B Charles Walmsley
So that’s it, Andre Villas-Boas has left Chelsea. He fared slightly better than Brian Clough at Leeds by lasting 40 matches rather than 44 days, but he leaves behind a similarly disenfranchised squad and a team in their worst position in recent years. He was beginning to sound like Casaubon in George Eliot’s Middlemarch with constant references to the unfinished project that never appeared. The signing of Gary Cahill stands out as the moment this project turned to desperation as the defence was bolstered by yet another player too slow to play the high defensive line so important to his plans.
Where next for Chelsea then? With Roberto Di Matteo in charge until the end of the season it seems as though the long-term future of the club won’t be decided until the summer, although a strong season-finale could see the former West Brom manager emerge as a serious candidate for the job. What will be most frustrating for Chelsea fans is the sense of repetition as the team is effectively in exactly the same position as they were eight months ago; Torres still isn’t scoring, the players still have too much power and the shadow of Mourinho still hovers over Stamford Bridge.
Whoever comes in will have to deal with these issues – even if Mourinho returns the ghost of his legacy will haunt him as so many of his first choice players are simply not good enough anymore. Frank Lampard in particular needs to realise that he alone is not the team. He has scored some important goals this season but he has also looked out of sorts when starting, no longer a commanding presence in the centre of the field. His best performances have been off the bench, which should be a sign that he needs to step aside and take a lesser role; I’m not the first person to say this, but Paul Scholes should be an example to him of a player who can still play a major part in a team’s success without always being the centre on the pitch.
Elsewhere Torres continues to be an enigma. His career has gone beyond the point where a few goals will see him return to the excellent form he displayed at Atletico Madrid and his first two seasons at Liverpool and now he appears to be hopelessly wandering about in the striker position. Perhaps he can be reinvented as a winger with his pace and creativity, allowing Mata or Sturridge to play in the middle, but it will be hard to get anything from a player who has been underperforming for so long.
The key for Chelsea is stability. The future of the side depends on appointing a manager who is capable of silencing the cabal of senior players that believe they have a right to play whilst keeping them onside long enough to reinvent the team. And alongside all this the Special One still casts his shadow, with fans chanting his name even before this weekend.