I feel for Andre Villas-Boas, I really do. We’ve all been there. And I don’t mean the managerial magic roundabout. I know better than most what it’s like to be given too little time. And at Chelsea no less.
Picture the scene: Stamford Bridge, 1992. Tony Cascarino and myself are at the top of our game and scoring goals for fun in training. This was my first big money move as Chelsea had splashed out nearly £1.5 million on Paul Elliott MBE and Celtic threw me in too just to sweeten the deal. I was excited. My first game was a pre-season friendly at Boreham Wood. This was the big time.
Sure, I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? No easy games at that level and the Wood are no mugs. I figured the most important thing was to get through the first 10 minutes unscathed. Unfortunately fate (a.k.a. Dennis Wise) had other ideas.
At times of stress I can get quite gassy. I make no bones about that. This I knew. What I didn’t know was that the captain of Boreham Wood’s ’47 Athenian League second division title winning side had sadly passed away that week. This would quite literally be squeaky bum time during the minute’s silence before the game.
Well, we’ve all been there. However hard I tried to think about not farting, the more difficult it became to not fart. Eventually one popped out that was simply too loud to ignore. My situation wasn’t helped by Wisey comically covering his nose and pretending to retch. What irritates me most is that sure, it was a loud one, but fairly scentless. Dennis is a lovely bloke but part of me still hasn’t forgiven him for that.
The crowd went ballistic; largely I should add, as a result of Wisey’s mime antics. So this was what it must have been like in Galatasary. Welcome to hell. The Hertfordshire mob began chanting, ‘You’ve shat and you know you have.’ Before things escalated any further, the bossman came over and told me to disappear down the tunnel.
I didn’t even get that opening 10 minutes. I wasn’t given enough time. Robert Fleck took my place and bagged a brace. Where’s the justice in that? He didn’t even kiss the badge.
A fortnight later and it’s Kerry Dixon’s testimonial at the Bridge. No margin for error this time. I eschew my traditional pre-match pound and a half of cheese and focus on the game in hand. It’s all about proving my worth and making sure I do enough to warrant a place in the side. Kerry, a tremendous servant of the club is bowing out after a decade and boy is he on fire.
Twice he rounds the keeper and strokes the ball towards an empty net. I’m in the zone though and twice apply the finishing touch just to make sure. I’m on a hat-trick and there is a stunned silence throughout the ground.
I can see the disbelief on the faces of some fans. They’ve clearly never seen a debut like it. Then, after half an hour, we get a penalty. Kerry plops the ball on the spot and pauses. As he looks with a tear in his eye into the stand behind the goal, I can sense his apprehension.
Nobody wants to miss a penalty on their testimonial so I run up and take the weight from his shoulders. The keeper didn’t even move. Pure class. I expect to be mobbed. A hat-trick on debut. This is the stuff of dreams. But no. None of my team-mates embrace me. The Chelsea fans have broken their reverential silence and begin to boo.
I’m touched as I realise they must be trying to steel me for future away matches where my prodigious talent will no doubt draw some stick. It goes on for what feels like forever and does begin to get quite nasty. I look over to the bossman for validation.
My number’s up. I’m being subbed. A chance to soak up the adulation after a job well done perhaps? Far from it. The jeering continues unabated but sadly not loud enough to drown out the sound of the bossman assuring me, in no uncertain terms, that I’ll never play for Chelsea again. And I never did.
Sometimes, at a club like Chelsea, even a hat-trick isn’t enough. AVB was a good man with a good beard but ultimately it wasn’t enough. It annoys me that he got so much stick for losing the dressing room. That’s happened to me countless times over the years, Craven Cottage in particular is a labyrinth of windy corridors, almost impossible to find your way around. It’s not as though he was ever late for kick-off or anything.
What next for AVB? Well, Villas his middle name so I wouldn’t bet against him replacing Alex McLeish sometime soon. Some cynics will suggest there’s no link between name and club but I’d point out ARSENe at Arsenal and MANCini at City. Not to mention, when I’m down about the state of the world, I’m often cheered up simply by recalling the fact that, between 1998 and 2003, Wolfgang Wolf was the manager of Wolfsburg.
And who would rule him out of taking on the Wolves job next? My own middle name is Randy so you’ll have to ask the missus whether I live up to that one!
With managers being granted less and less time, you have to wonder who will go next. Well, here’s this week’s betting tip for you all based on recent events. After West Brom beat Wolves, Mick McCarthy was sacked. After West Brom beat Chelsea, Villas-Boas was sacked. Who have the Baggies got next? Manchester United.
With generous odds of 200-1 on Ferguson to be the next man to get the chop, you’d be a fool not to stick a fiver down.
Follow me on twitter @simon9smithpro
In a professional career spanning almost two decades, Simon Smith has played for over sixty-seven clubs. The ultimate utility player, as his pace has diminished Simon has managed to reinvent himself time and again, from poacher to holding midfielder, centre-back to goalkeeper.
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