We are all guilty of hoping there is a formula for success. In football, we convince ourselves that if we can just lure that influential manager, or that star player, or secure that lucrative investment, then days of glory will ensue. And then, just when the ingredients for prosperity seem explicitly obvious, a remarkable exception comes along and makes fools of us all. Chelsea have had substantial financial backing since 2003 but have yet to realise their ambition of winning a Champions League. Last year, Real Madrid assembled a star studded squad and subsequently won precisely nothing. This season, we have a young Portuguese manager who has led Porto to a comfortable domestic league triumph and looks poised to secure a European trophy in May, rendering him the hottest managerial prospect in town. Sound Familiar? Well, for all the similarities between André Villas Boas and José Mourinho, it is where the tales of the two men diverge that the former may ultimately start to establish his role as a world class coach.
In truth, Villas Boas’ footballing background is of the modest variety from which Mourinho was borne. His playing experience is negligible and he was counseled into coaching by the late Bobby Robson who, as manager of Porto, was initially impressed by the young Portuguese’s fluency in English. Okay, thus far the story is equally applicable to Mourinho but Villas Boas earned his coaching badges in Scotland at the ripe age of 17 before being appointed director of football for the British Virgin Islands, where he would spend a year in the football wilderness. That was until 2002 when Mourinho summoned him to Porto. The then Porto manager recognised in him the same meticulousness and enthusiasm that Robson had and hired him as an opposition scout.
Villas Boas would subsequently inhabit the same staff role under Mourinho at Chelsea and Inter Milan until 2009 when his ambition outgrew the role of subordinate. A brief stint at Académica followed and would garner him a respectable reputation but it was Porto who gambled on him as a relative unknown, and employed the league’s youngest manager. But the gamble paid, and this season has served as an exhibition for Villas Boas’ acumen for both man management and supreme attacking football, all whilst qualifying for a European semi-final and winning the Portuguese league. In fact, Porto’s victory in the league was accomplished without losing a single match, a record which eclipses Mourinho’s domestic record at the same club. So, he’s clear from The Special One’s shadow, right? Not quite yet, as it goes.
Semblances between André Villas Boas and José Mourinho are abundant and, as such, Boas’ ascent to prominence will likely be littered with comparisons to his accomplished compatriot, whether he likes it or not. The Bobby Robson connection will certainly raise an eyebrow or two but equally remarkable is the mutual absence of the typically requisite playing experience. Both possess a more academic perspective of the sport that has served them well since they made the transition from anonymous translator to omniscient coach and perhaps it is this duty of forging an identity for oneself that has equipped them with the determination to lead others. This is where admirers of Mourinho may start rubbing their hands together as, if one thing is apparent it’s that both men are made of the same stuff. Whatever tag people wish to apply to Villas Boas, whether it’s ‘the new special one’ or any variation there of, the implication remains pretty much the same: the young manager is more than capable of reaching the top of football management before he even reaches 40 (the latter milestone is some 7 years away). So, he may be well advised to simply continue replicating the trajectory of his fellow countryman but perhaps it’s naive to assert that that would be such a sensible idea.
Flawless though Mourinho’s career may appear, his considerable array of accomplishments, however impressive, are interspersed with some conspicuous failures. With all that he had at his disposal at Chelsea, regarding finances, personnel and facilities, his attempts to even reach a final of the Champions League were to no avail. At Real Madrid, in spite of promising European prospects, some fans may feel somewhat disillusioned by the ease with which Barcelona are strolling to the Liga title with Mourinho helming the only opposition is sight, some 8 points adrift, a dilemma that many pundits have attributed to the self indulgent conduct of the man in charge.
This is where André Villas Boas should perhaps be weary of assimilating his one time superior as, in each of said instances, Mourinho’s shortcomings were arguably the product of some of his less than harmonious personal and professional relationships. At Chelsea, the relationship between himself and Roman Abramovic was about as amicable as Tom and Jerry’s and ultimately prompted his somewhat premature departure from the club. At Real Madrid, his turbulent relationship with the general manager, Jorge Valdano, has been well publicised and has been something of sensitive subject for Mourinho who feels undermined by such a presence. Certainly Abramovic and Valdano can be less accommodating than a burning house but Mourinho has also displayed a recurring failure to maintain a civilised dialogue with either the press or other managers(except, somewhat curiously, Alex Ferguson). It’s rather a peculiar predicament when someone so charismatic and intelligent can at times display about as much civility as a member of the Jersey Shore crew.
In this respect, Villas Boas may be afforded the opportunity to step out of the ever looming shadow of his erstwhile boss. This season, Mourinho’s incessant laments that game schedules are too demanding, that match officiating is partisan, that the press is too critical, that the sky shouldn’t be blue or that the earth is too round, have grown somewhat wearisome. Such a tactic of diverting attention may have served the special one well in the past but at Real Madrid it has arguably manifested itself negatively, as the culmination of the Mourinho/Valdano conflict curiously coincided with the team’s worst run of form in mid January, wherein they accrued just 4 points from 3 games, scoring only 3 goals.
So, would a less antagonistic incarnation of ‘Mou’ be the perfect persona for Villas Boas to forge for himself? Well, thus far he has shown himself to be something of an amalgamation of his mentors. At Porto this season, his team’s play has betrayed a penchant for incisive attacking football (they have scored 64 goals in 27 games) that is very much reminiscent of that associated with teams coached by the late Bobby Robson. However, in his tenures at Académica and Porto he has shown both a remarkable personal influence and a consistence in performances, both territories that have been thoroughly trodden by his compatriot. Perhaps then, Villas Boas can escape the tag of ‘mini-mou’ if he marries the popular and adventurous qualities of Robson with the shrewd tactician of Mourinho.
There is a series of rather amusing cartoons on marca.com in which several prominent figures from Spanish football are parodied as caricatures in less than flattering fashion. It probably won’t surprise you to know that the protagonist of many of the shorts is José Mourinho, whose somewhat juvenile qualities of self involvement and arrogance seem all too appropriate for such satire.[Incidentally, the Marcatoons recreation of Mourinho is well worth a look.] It’s not a rarity either. Comedy shows in the UK are always inclined to ridicule football’s most dominant and accomplished managers simply due to the unfaltering eccentricity of such figures. Ferguson, Benitez, Wenger et al. They’re all characterised by their combustible, and sometimes immature, tendencies. So perhaps André Villas Boas would do well to succumb to similar impulses if he wants to emulate their achievements and subsequently be granted the accolade of his very own caricature. Or perhaps not. It’s always nice to have exception come along and shake things up once in while.