Why I hope the daring new ideas of Villas-Boas and Comolli can win over football's old guard
Who dares wins. It’s an admirable philosophy, which distils the spirit of the SAS.
It sustains undercover heroes, but can it survive the cynicism of modern football?
The future of Liverpool and Chelsea, as credible contenders, depends on it.
They are rivals, but unspoken allies, in a quiet revolution.
Liverpool have bought into the data-driven principles of Moneyball.
Chelsea have, in Andre Villas-Boas, invested in the crisp certainties of modern management techniques.
It’s a new business model, a challenge to tired old clichés, spouted by cartoon tyrants.
You’ll know the type. They demand to see your medals, stress your insignificance because you have never played professional football.
They give jobs to the boys, and think emotional intelligence is for girls. They trust their gut instincts, and use a fraction of their brain.
They revel in institutional ignorance and impatience. They know fans want it all, and want it now. Supporters don’t care about the physiological, social, and technical information that underpins a long term strategy.
They want bragging rights, in an age where death threats are issued on Twitter in response to taunts about Man United winning 19 titles.
Already, in the dog days of summer, murmurs of discontent from Anfield are building to a crescendo.
Questions about the £16m spent on Jordan Henderson are not being answered by pass-completion statistics, or GPS data, which shows he runs 13 kilometres a match.
Doubts about Andy Carroll’s rehabilitation schedule are not being addressed by Damien Comolli’s belief in the psychological profiling of potential recruits.
Critics see Liverpool being rejected by Connor Wickham and Gael Clichy, players at either end of their careers.
They leap to conclusions, and apply Catch 22. Comolli is wrong because Liverpool pay inflated fees for young British players. He’s wrong because Liverpool refuse to be bullied by agents and opportunists.
He’s an obvious target. He’s caricatured as a French nerd, poring over computerised spread sheets.
His job, as Director of Football, is perceived to be a challenge to Kenny Dalglish.
The reality – that the manager has the ultimate choice of signings from a shortlist of players is overlooked.
There’s not a lot of logic being applied. Some Liverpool fans even deride Dalglish as a dinosaur, whose job should have been given to Villas-Boas. The Portuguese prodigy was powerpoint-perfect during his inaugural address at Stamford Bridge.
Thoughtful, lucid, and attentive, he had a corporate sheen, and the decency to look embarrassed when he called himself the Group One.
His backroom staff includes a Mini Me, Daniel Sousa (25), who will compile detailed reports on opposition.
If they are confronted by closed minds in a notoriously difficult dressing room, the grand plan unravels.
That’s the problem with football’s New Age thinking. It is at the mercy of human nature, and the game’s reluctance to nurture.
If a clique forms around a powerful personality like John Terry, it must be destroyed. That won’t be pretty or productive in the short term. If Carroll’s off-season odyssey, from the beaches of Barbados to the mudflats of Glastonbury, signals a lack of professionalism, he must be challenged.
If you think that will be easy, just take a Google tour of his misadventures.
Liverpool and Chelsea have taken bold, brave gambles, which deserve to succeed. I love the freedom of thought, the freshness of ideas promoted by Dalglish, Comolli and Villas-Boas.
But I fear for them. Too many people have too much to gain from their failure.
They should emulate the SAS, and make a surgical strike on the opposition, before it is too late.