AVB must stay. Unless…

The last time Chelsea had led Manchester United 3-0, they ended the match picking up the 2006 Premier League trophy. On Sunday they led them 3-0 and ended the match picking up a point.

The difference in mood between those two eras could not be starker. So what’s the reason?

Well, there are many – but with Jose Mourinho making mischievous noises about fancying a return to England and maybe even to Chelsea, it is hard to escape the fact the biggest difference is in the dugout.

Last year was the most depressing one to be a Chelsea fan for two decades.

“His substitutions rarely change games, unless for the worse. He doesn’t seem to have a plan B.”

Players off form, bad results, early cup exits, a £50m misfit, criminal charges against the captain, a poor start to the new season – and after the departure of a manager who 12 months earlier had won the Double.

Admittedly, the downward spiral had started under Carlo Ancelotti and a significant number of fans were glad to see him go.

But others – myself included – were grateful for what Ancelotti did and saw it as another questionable managerial change, the revolving door which has been the bane of the Abramovich era spinning once more.

Andre Villas-Boas was a surprise choice – young and inexperienced, but his success in a short spell with Porto and, more importantly, his past links with Chelsea as one of the Mourinho back-up team, earned him the benefit of the doubt from many.

He has been tasked with overhauling a squad of brilliant but ageing players, and the initial signs were good.

The purchase of Juan Mata has been inspired, Oriol Romeu has also been a good buy and Ramires and Daniel Sturridge, both young players bought by Ancelotti, have come on in leaps and bounds.

But on the other side of the coin, Chelsea suddenly lost the ability to defend and at times started to look like they just didn’t care.

That the manager would seemingly choose to ignore many of these shortcomings, or look like he just didn’t know what to do about them, set alarm bells ringing.

His substitutions rarely change games, unless for the worse. He doesn’t seem to have a plan B when games aren’t going well.

Gary Cahill, an England defender, had to wait for his debut, even when John Terry was injured.

Mata has been a revelation.

Meanwhile, the unreliable Jose Bosingwa seems guaranteed his place. And Florent Malouda – out of form for 18 months – is suddenly a regular in midfield, even being chosen ahead of the fit-again Michael Essien at Swansea.

Decisions like this are testing the fans’ patience with AVB.

His cause is not helped by the fact he is not particularly likeable. His predecessors Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink were affable guys and Mourinho’s siege mentality was, unlike his protege’s, combined with effortless charm and a twinkle in the eye. Villas-Boas just doesn’t have the same appeal.

Having said all that, his team are fourth in the table, still in the Champions League, and face a home game against a Championship side in the last 16 of the FA Cup.

He ought to be given time. You shouldn’t employ a young manager, task him with the rebuilding of a team and then sack him in the middle of the project because, inevitably, the transition has been difficult.

But if Mourinho does walk away from the Bernabeu, that’s a different matter.

If he doesn’t come back to Stamford Bridge, he could end up at another top English club and no doubt be hugely successful. Chelsea can’t afford to take that risk.

Villas-Boas deserves to be given more time, whether it’s years or months. But if his old boss wants to come back to Chelsea then everything changes. Sorry, AVB.


James Clarke is the author of Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe

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