In all the debate over the debacle of the Andres Villas-Boas firing at Chelsea perhaps the one opinion that is the most recurring is that he “never got the chance to complete his project”.
Indeed Jerrad Peters wrote this piece comparing a manager who is prematurely fired to an artist or writer who has been robbed of the chance to finish their great work.
Yet managers have their own ideas about how the narrative of their time at a club should unfold and three of the current top coaches offer us a very different perspective on the notion of what their “work in progress” should be.
If Sir Alex Ferguson’s time at Old Trafford were to be compared to a novel then surely it would be a Tolstoy like epic spanning generations with tragedy and triumph woven into the fabric of the tale.
For Ferguson the idea that his work at Manchester United would ever be “finished” would seem as absurd as telling a Nobel Prize winning author that his latest book was “the best that he could ever do”.
For the United manager the achievement isn’t in the winning of any particular piece of silverware; it is in the striving for the next one.
Jose Mourinho takes a very different approach.
For him it is very much about the silverware and, one suspects, proving that he can bring success to a team that has struggled with failure before his arrival.
Once that success is accomplished Mourinho is not so much happy to leave as almost desperate to do so.
Porto, Chelsea, Inter and perhaps soon Real Madrid, have all been left with the sense that they have attended a dazzlingly exciting party that, while wonderful, has now left them with empty bottles in the bathtub and some dubious stains on the carpet.
This makes Mourinho the Raymond Chandler of the coaching world.
Always leaving his audience breathless at the pace of the prose and throwing in more than a dash of violence and intrigue to pepper up the plot.
The ‘Special One” though never looks back, always welcomed to his next conquest as he flashes them a smile that (to quote Chandler) “they can feel in their hip pocket”.
Then there is Pep Guardiola.
His insistence on signing just a yearly contract gives his story a sense of cliff-hanging tension that Charles Dickens in his prime would have envied.
Guardiola manages to combine the long-view of Ferguson with the restlessness of Mourinho, and though he has yet to feel that his work at Barca is done one senses that his departure is as heart-breakingly inevitable as the death of a “too good for this world” character that we see coughing blood into a kerchief in the opening chapters of a Dickens tale.
One of these days Barcelona fans are going to wake up to the moment that they have all dreaded: their Little Nell will have died.
Only time will tell where Villas–Boas fits into this pantheon of coaches.
Maybe his time at Porto was his “Catch 22” and the rest of his career will be spent trying (and failing) to live up to that standard, or maybe he is a Philip Roth who will be able to produce good work just as even his greatest admirers have given up hope.
One thing is certain though; any coach that takes the helm at Chelsea had better forget the idea of fashioning a rambling saga that covers the ages and resign themselves to being a creator of novella length potboilers that end in bloodshed.
“Tales of the Expected” perhaps?
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