It's Tottenham v Chelsea, it's not about me, says André Villas-Boas

Manager tries to look forward, but can't help looking back to when it all started to go wrong for him at Chelsea a year ago

It is easy to wonder how English football might have taken a different course if the Premier League derby between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at Loftus Road on the corresponding weekend of last season had not been disfigured by John Terry's racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand.

Terry could have played alongside Ferdinand's brother, Rio, in Fabio Capello's England team at Euro 2012; both of the defenders might remain active internationals; Terry could still be the England captain and not quite Public Enemy No1; Ashley Cole might not be Public Enemy No2; Chelsea's reputation could have avoided such harm; the courts and the independent panels would not have been exerted.

And André Villas-Boas might be in charge of the European champions, instead of his former Stamford Bridge assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, preparing to send Chelsea out at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspuron Saturday, rather than sat in the opposite dugout, attempting to derail them.

The last part is Villas-Boas's theory or, at least, a thought that has crossed his mind. The Portuguese has been resolutely unsentimental in public ahead of a game that everyone imagines he circled in bright red ink when the fixture computer did its work. Villas-Boas felt badly let down by the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, who dismissed him in March, only eight months into his Chelsea project, something he alluded to when he was unveiled as the successor to Harry Redknapp at Tottenham in the summer.

Villas-Boas has sought to stress that Saturday's early kick-off is not about one man or the notion that he is after revenge and the chance to ram home a point or two to Chelsea regarding his worth. Nobody really believes him. But there was a pang when he brought up what he believed to be the turning point of his managerial tenure at Stamford Bridge.

His team had arrived at Loftus Road for the fateful game on 23 October with 19 points from an available 24, and they sat three behind the leaders, Manchester City. They had played some decent football, too, even in their one defeat at Manchester United. But the 1-0 loss to QPR was the prompt for an erratic spell that rather set the tone for the remainder of his time at the club.

"When I go back to this date last season, before we played the QPR game and then our position at the end of the league and the events that happened after …" Villas-Boas said, tailing off. "You have to gain stability and continuity. After QPR, we had a consecutive run of bad results. Football results are about stability and jumping from adversity. In my time at Chelsea, we never got that stability. We were always up and down.

"We went to Everton [in the Carling Cup, after QPR] and won, which was a massive win but then we dropped points against Arsenal [in the 5-3 home defeat]. It was those two Premier League fixtures in a row that took the belief from us being champions."

Villas-Boas's demise at Chelsea, which came to resemble a long kiss goodbye, has been well documented and, whether he likes it or not (and he does not), it shapes the narrative for this game at White Hart Lane. He was interrogated about Abramovich and Di Matteo, Terry and Fernando Torres and his answers were largely defiant.

He has not spoken to Abramovich, he said, since the sacking and he did not suggest that he would seek him out if the billionaire were to attend the match. "It's highly unlikely that he will be allowed into the dressing room or the tunnel," Villas-Boas said. He stood by the staunch backing that he gave to Terry during the race storm while he insisted that he had been "extremely fair" to Torres, the striker who misfired under his charge and became disillusioned.

"He had more than enough opportunities," Villas-Boas said of the £50m signing from Liverpool, who he selected 31 times, 21 as a starter. "In the end, it was two different teams. The relationships of Fernando-Liverpool and Fernando-Rafa [Benítez] took him to a different level. It's common in football. His connection to Liverpool is so strong."

Villas-Boas will shake Di Matteo by the hand, rather than the neck, as he would surely be entitled to do. Di Matteo had begun to hear Chelsea players question his value as the assistant manager but his promotion upon Villas-Boas's departure was the prompt for the scarcely believable turnaround, which culminated in FA Cup and Champions League glory.

Villas-Boas spoke of how the players had "transcended themselves" after he left, which he feels is "normal" after any managerial change. "You have to convince the leader in a different way so you motivate yourself in a different way, you behave in a different way," he said. "It happened with José Mourinho, [Avram] Grant and Robbie [Di Matteo]."

In managerial circles, it is known to be part of sod's law. For a character as passionate as Villas-Boas, he might have felt like screaming when Chelsea pipped Bayern Munich in the Champions League final which, in the process, demoted fourth-placed Tottenham to this season's Europa League and set in motion Redknapp's dismissal. Where would Villas-Boas be if Bayern had prevailed? "I wouldn't be here," he said, with a smile.

Villas-Boas was engaging when he considered how football in England was "very specific towards power, emotion, reaction, explosiveness". "It is a game full of emotion, a game led by emotions from the stands and emotions from the players," he said. "Certain tactics apply but it is far more led on emotion than management."

Villas-Boas admitted that the ingredients were in place for a "spectacular" derby; two in-form teams with ambition and creative talent, and enough personality driven plot-lines to fill a book. The challenge for him is not to be consumed by the biggest of them.

comments powered by Disqus