Marseille's Andre Villas-Boas the epitome of the young manager syndrome in Ligue 1
The former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager takes charge of Marseille this season
Six weeks into the French Ligue 1 season, Vitorino Hilton will, fitness permitting - and his fitness is usually permitting - return to an old haunt and roll back the years.
He will have just turned 42 when the Montpellier whose defence he marshalls go to to his former employers, Marseille.
There he will greet the opposition head coach, entitled to say something like ‘Hi, kid”.
Andre Villas-Boas, about to start his first adventure in French football at Marseille will only turn 42 a few weeks later, young for a manager, and a still more startling age given that Villas-Boas has been taking charge of big clubs in top-flight football for almost a decade.
When he began, fast-tracked in the profession from a precocious start as assistant to José Mourinho at Porto and Chelsea, the Portuguese seemed freakishly youthful.
He looks around France's top division and sees that barriers to young managers have lowered since he was first breaking them down.
Seven of the head coaches in Ligue 1, whose season begins on Friday, are in their 40s. Two more are in their 30s. And several of these touchline tyros are expected to guide their teams to elevated positions in the table.
For Thomas Tuchel, the 45-year-old German beginning his second campaign at the helm of Paris Saint-Germain, first place is the very minimum requirement for a club so lavishly funded and champions for six of the last seven years.
The German’s job security depends not only a successful defence of the league title but on making a better impression on the later stages Champions League than the Spaniard (Unai Emery), the Frenchman (Laurent Blanc) or the Italian (Carlo Ancelotti) who preceded him.
For Villas-Boas, who led Porto to a Europa League triumph when he was just 35 and has managed Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, among others, the demand is to make France’s most boisterous club second-best to their rich rivals from the capital.
It is a big ask. Marseille have not finished in the top three since 2012-13.
Villas-Boas presents a confident manifesto. “At times in the past, maybe I have paid the price for being too ambitious, but I will never run away from a challenge,” he said. “My aim is for us to be on the podium.”
He will appreciate being back in Europe, too, after a year working in China. He seemed pleased to remind reporters that he had known Andoni Zubizarreta, Marseille’s director of football, for many years, from when Zubizarreta had the same role at Barcelona and, by Villas-Boas’s account, twice approached the boyish AVB about the coach’s job there.
Lyon are the club with most podium finishes in the eight-year period of PSG’s super-rich swagger. They were third last season, behind the surprise upstarts, Lille, and have a new manager taking on his first senior job.
Sylvinho is 44. As a player the Brazilian served Arsenal and Barcelona with distinction, a diligent left-back good enough to have gained a handful of Brazil caps while Roberto Carlos held long-term residency in his position.
As a coach he has served as assistant to Roberto Mancini at Internazionale and to Tite with Brazil at the last World Cup.
Lyon will test him. For any references on how unforgiving Ligue 1 can be to a novice head coach, he need only consult an old friend.
Thierry Henry, with who Sylvinho played at Arsenal and Barca, swooped into stricken Monaco last October for his first go at senior management. Henry was gone by January, replaced by the man he had replaced, the experienced Leonardo Jardim.
Patrick Vieira, who, like Sylvinho, played under Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, made a better first impression as a manager in Europe over his first season with Nice.
If their football was not always dazzling, they were guided to a sound seventh by the 43-year-old.
Vieira's opening-day battle of wits in this, his second campaign, will be against Luka Elsner, who is just 37, and freshly appointed to take charge of Amiens.
Rennes, surprise holders of the French Cup, having beaten PSG in the final, are still under the watch of Julien Stephan, 38.
He can look forward to flying the flag for the precocious coaches of Ligue 1 in the Europa League.
But first, he must calculate a way past the evergreen of the French league.
Stephan’s Rennes kick off at Montpellier, where Hilton will be waiting, a footballer in no hurry to embark on a coaching career while his 41-year-old legs are still nimble.
Updated: August 9, 2019 08:57 AM