Why André Villas-Boas’ age won’t hamper his job at Chelsea, it may even help
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it”
Wisdom, it is suggested, comes with age. It is therefore not surprising that next year the average age of a Premier League manager will be 51. The newest addition has dragged that average down significantly. Chelsea’s new boss André Villas-Boas is just 33 years old. When he entered this world, the Premier League’s eldest statesman Sir Alex Ferguson was managing St Mirren at 35.
Wisdom may come with age but more importantly it comes with experience and Villas-Boas already has 16 years experience in this managerial game. He took his first UEFA coaching badge at 17. This isn’t an ex player dipping a tentative toe in one of club management’s biggest pools. This is a confident, assured man who possesses a football brain that bellies his tender years.
So Villas-Boas’ age shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if you look at this Chelsea team, it may even be beneficial.
Whilst Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink enjoyed success, other experienced hands, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant, struggled to control a difficult group of players with enormous egos. The last man who truly knew how to get the best out of this group of Chelsea players was a certain José Mourinho and one of the reasons for this was that he understood them. Comparisons between Mourinho and Villas-Boas are somewhat inevitable if not lazy and tedious. Their approaches to the game vastly differ but the important thing to note is that both were young when they made the move from Porto to Chelsea.
Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes said Mourinho’s age was paramount to his success as it “means he speaks the same language as the players”. He was just 41 when he joined Chelsea but players enjoy playing for him and as a result they give their all every time he sends them out to play. It was under Mourinho that we saw the best of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. They are now Chelsea’s oldest outfield players and are the same age as Villas-Boas.
Some may think Villas-Boas’ age will work against him. They will point to Lampard and Drogba and they will question whether he can command their respect. But it’s a short-sighted view which completely overlooks the fact that his age makes him more likely to understand his group of players. The trimmings of modern football continue to perplex most but like his players, it is all Villas-Boas has known.
The NFL provides a couple of interesting examples of younger head coaches. The first, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl when he triumphed in 2009, aged just 36.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s what you know. To me, it’s like he’s been a head coach for 20 years,” said tackle Flozell Adams.
And if Villas-Boas is looking for advice, he should consider these words from Hines Ward on Tomlin’s induction:
“They don’t give you a book to show you how to be a head coach. When he first got here, there were some veteran guys that challenged his authority, and they’re no longer here.”
Raheem Morris, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the league’s youngest coach at 34 and he began coaching at 22. Morris is intriguing because his team currently ranks as the second youngest in the league. Last year, with a team littered full of rookies, he narrowly missed out on the play-offs.
Hiring youthful minds is a trend that the league moved towards after Tomlin’s Super Bowl victory but it has since moved away from it. In recent years the departures of Josh McDaniels, Mike Singletary, Tom Cable, Jim Mora, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel have raised the average age.
That figure now stands at 50, surprisingly close to that of the Premier League.
But age is primarily just a number. Villas-Boas has the experience; he has the credentials to succeed at Chelsea. He has the chance to relate to players in the same way Mourinho did before him and the same way Mike Tomlin did in Pittsburgh. Don’t be deterred by his age.