(WFI) It’s perhaps the one thing certain when a new face takes the lead in any business – he or she will barely have their feet under the desk when they will make pronouncements about the way forward and how the standards of the future will be significantly different from those of the past.
Football is no different, and before the players had returned from their brief summer respite the new regime at Chelsea, led by Andre Villas Boas, had set a new goal at Stamford Bridge – that of turning the players into “social role models”.
Professional footballers should be role models – how many times have we heard that mantra trotted out?
It usually arrives in the wake of the latest media-induced scandal in which a player has stepped across that arbitrary line between laddishness and loutishness, thereby making himself a target for every sanctimonious hack on the planet.
The fall-out is irritating to the boss, humbling for the player, and, on occasions, can be a minor distraction from the real business of football, which is winning trophies and making money. Therefore, it’s no wonder that freshly minted managers often feel it’s their obligation to make a pre-emptive strike lest they be perceived as a soft touch.
Fabio Capello did it when taking charge of England, though his “no this, no that, no the other” regime eventually proved too draconian and had to be modified to suit the mentality of his players.
Andre Villas Boas, however, is taking things a step further.
The Portuguese wunderkind believes there’s a direct correlation between building character and self-respect off the field and the achievements on it.
“We want them to triumph as people and as social role models,” he said of his new charges.
“If they do that, they triumph as players out on the pitch as well.”
It’s a noble notion, vested in the ancient Greek ideal that optimal performance derives from the education of the whole man – body and mind. But how hard will it be to implement?
Well, even for an old Father Time figure like Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, it’s proven a challenge, not least of all because footballers, for all the fact that they’re often treated like children, are indeed adults with their own free will. What’s more, they obviously have the resources to indulge their weaknesses and peccadilloes, and seem to possess a charmingly naïve belief that they won’t get caught. Mr. Terry. Mr. Cole. Mr. Rooney. Mr. Giggs. come in your time is up!
So if Fergie, with all the wisdom of age, has sometimes struggled to keep his men on the straight and narrow, how much more difficult will it be for the 33-year-old Villas Boas, who, despite his undoubted precociousness as a coach, has a life experience pretty much on a par with most of his squad?
With due respect, I’d imagine they won’t readily turn to him for fatherly advice, as in most cases he’s not even old enough to be their big brother.
Judging by his success at Porto, he’ll quickly earn their respect as a football coach. But respect as a life coach and mentor
may be harder to come by since, by virtue of his youth, he cannot have “been there and done that” in all situations.
Obviously, he doesn’t think that’s a problem, and believes that building role models is part of his brief. And, to a certain extent you can understand his thinking, as his achievements point to a man with maturity well beyond his years.
However, in extending his ambitions beyond football I wonder if he hasn’t brought upon himself a lot of unnecessary pressure?
Will his authority be questioned the first time one of the boys in blue step out of line? Will the older players in the squad feel patronized? Hasn’t he got a big enough job turning Chelsea into a football force without worrying about his players’ pastoral care? After all, football fans are a pretty forgiving lot, and if the results are there anything else is jam.
These are all issues he may have to address if the coming season doesn’t go according to plan. But then he seems to be an intelligent and likeable man and will surely have weighed his words carefully before speaking them. Come to think of it, there may be no better role model at the Bridge this season than the manager himself. So perhaps all he’s really saying to his players is “follow my lead and you’ll be okay”.
By INSIDER columnist Terry Baddoo
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