Villas-Boas out to prove Chelsea 'quitters' wrong on Stamford Bridge return

The Portuguese has changed his ways since becoming the seventh manager to be sacked by Roman Abramovich, but he also finds himself in an altogether more suitable environment now
By Sam Lee

Absolutely nothing. That's what Andre Villas-Boas thinks people can glean from his time as Chelsea manager. "I spent three great years on the staff. When I was given more responsibility I wasn't given enough time."

But if the 35-year-old believes we can't draw any conclusions from his ill-fated spell at Stamford Bridge, he certainly learned some vital lessons.

He returns to west London on Wednesday night with his Tottenham side, who must surely win to secure a place in the Premier League's top four and with it qualification for the Champions League, having shown that the fanfare which heralded his arrival in England two summers ago is not misplaced.

Unsure of how he will be received by Chelsea fans on his first return to Stamford Bridge 14 months after he was sacked, Villas-Boas will have a prime opportunity to get revenge on those that "quit" on him.

Roman Abramovich blamed the players immediately after he sacked his seventh Chelsea manager, but the ousted Portuguese maintained that the Russian did not provide the requisite support during the rough spells and eventually reneged on the new vision the two had agreed for the club.

The proactive brand of football they had dreamed of clashed with certain senior players, in both senses of the word. Part of the squad seemed incapable of adapting on the pitch, another part were unwilling to do so off it.

Frank Lampard was no longer a guaranteed starter for the first time in his career, while Nicholas Anelka and Alex handed in transfer requests and were banished from first-team training after the first few months on the new path.

The squad were pulling in different directions, and the top clubs took advantage. Chelsea were battered at Old Trafford in Villas-Boas' fifth league game, while Robin van Persie and Arsenal ruthlessly exposed the high line six weeks later. A poor Liverpool side won at Stamford Bridge just after that, and with qualification to the latter rounds of the Champions League only just assured, there was a feeling that things were just not working out.

In fact, after Chelsea made knockout stages of Europe's top club competition thanks to victory against Valencia on the final match day, Villas-Boas brought his fractious relationship with the press to the fore. Turning on his detractors, the Portuguese blasted the coverage his team had received while the Manchester clubs also struggled. The press did not like him and the feeling was mutual.

And the abrasive manner with which Villas-Boas dealt with his opponents - both in the dressing room and the media - rubbed many up the wrong way; Lampard cited the lack of communication with the Portuguese as his biggest complaint, while sections of the press were still sniping weeks into the current campaign.

But time has vindicated Villas-Boas in many of his approaches, even if not all of them. The Chelsea hierarchy are obviously reluctant to keep Lampard around for much longer, while nobody missed Anelka or Alex when they eventually left. Abramovich is plainly still unsure of the manner in which he wants his managers to win football matches.

As Villas-Boas recently said, he "was another manager that just passed by".

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But while he feels let down, that's not to say he feels he was entirely in the right. He appreciates he may have been too stubborn in some circumstances, and has softened his approach at his second English club.

And if his job at Chelsea was made harder by a reluctant group of players and an indecisive owner, he has found an altogether more harmonious atmosphere at White Hart Lane.

Whereas his Chelsea players were reluctant to embrace his methods - some even labelled him "Bambi" because they felt he was naive - he is loved by his Spurs charges. He keeps in regular contact with his men via text messages, and has ensured Younes Kaboul, who has not kicked a ball this season through injury, remains very much part of the group. After the more distant reign of Harry Redknapp, this new approach has proved a big hit.

And not only with those on the Tottenham payroll. Lewis Holtby picked Spurs over Arsenal and Liverpool because of Villas-Boas and his plans for the future, while Willian paid out of his own pocket to check out the training ground after talking with the Portuguese boss, only for a transfer to break down over the fee.

Villa-Boas finally feels at home, and although he has been careful not to be too critical of his time at Stamford Bridge in recent months, it's clear to see he was never comfortable.

"It becomes easier when the players are willing to commit to your ideas," he recently suggested. "They need to be able to take something from learning new things, and also enjoy learning new things that they can use in their game. All the players have received me well and when you receive that sort of openness you can create a good environment."

It doesn't take a great deal of reading between the lines to realise what he is getting at.

And while Tottenham have not been without their problems this season - their reliance on Gareth Bale will need to be addressed in the summer - Villas-Boas has found the perfect environment to achieve success on his own terms.

Big games have not posed the same problem this time around, with victory at Old Trafford (this time in his sixth league game) buying him the time to instill his ideas. Key victories against Arsenal and Manchester City have boosted their quest for a top-four finish.

And while an away match at Stamford Bridge may not be the easiest way of securing a return to European football's top table, it will be a challenge relished by a man who finds motivation in proving his doubters wrong.

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Additional reporting by Greg Stobart