters turn to believers again. If he had only the gun before, he now has the ammo.