x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Managing is not a popularity contest

Andre Villas-Boas might have lost control of his egotistical team, but the Chelsea manager needs time to stamp his authority.

Frank Lampard, left, and Andre Villas-Boas do not get along at Chelsea.
Frank Lampard, left, and Andre Villas-Boas do not get along at Chelsea.

Too many of Chelsea's first-team players have the knives out for their boss. They want Andre Villas-Boas out and they want him out now. It's horrible to watch, it's unprofessional and it harms the club.

Villas-Boas is a talented young manager, but he needs time and support, not to be undermined by key players such as Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Lampard should know better. He is an experienced professional who should be supporting his boss.

Lampard said that he wants to play every game. Which player doesn't? Lampard is 33 – very few players of that age can play every week at the top level.

The best two examples, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, have long accepted that. When Giggs was 33 he started 25 of Manchester United's 38 league games. When Scholes was 33 he started 22.

Why doesn't Lampard grasp that it might actually be beneficial to his career not to play every game?

Cole's body language against Napoli on Tuesday was a disgrace, and I don't think he even looked at Villas-Boas as he came off the bench. He's one of many egotistical players in the Chelsea dressing room.

That Cole has actively spoken out against his manager's tactics is hugely disrespectful and such conversations should stay between the pair.

Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, has made too many management changes since Jose Mourinho left in 2007. Aside from costing a fortune paying up expensive contracts, it has created instability.

Abramovich's thinking with Villas-Boas was to appoint a young and talented manager who could be at the club long term. He's correct and he is absolutely right in supporting his manager while Chelsea are obviously in transition.

Villas-Boas cannot turn things around in six months or even a year – he needs three years before he is judged. There are demands for instant success at Chelsea, but the fans and the owner need to be patient.

Abramovich knows that the players have too much power at Stamford Bridge and that's not healthy for any club. Chelsea had an ageing squad and a manager needs to change that.

It's understandable the players won't and don't like it, but what's the alternative? Let them all go on until they are 40 while younger prospects stagnate in the reserves?

Of course the media are revving up the situation. They smell blood and it's a great story; they'll have their favourite Chelsea players leaking stories to them. Journalists might want the inside track, but it's not healthy for a football club if so many inside details are leaked to the media.

This is exactly why someone like Villas-Boas needs to get to grips with the club and eventually stamp his authority like Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. The manager needs to dictate policy, not any one player nor a clique of players.

The Chelsea dressing room will be a weird place at the moment. The players will see that their boss is under intense pressure, but it's partly brought on by their actions. Some players will want him out, others will be more sympathetic.

I got a good insight into what happens to a manager under pressure early on in my career at Bristol City. Denis Smith, the man who took a huge gamble by paying £500,000 (Dh2.88 million) for me to join the club when I was 20, was not liked by a lot of the players. I did like him – naturally – because he bought me, encouraged me and help my career prosper.

His decision was right because Bristol sold me for £1.7m a year later. But the team weren't doing well and there was a lot of sniping in the dressing room.

Most of them couldn't care if he was there or not and I could see the stress on Smith's face. I felt sorry for him and I learnt that it's almost impossible for a manager to be popular. To be respected is different.

I don't see respect or popularity at Chelsea. The senior pros at the club are shunning the boss and any boss who loses his senior players has got a very tough task. Chelsea's senior players have always known they could get rid of a manager whenever they wanted, but I respect Villas-Boas for fighting back, for standing his ground and standing up for what he believes in.

I hope Abramovich sticks by the man he appointed because the job of Chelsea manager gets tougher by the year. Expectations are far higher than when Jose Mourinho took over in 2004, the competition is also tougher because Manchester City can easily match Chelsea. I wish Villas-Boas luck. He'll need it.

sports@thenational.ae