Andre Villas-Boas was laughed out of both Chelsea and Tottenham but is now leading a French revolution of his own at Marseille… as they edge closer to a Champions League return, could he be the man to finally stop PSG?
- Andre Villas-Boas has guided Marseille back to the summit of French football
- They are still behind PSG but closing in on a return to Champions League football
- Villas-Boas has given a chance to a number of young players so far this season
- After being laughed out of England, the Portuguese boss is showing his quality
It feels like a very long time ago now that Andre Villas-Boas was dubbed the second coming.
After being laughed out of England and briefly giving up football to drive racing cars, Villas-Boas is now finally fulfilling that prophecy.
And at Marseille of all places.
Andre Villas-Boas is finally showing his managerial class, leading a resurgence in Marseille
After being laughed out of England, the Portuguese boss has Marseille second behind PSG
Villas-Boas was highly-regarded when he joined Chelsea but his reputation was left in pieces
Matches played: 32
Goals for: 51
Goals against: 34
After seeing his reputation crumble at Chelsea and then Tottenham, Villas-Boas went on to coach Zenit Saint Petersburg and Shanghai SIPG but then spent two years soul searching away from the game.
During that time, Villas-Boas threw himself into several new pursuits and even had a close call with death during a brief foray into racing.
In January 2018, he was forced to withdraw from the Dakar Rally in Peru after being taken to hospital. He crashed into a dune while driving when, at the time of the crash, he was in 43rd place and impressing in his debut race.
For a man who clearly likes chaos, Marseille was the ideal job. After last competing in the Champions League in 2013-14, they have yo-yoed in Ligue 1.
There have only been two top-four finishes in an inconsistent past five seasons with Marseille becoming another famous French club to wilt under the might of Paris Saint-Germain. But with a loyal fan base and an iconic stadium, it was the ideal challenge for Villas-Boas to throw himself back into football.
The Portuguese boss has brought stability, efficiency and a sense of direction to a club which has long been devoid of all those things.
He’s not short on passion, either, after seeing red for his heated tirade at the final whistle having saw his side squander a two-goal lead late on in their Ligue 1 clash with Amiens on Friday.
The Portuguese showed he still has fire in his belly after earning himself two quick-fire yellows
He was then sent off after watching his side ship two late goals against Amiens on Friday
Marseille are currently second in Ligue 1, eight points clear of third and have lost just one more game than champions elect PSG.
That is some achievement with an inherited and limited squad. And Villas-Boas is working wonders all while quietly pushing a generation of young talent to the fore.
Duje Caleta-Car, the 23-year-old defender, has been one of Marseille’s most consistent performers this season while 20-year-old Boubacar Kamara has shown maturity beyond his years to become a leader at the back.
Duje Caleta-Car (L) is one of the young players flourishing under Villas-Boas’ management
Valentin Rongier (R) has been an inspired signing after joining from Nantes last summer
Maxime Lopez, 22, has also played a key role in Marseille’s success this season, getting regular opportunities to play in the No 10 role.
The former Chelsea and Tottenham boss has also improved some of the club’s more experienced players.
Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda has been ever-present this season and earned a recall to the France squad at 34 as a reward for his fine form.
Valentin Rongier, a summer signing from Nantes, has developed into Marseille’s midfielder-in-chief under Villas-Boas’ tutelage.
And remember Dimitri Payet? Well he is Marseille’s creative hub, scoring 11 goals and providing six assists in 26 appearances.
Argentine striker Dario Benedetto has also caught the eye since joining from Boca Juniors
Former West Ham midfielder Dimitri Payet is also showing his class as the team’s creative hub
During his short-lived time in England, first at Chelsea and then at Spurs, Villas-Boas earned an unwanted reputation for failing to get his players on board.
His reign at Chelsea came to an abrupt end after a number of senior players questioned his tactics while he had similar problems at Tottenham.
‘A lot of the players weren’t happy with how he did things at times,’ Jermaine Jenas said a few years ago speaking about Villas-Boas’ spell at Tottenham.
‘He didn’t allow players to go in the gym, which just baffled me.’
At Marseille there has been no such issues though. In fact, his players cannot speak more highly of him.
‘We all feel very comfortable with him. We’re all very relaxed and, in these conditions, we can do a job,’ Caleta-Car said earlier on in the season.
If there was ever a stick to beat Villas-Boas with in England it was his work in the transfer market. During his first summer at Chelsea, Villas-Boas bought Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata to show his eye for new recruits was strong.
But his transfer business at Tottenham was not quite as successful and he was at the heart of the activity that saw Spurs blow the money they earned from the sale of Gareth Bale.
Villas-Boas had to withdraw from the Dakar Rally in Peru back in January 2018 after a crash
Villas-Boas threatened to quit when ex-West Ham chief Paul Aldridge was hired by Marseille
He splashed out on the likes of Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Etienne Capou and Nacer Chadli. The wrongs of that summer window are almost finally corrected in north London but there has been no such waste in Marseille.
Last summer, Villas-Boas brought in Dario Benedetto from Argentine giants Boca Juniors. He has hit the ground running in France, scoring 11 goals in 22 appearances. Rongier has also proven to be an inspired piece of business.
It has not been all plain for him sailing though. In January, Villas-Boas hinted he could quit the club just six months into his reign after former West Ham chief Paul Aldridge was hired as a ‘special advisor’.
Aldridge was the man who pulled the strings in the controversial deals that took Argentine pair Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham and joined the French club with a remit to try and sell players to the Premier League.
Villas-Boas was strongly against losing any of his players midway through the season, especially as they are mounting a challenge to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.
Two months later and their Champions League credentials have only gained strength. They have an eight-point cushion to Rennes in third place and are nine points in front of Lille in fourth.
It seems any hope of winning the title has gone but they host PSG on March 22 and victory would give them hope that a genuine title race in France is not far away.
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