Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Villas-Boas 'Walking a Tightrope' Ahead of Make-or-Break Clash; Former Chelsea Star Craig Burley Admits the Manager's Reign Could Come to an End with a Defeat Tomorrow Night by Simon Johnson

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Villas-Boas 'Walking a Tightrope' Ahead of Make-or-Break Clash; Former Chelsea Star Craig Burley Admits the Manager's Reign Could Come to an End with a Defeat Tomorrow Night by Simon Johnson

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Johnson

[bar] AILURE in Europe has brought about the downfall of the majority of Chelsea managers during the Roman Abramovich era and a heavy defeat at Napoli tomorrow night could seal Andre Villas-Boas's fate.

The 34-year-old is wearing the same fearful look many of his predecessors have worn and it is no wonder when his team are playing at a level belonging to the Championship, rather than the Champions League.

As Chelsea fortunately earned an FA Cup fifth-round replay with their 1-1 draw against Birmingham, television cameras focused on the sight of chief executive Ron Gourlay shaking his head in dismay and chairman Bruce Buck looking stern.

One can only wonder how Abramovich, who wasn't at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, reacted to the news that his manager couldn't even inspire the players to beat a team from the division below them.

As one Italian reporter rightly asked in the post-match press conference, if Chelsea can't beat Birmingham how can they get the better of a team like Napoli, boasting the talented trio of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi? Villas-Boas's answer was more in line with what Jimmy Greaves used to say about football 'being a funny old game', insisting that things in the sport can happen 'when you least expect it'. Problem is no one at the club is laughing and few fans heading to Italy for the first leg of the last-16 tie expect to see a positive outcome.

As former Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley said: "He just seems to be getting himself in a bigger hole week by week. To alleviate the pressure you need to get results and he hasn't been getting that.

"His rhetoric in press conferences from day one has been rather strange. He came out with another one last week that he doesn't need the backing of the players as long as he has the backing of the owner. But if the players aren't willing to do it for you on the pitch then you're won't get results.

"There are three or four managers who have gone before Villas-Boas who will tell you the owner won't back you when the going gets tough and at the moment the going is very, very tough. The FA Cup and Champions League are not going to make him but they might break him. He's walking a tightrope at the moment."

Villas-Boas might feel fortune is against him but he was lucky Guus Hiddink, the choice of some senior players to replace him, agreed to take charge of Anzhi Makhachkala on Friday.

Abramovich's patience is clearly running out. However, Hiddink's decision means the club's Russian owner has few options to turn to if he wants to make a change and salvage what's left of a terrible season.

It cost him a fortune to sack Carlo Ancelotti and install Villas-Boas as the Italian's replacement. Some claim Abramovich is unwilling to accept he has made another expensive mistake and, as a result, Villas-Boas is safe no matter what happens at the San Paolo Stadium tomorrow night. …

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