If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

June 25, 2011 Articles 5 Comments

Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas

Considering the number of column inches I’ve devoted to the politics of world football over the last few weeks, I recently made a solemn vow, a few days ago, that in spite of my near insatiable desire to reveal a lot more on the game’s underbelly, I will keep away from this topic – at least for this week – and turn my attention to something a lot less depressing.

Honestly, the palaver of the Nigerian, African and, no less importantly, the world game gives me a nagging headache, I swear! So, where was I again? Ah, yes… For Chelsea fans, who have seen, unfortunately, the revolving door of managers’ whirl without end – an unprecedented seven in eight years – during the imperial reign of Tsar Roman Abramovich, the appointment of the 33-year-old Portuguese Andres Villas-Boas as their new manager raises a very Nigerianesque question of age and not surprisingly, its corresponding equivalence with ability and competence.

Looking at the appointment from the pedestrian pavement, handing over a star-studded team to a young man, a group which even a battle hardened World Cup winner, like Brazil’s Felipe Scolari found too hot to handle, and yes, even taking into consideration Villas-Boas’ amazing distinction of winning a treble in his very first season managing Porto – the league championship, FA Cup and Europa Cup, his appointment does look like a risky one.

The graveyard of Chelsea is proverbially littered with the corpses of managers, who in other clubs, would still be be comfortably in a job.

With the exception of Guus Hiddink, who left with his reputation intact and, just as importantly, no hard feelings, a feat that even “The Special One”, Jose Mourinho, could not match, every other manager employed by Abramovich has left Stamford Bridge battered and bruised.

Carlo Ancelotti, whose recent two-season record with the Blues was anything but a disgrace, only to be sacked unceremoniously – okay, with a decent payoff, I admit – would certainly testify to that.

I guess for Villas-Boas, who at the tender age of 16 in 1994, had the boldness to put a letter through the house door of the late Bobby Robson, whilst the former England manager was in charge of Porto, he is clearly not one to be easily intimidated.

The boyhood club supporter fiercely opposed Robson’s refusal to field his favourite striker Domingo Pacienca. And, to Robson’s credit, rather than dismiss the youngster’s criticism as the ranting of an ignorant, unknowledgeable teenager, the vastly experienced man, who lived in the same apartment complex with Villas Boas, not only engaged him in a robust football debate but became a key mentor in helping the teenager chart the course that has taken him back to Stamford Bridge.

Getting admission, with Robson’s influence, into the English FA’s coaching course at Lilleshall, at the ripe old age of 17 and getting his UEFA Pro-Licence badge in his early twenties, Villas Boas was already in charge of the British Virgin Island’s 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign at 21 – even though he had to tell a few fibs, about his age, in order to get the job.

And adding the seven years of tutelage he had, as a scout and coaching assistant, to Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter – before deciding to take up his first managerial job in Portugal, with Academica Coimbra in 2009, Villas Boas is not lacking in exposure and knowledge.

Professional life

Academica provided a true test of whether he had been an attentive pupil during the years he spent at the Mourinho School. At the bottom of the league when he took over in October 2009, Villas Boas subsequently turned Academica’s fortunes around.

He subsequently led them to a comfortable mid-table finish and a Portuguese Cup semi-final, after which Porto came calling. And, as the  old saying goes, the rest is history.

With Abramovich showing no hesitation in meeting Porto’s multi-million dollar release clause, to bring Villas Boas back to Stamford Bridge, there is no doubt that the addition of the holy grail – the UEFA Champions League trophy, to the Blues cabinet is the primary assignment over his next three years in charge, should the Portuguese last that long.

In the midst of the seemingly whirl-wind appointment, there are a few lessons that Nigeria’s timid football administrators can learn from the meteoric rise of Villas Boas.

First, there is no substitute for a decent football education if you want to be a top class coach. At thirty-three, Villas Boas has held the world’s top coaching qualifications for 11 years and has worked at some of the world’s best clubs for nine of them. What is the NFF doing to improve the talent in Nigeria’s coaching pool?

Second, youth should never be a barrier to the appointment of a professional that has demonstrated – in no uncertain terms – that he has the ability to manage men and negotiate difficult situations. Three trophies, in one year, come not by a stroke of fortune. That much of football I do know.

And last and by no means least, older people in Nigeria, who are finding it so hard to let go and retire gracefully, must nurture and encourage the ascension of the competently young into positions of authority.

The future of Nigerian football and indeed, the country, is dependent on this.

That tired story, rolled out by former Nigerian dictator Ibrahim Babangida, in which he had the temerity to publicly say, insultingly, that Nigeria’s young lack the requisite skills to lead, just won’t wash anymore.

As I’ve said, if you’re good enough, you’re certainly old enough.

This article originally appeared in my “Point Blank” column, published in Nigeria’s NEXT on Sunday newspaper.

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5 Comments

  1. Marina says:

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  3. metformin online says:

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  4. kamal says:

    Thank you bro for the nice and succinct lesson. If I say Africans, I will take it too general but that is fact the case. Some old African “leaders and public persons” think that the younger ones can’t deliver well. Today’s young Africans are very innovative and strongly desire to advance this continent but those greedy, old ones who are still clinging at to their positions think the latter can’t bring any change to this continent. It does not wash bro. I believe that if all African youth can read and seek the truth, there will be a change on the continent. We are more intelligent and smarter than they were. That is the plain truth. The world is evolving and any thing in past is outdated and must be relegated and leave the room for the new. Thank you for your piece

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