Villas-Boas blazes trail for young coaching hopefuls across the world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2011, 12:00am


'It is not a question of age. It is a question of competence.' The words of Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas were describing the resurgence of his midfielder Frank Lampard but are appropriate when scrutinising all players and managers, senior and emerging.

Villas-Boas and Lampard are both 33 years old but only the latter has played 88 times for his country and has been at Stamford Bridge since 2001. Yet the Portuguese newcomer has the tricky task of keeping veterans like him happy while freshening up his squad.

In recent weeks, Alex Ferguson, 69, has revealed he wants to manage Manchester United for another three or four seasons, while Arsene Wenger, 61, announced he would like a second spell of 15 years in charge of Arsenal, taking both men well into their 70s.

Wenger's wish seems far-fetched given the Gunners' struggles but age has little to do with it. Similarly, Man United wouldn't dare call time on Fergie just because most of his contemporaries have settled well and truly into retirement.

But as the likes of Ferguson, Wenger and Tottenham head honcho Harry Redknapp, 64, continue to inspire the so-called blue rinse set, Villas-Boas is showing the way for the young guns.

'By the time I am 33, I want to be my own man with my own coaching staff in Europe, just like him,' said 26-year-old Nathan Hall, first-team coach at Thai Premier League club TTM Phichit FC. 'Getting the opportunities he's had at his age has never really happened before. If he wrote a book on how he achieved that amazing success at Porto, probably one million copies would be sold in a week.'

While at Porto last May, Villas-Boas became the youngest manager to win a European club title when the Portuguese team claimed a treble of trophies, including the Europa League. Even so, his ?13.3 million (HK$160 million) move to Chelsea, where he'd served for three years on the coaching staff of his mentor, Jose Mourinho, did have some questioning if AVB might be out of his depth.

However, with most of Chelsea's players away for the international break, AVB can reflect on his first couple of months in charge with measured satisfaction. The Blues have made a solid start to their Champions League campaign and sit in third place on the Premier League table, with their only defeat coming at the hands of holders Manchester United.

But former West Ham midfielder Peter Butler, who began his coaching career at the age of 33, warns the crunch could be yet to come for the man who never played professional soccer.

'He's had it all his own way so far and been wrapped in cotton wool, but it is a long season so if they have an indifferent spell it will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure,' said Butler, who's managed clubs in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Australia and England. 'He also still has to win over the senior players in the dressing room and on the training pitch. I still think Frank Lampard will be at Stamford Bridge for a number of years, maybe longer than AVB.'

Lampard reportedly stormed away from the dressing room after being an unused substitute in a home match against Swansea last month. Once he returned to the starting side, he scored four goals in two games in European and domestic competitions, which suggests AVB's move was a masterstroke.

'He's already shown that he's not afraid to make tough decisions and the players are raving about his training sessions,' Thailand-based Hall said. 'But as for making players respect you just because you're the new person in charge, it doesn't work like that any more. It starts from the coach respecting the player.' Hall said the key for younger managers earning the respect of their squad members was no different to those in the game for decades. It comes down to trust.

'I often ask myself: if I switched roles and became the player, how would I like to be treated? I would like two things: for the coach to be fair and honest with me - and for the coach to have my best interests at heart, at all times.'

The Thailand league's latest rookie coach is 36-year-old former Liverpool striker, Robbie Fowler, who's taken over in a caretaker role from Henrique Calisto at Muangthong United. They can all gain inspiration from the career paths of some of the sport's most successful managers. Brian Clough was 37 when he won the English title with Derby, Ferguson was 35 when he tasted Scottish success with St Mirren, which is three years younger than Pep Guardiola when he claimed his first silverware at Barcelona.

But there can be misunderstandings, even embarrassing moments, along the way as the wannabe wise men are sometimes mistaken for the fresh-faced fledglings.

AVB has sensibly grown a full beard to hide any remnants of youth. 'I get mistaken for being a player all the time as I'm younger than half the team I work with,' Hall said. 'It's not a problem for me. I'm used to it.'