Crucial role of boy scout who is Mourinho's 'eyes and ears'

Alex Hayes

Any Premier League club spotting a young man with auburn hair and a blue tracksuit loitering with intent in the bushes around their training ground this coming season should be extremely worried. Chances are it will be Andre Villas Boas. Earlier this week, he was casually introduced as Chelsea's new assistant scout. In reality, Villas is the man who Jose Mourinho himself refers to as "my eyes and ears".

Any Premier League club spotting a young man with auburn hair and a blue tracksuit loitering with intent in the bushes around their training ground this coming season should be extremely worried. Chances are it will be Andre Villas Boas. Earlier this week, he was casually introduced as Chelsea's new assistant scout. In reality, Villas is the man who Jose Mourinho himself refers to as "my eyes and ears".

Mourinho may have brought with him from Porto an assistant manager, a goalkeeping coach and a fitness guru, while promoting Steve Clarke from the Chelsea youth ranks to the first team. But it is Villas who has been put in charge of Mourinho's most cherished department: strategy.

"Some managers prefer to concentrate more on fitness or mental," Villas says, "but Jose likes to marry all aspects of coaching. He does a lot of physical and tactical work on the field, but believes that you can also benefit greatly from careful analysis and planning.

"My work enables Jose to know exactly when a player from the opposition team is likely to be at his best or his weakest. I will travel to training grounds, often incognito, and then look at our opponents' mental and physical state before drawing my conclusions and presenting a full dossier to Jose."

To many managers, such meticulous organisation may seem a little over the top, especially in a league where tactics and subtlety are often lacking. But this is how Mourinho guided his unfancied Porto troops to back-to-back Portuguese titles and victory in last year's Uefa Cup competition, before signing off in majestic style by winning the Champions' League in May.

"Jose is obsessed with detail," says Villas in the flawless English that he was taught by his grandmother, Margaret Kendall, who moved from her native North-east to Guimaraes in the early part of the last century. "He will leave nothing to chance, even if his team are playing against the worst side in the League."

It is easy to see why Villas is held in such high esteem by arguably Europe's premier manager. Calm and precise, he exudes the confidence of a veteran. "I guess it is because I started coaching when I was very young," explains the 26-year-old going on 50. "Despite my age, I have a lot of experience."

Villas's meteoric rise through the ranks owes much to his hard work and enthusiasm, but the Portuguese coach is the first to admit that the roots to his success are English. "When Mr Bobby Robson came to Porto to be a coach in 1994," Villas recalls, "he moved into my building. I was a small boy, but because I was so interested in football I went to his flat to try to meet him.

"He liked my passion so helped me to enrol at Lilleshall to take my FA coaching qualifications. He also arranged for me to do my Scottish qualifications in Largs and spend some time at Ipswich with George Burley to see the team train." Villas was just 17. "I started very young in Lilleshall," he says. "In fact, I shouldn't really have been there, because the law doesn't allow a minor to take qualifications. But Bobby [Robson] smoothed the way with Mr Charles Hughes [the former head of coaching at the Centre of Excellence] and I was allowed in to take my Uefa C badges.

"I was the youngest coach there by a mile, but I was so determined to make it that it didn't bother me. I spent three weeks at each venue in the UK and then came back to Porto to do one year's coaching with the youth teams. The following season I went on to do my Uefa B course and then, last year, I got my A licence."

Coaching was not Villas's first love. "I would have loved to have played at the highest level," he says, "but I wasn't a good enough midfielder to make it so I turned to coaching. It did not take long, though, before I was hooked by all the aspects of management. It's such a varied and demanding job. I love it and now I couldn't imagine doing anything else. My ultimate dream is to be totally in charge of my own club soon."

In between his various exams, Villas found the time to become the British Virgin Islands' technical director of football in 2000. "I was basically the country's coach," says Villas, who was the youngest international manager at the time. "I was a kid, but they didn't know that. I only told them my age the day I left the post. It was such a grand job for a 21-year-old. I was in charge for the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, and I remember Bermuda beating us very heavily, with Shaun Goater [the Reading striker] scoring five goals. It was a bad defeat, but still an unbelievable experience for a guy so young."

Following 18 months in the sun, he returned to Porto to coach the Under-19s. A year later, Mourinho was appointed as manager, and Villas was given his big break. "Because Jose knew me well from his time as Bobby Robson's assistant, he asked me to create the Opponent Observation Department." In simple terms, the role of the OOD is to compile secret service-style dossiers on Chelsea's rivals. "It takes me four days to put an entire file together," Villas says, "so it is very comprehensive. The reports are given to all the players as well as the manager. The idea is that when the players go out on the pitch, they are totally prepared, so there can be very few surprises during the game."

Will Villas be ready for the new season? "I will watch Birmingham City in a friendly on 17 July," he says, "and then go on the tour of the US to follow Manchester United [Chelsea's first opponents of the campaign]. When I come back, I will be watching Crystal Palace and I am already gathering a bit of information regarding Southampton. My eyes are open and my work has already begun in earnest." Chelsea's rivals had better start checking their training-ground bushes.

 

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