LONDON – The oldest manager in the Premier League goes head-to-head with the youngest at Old Trafford Sunday when Manchester United plays Chelsea in a match that will do much to determine the early pecking order of what is building up to be a fascinating season.
Sir Alex Ferguson (69) was 32, a year younger than Andre Villas-Boas is now, when he made his first step in management with East Stirlingshire. Darren, Sir Alex’s son and Peterborough manager, is six years older than the Portuguese.
AVB was just 31 when he took over at Academica; with FC Porto last season he won every competition it entered. Just a short time in his company leaves you in no doubt that AVB is a class act in every way.
Fluent in English thanks to his paternal grandmother Margaret Kendall, whose mother emigrated to Portugal to start a wine business, AVB oozes confidence, cohesion and clarity. Fergie has seen off all challengers in the past but now there is a new kid on the block.
While no one would say Ferguson is too old for management — certainly not in earshot — many believe working for Roman Abramovich, a billionaire hands-on owner who sacked Carlo Ancelotti after finishing second, plus having a dressing-room packed with politics and egos will be too much for AVB’s tender years to handle.
Underestimating this guy could be a huge mistake, though.
The manager who expends almost as much energy as his players on the touchline during games has already stamped his personality at Stamford Bridge. AVB believes in rotation, or as he calls it “keeping everybody motivated,” which meant John Terry was rested, always a bold move, and Frank Lampard a substitute for the midweek win over Bayer Leverkusen.
Fernando Torres, who has become synonymous with “misfit” and “waste of money” since his ￡50 million move from Liverpool in January, did not score his much-awaited second goal for Chelsea but created the strikes for David Luiz and Juan Mata. The Spain international desperately needs a goal to give a more positive spin to the ongoing statistic which stands at one goal in 23 matches for the Blues.
AVB knows he faces the ax if he is not successful with style though such pressure doesn’t worry him and he said: “You cannot escape from the fact that when you arrive at a top club like Chelsea you have to win straight away. Not just win but do so with an amount of flair.
“I always believe that what you have achieved can be overtaken. You have to set yourself higher objectives. I want to help the players find talent they thought they didn’t have before.
“There is always some sort of speculation before the arrival of such a young coach into such an experienced dressing room which is full of winners. But because they are winners, they want to win once again.
“So if the manager and the club plus the players are driven towards success we all come together with the same objective.
“The players have been fantastic the way they have received me and helping us take a shorter route to success.”
General belief is that the title will be a three-horse race; United, Chelsea and Manchester City. Victory, even a draw for Chelsea Sunday would raise AVB’s profile to a Mourinho-like level in a sport where there tends to be no grey, just black and white. Defeat would see Chelsea ridiculously written off and AVB’s age brought into question.
United and particularly Wayne Rooney have started the season imperiously, scoring a Premier League record 18 goals after four games.
Old Trafford remains the ultimate challenge in English football but so far in his short managerial career AVB has passed every test with honors.
ROY KEANE, November 2008: “I was asked by ITV to do the Celtic vs. Manchester United game but I’ve done it once for Sky Sports and never again. I’d rather go to the dentist. You’re sitting there with people like Richard Keys and they’re trying to sell something that’s not there. Anytime I watch a game on television, I have to turn the commentators off. They say ‘he’s playing well’ and I’m thinking ‘no, he’s not.’
“My advice to anyone is don’t listen to the experts, just watch the game and gather your own opinions.”
Roy Keane, September 2011: a pitchside expert for ITV’s coverage of Benfica vs. Manchester United.
GARRY COOK paid the price for lying about the bad taste email he sent to Dr. Anthonia Onuoha, the cancer-suffering mother and representative of Manchester City defender Nedum.
As chief executive of City Cook, who resigned his post, earned ￡1.821 million last year (along with ￡135,000 in pension contributions).
The most staggering statistic is that the defender Onuoha’s five-year deal he signed two years ago is worth ￡38,000 a week, a total of almost ￡10 million over the contract. Not bad for a City reserve who spent last season on loan to Sunderland.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.