AVB rebuilding reputation after Russian title triumph with Zenit
Andre Villas-Boas, the coach known as AVB, arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2011 with a highly-regarded reputation, after emulating his former mentor Jose Mourinho’s silverware success with Porto, guiding the Dragons to a historic treble victory and becoming the youngest manager to win a European competition.
Immense success with the Portuguese giants; including an unbeaten season in the country’s top-flight, only the second time this had ever been achieved, and securing the dominant domestic crown by more than 20 points, though, ultimately led to this driven coach’s eventual downfall.
Villas-Boas departed the Blues prematurely in 2012, after overseeing his side’s domestic decline, but this season, as trophy-master Mourinho led Chelsea to a deserved Premier League crown, the Porto-born boss’ past failures were nothing but a distant memory blurred out by the glimmer of that top-flight trophy.
Although, as Mourinho proudly held his third top tier trophy with the club aloft, his former heir was set to banish any lasting Premier League pain in Russia, with AVB successfully leading Zenit to their first Russian title triumph for three years, silverware which assured this former managerial golden boy didn’t slip into obscurity.
For such a highly-driven coach, being sent packing just nine months into his long-term project at Stamford Bridge and a year-and-a-half into his tenure at White Hart Lane would have deeply hurt the now 37-year-old, but this continuously determined manager managed to bounce back.
Having learned his trade under towering managerial figures Mourinho and, even more so, the late and inspirational Sir Bobby Robson, Villas-Boas has gone on to overcome seemingly fatal failures early in his career in London, rejuvenating his previously untarnished reputation.
During his time at Chelsea, AVB infuriated both the club’s players and fans by his treatment of senior squad members, specifically Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, when the young manager opted to utilise a more foreign looking line-up, casting these experienced England internationals aside.
Such an approach, and a similar set-up with Spurs, soon led to back-to-back sackings in the English capital, potentially tarnishing the previously hopeful and successful manager’s record, but swapping the glamour of the Premier League for the grittier reality of Russia’s unforgiving top tier and moving away from the spotlight saw Villas-Boas thrive.
A key aspect of AVB’s successful first full season in Russia was his rejuvenation of star man and Brazil international forward Hulk, whom he had previously got the best out of when paired together in their Porto days.
Striking a clinical 21 goals in 44 appearances this term under the gallant guidance of Villas-Boas, the Samba star has helped boost his attacking credentials for a future recall by his country, having been left out of the Copa America squad (10/3 with Coral to win), and also reshaped his manager’s reputation.
Jose Salomon Rondon’s reaching of double figures has also contributed massively, with the in-from frontman firing himself into the Venezuela squad for this summer’s South American competition (33/1 to win).
Despite ending his first full campaign in Russia with silverware success, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing on AVB’s Zenitchiki ship, having endured early pressure when he took charge towards the end of last season.
Problems regarding the country’s hooliganism, race rows and an initial dressing room civil war have all been overcome by Villas-Boas, as he has become somewhat of a diplomatic and commanding figure, a stark contrast to his Premier League days.
His main man Hulk was unfortunately a target of abuse, while fans also stormed the pitch while Zenit were being dispatched by rivals Dynamo Moscow at the end of last season, but AVB rightfully stood up and refused to let these globally damaging incidents be swept under the carpet.
“The game was a disgrace,” AVB declared on live Russian TV. “The insults, the racist insults to Hulk, they go around the world and this is the image of the Russian Premier League.”
Having ended a three-year wait for the Russian title, AVB’s next challenge will be to retain star assets such as Hulk, midfielder Axel Witsel and defensive giant Ezequiel Garay, with a host of clubs across Europe undoubtedly set to pounce.
Although, if Villas-Boas’ latest achievements in a daunting surrounding are anything to judge him by, he should be capable of finally building a long-term foundation at a club which holds him in high regard.