The real Championship Manager: The life and times of Andre Villas-Boas

Mr. Championship Manager

Andres Villas-Boas is possibly my favourite man on the planet. He's a man you could be. He's everything you've ever dreamed of, and so much more. He's an inspiration and best of all, you'd get on with him. He'd be impressed by your European reign with Blackpool and how you've managed to keep Van Nistelrooy scoring into 2023. He's the best friend I've never had (Sorry Motty), and here's why . . .

Heading into this weekend’s fixture with Guimaraes, FC Porto hold an eight point lead over their nearest rivals Benfica at the top of Liga Sagres. A feat only surpassed by Borussia Dortmund in Europe’s top footballing nations. But while Dortmund have their own young-gun at the helm, forty-three year old Jurgen Klopp, Porto have someone not only younger, but someone ten years younger. Someone undeniably better looking than Jurgen Klopp, and someone who never played the game himself. Andres Villas-Boas is the first love child of the Championship Manager generation, and hopefully not the last.

But how does a 33 year old, who never played professionally, end up coaching one of his nation’s most illustrious clubs? Once you’ve read this, that last statement will sound like nothing.

As with everything in life, Villas-Boas’ journey started with a little lucky. Imagine visiting your grandparents and bumping into the ‘Special One’. Mixu Paatelainen would be enough to knock most off their stride, especially outside your Nana’s. But not Villas-Boas.  In 1994, after discovering that Bobby Robson had moved into the same apartment block as his Geordie grandmother, the seventeen year old bombarded the new Porto manager with questions and requests at any given chance. Soon enough the pair struck up a friendship, with Robson impressed by the youngster’s inquisitive nature.  Rumour even has it that the young man would openly question his new found friend’s tactics and offer his solutions. Cheeky.

Before long Villas-Boas became part of FC Porto furniture. Attending training sessions, matches and meeting people such as recently departed school teacher, Jose Mourhino. A work experience spell with Ipswich Town and George Burley, and the achievement of his UEFA C coaching badges followed, only furthering the young man’s ambitions, and eventually he was hired by Porto’s observation team.

Robson’s impact, a domestic cup and two league titles in the space of three years signalled a huge turnaround in fortunes for the club. A turnaround which resulted in an approach from Spanish giants, Barca. Once again Robson was off to pastures new, famously taking Mourinho with him. But he knew he’d left them with someone just as valuable.

Having filled a number of roles at Porto, including coaching several of the youth teams, Villas-Boas amazingly took his first leap into international football in 2000. At the age of twenty-one he was appointed Technical Director of the British Virgin Islands, making him the youngest international manager on the planet.  

After less than a year, he was back at Porto, this time taking charge of the clubs under-19s. It was at this time that, if it hadn’t already, his career really took off. Mourinho’s return to the club in 2002, this time as manager, lead to the appointment of Villas-Boas as Head of Observation, the unit he first found himself employed in only a few years before. Unprecedented success followed, both domestic and European, famously attaining the clubs second European Cup and first for seventeen years. Mourinho’s achievements, like his mentors, did not go unnoticed.

Of course, England and Chelsea were the destination for Mourinho. And this time, the exodus included the young pretender too.  By now twenty-seven, Villas Boas fulfilled much the same role as he had previously at Porto, preparing details for both the players and management on the upcoming opposition. Wayne Rooney once detailed how Fabio Capello spent half an hour discussing one throw in with Glen Johnson, if Villa-Boas had been there, by all accounts it would have taken much longer. His attention to detail and thorough attitude lead to Mourhino describing him in 2005 as his “eyes and ears”.  It was with these assets that between 2004-2007, Mourinho achieved two Premier League titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup, and several European adventures.

The next step on his amazing journey, of course coincided with the departure of the ‘Special One’ from Chelsea, and his arrival at Internazionale nine months later. Once again he fulfilled a similar role in both scouting and pre-match preparation, compiling DVDs, documents and in the case of Marco Materazzi; nicely coloured diagrams.  Naturally, success followed.

However, having now reached the ripe old age of 30, Villas-Boas felt it the right time to jump into management, resigning from Inter at the beginning of the 09-10 season in search of his first managerial role. Excluding international football of course.

Then, in October 2009, fifteen years after meeting Bobby Robson for the first time, Andre Villas-Boas was appointed the brand new Head Coach of Academia, his first domestic managerial role, and by no means an easy one. Of a possible twenty-four points since the beginning of the season, Academia had achieved just three, leaking goals and failing to score any themselves.  And yet, eight games later, Villas-Boas had inspired a turn around. From the bottom of the league, they now found themselves in eleventh, where they would eventually finish, and becoming a difficult team to beat. The new manager had instilled not only belief in the players, but a way of managing they hadn’t seen before, with preparation paramount to any success.  Success which came most prominently in a wonderful cup run, cut short in the semi-final by guess who? Porto.

One year in and Villas-Boas had saved a team from what seemed like certain relegation, inspired a cup run and began to be appreciated as neither a coach nor a scout, but a manager. All by the way, while he admitted to still relaxing by playing Championship Manager, this story just gets better.

Of course, the inevitable came true, the fairy-tale came to life, and Villas-Boas got his job.  In order to get, in every sense of the phrase ‘their man’, Porto parted company with Jesualdo Ferreira, the manager who had brought them three league titles in as many years. Leaving those without the full story, a little bewildered.

Now, nine months on from his appointment, no one is bewildered and the Villas-Boas story is truly blossoming. Eight points clear at the top of the league, Wikipedia reporting that he’s now surpassed Mourinho’s record of 33 matches unbeaten across all competitions (who am I to argue?), linked with a host of top European jobs, Villas-Boas’ Porto revolution, likes those of his two mentors; Robson and Mourinho, is not going unnoticed.

Potential Liga Sagres and Europa League success await Porto at the end of the season. Potentially, much more than that awaits Villas-Boas.


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