Porto's decision to gamble on the inexperienced
Andre Villa Boas has paid huge dividends.
With one important difference: the manager, Andres Villas Boas. And, at just 33 years old, Villas Boas was arguably the biggest roll of the dice of all. Before taking the job in the summer, he had just 23 games worth of managerial experience. Talk about being fast-tracked.
Villas Boas took over Academica de Coimbra in October 2009, with the club stuck in last place. By the end of the season, it finished a respectable 11th and reached the semifinal of the Portuguese League Cup. But we'd be kidding ourselves if that feat alone persuaded one of the most historic clubs in Europe to place its faith in a guy with zero experience as a professional footballer -- let alone one at an age when most future coaches are still plying their trade on the pitch. What played a huge part was his apprenticeship as a coach under one Jose Mourinho. The pair hooked up at Porto when Mourinho took over in 2002 and he soon become one of the Special One's most trusted advisers. So much so that Mourinho took him along when he moved to Chelsea in 2004 and then on to Inter in 2008.
But it's not as if Villas Boas owes his career to Mourinho. If anything, he was something of an enfant prodigy in his own right, landing a job in Porto's scouting department way back in the late 1990s when still a teenager. As the story goes, he lived in the same building as then coach Bobby Robson and, because he spoke good English, harassed the late Robson into reading some of his meticulously compiled scouting reports. The Geordie legend was suitably impressed, first by the young man's enthusiasm and persistence, later by the detail and depth of his analysis.
Maybe that's why he admits he tries to "duck comparisons" between himself and The Special One. "We do not have the same character and personality. We communicate and work differently."
This season it has all paid off. And the good news is that, despite having suitors from all over Europe, Villas Boas has pledged to stay at least another year and test himself in the Champions' League. To many, it's just a steppingstone as Villas Boas seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Mourinho and take the realms of a larger club. But even if he does go a year or two from now, Porto will be ready. They're used to showcasing talent and watching it leave. And usually they don't miss a beat when it happens.