Chelsea might be on the verge of experiencing a blast from the past. In 2004, a little known Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho, took England by storm, after he claimed he was the special one and, impressively, backed up his statements with trophies. He went on to become a legend at the club, despite overseeing proceeding in a brief three years at the helm. The club still reels from his effect.
Now, it seems as though a certain Andre Villas-Boas, dubbed the new Mourinho, is set to take the vacant managerial seat, after Carlo Ancelotti was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich minutes past the end of last season. Villas-Boas has shockingly emulated Mourinho, in that he won a quadruple, leading Porto to the Europa League while guiding the club through its first unbeaten season in history.
Adding to his credentials is the fact that Villas-Boas has already worked with Chelsea previously, under his mentor who was none other than Mourinho himself. He was Mourinho's chief opposition scout at Stamford Bridge, and he already knows the workings of the club inside-out. He also has a meticulous grasp of English, which discounts any communication problems of the sort that the players faced in the early days of Ancelotti's reign.
For a long while, Chelsea's former caretaker manager Guus Hiddink, was touted as the front-runner to take up the job. However, the Dutchman, despite being a promising candidate, was never really committal about returning to club management. It has made Villas-Boas the front-runner to take up the hot-seat.
Reports in Portugal suggest that Villas-Boas has already told Porto of his wish to leave for Chelsea, and all that remains between him and London is a £13.25 million release clause, which Abramovich is expected to trigger.
If the deal does go through, optimism will fill the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. And for good reason. Villas-Boas comes with a package strikingly similar to Mourinho's. He is known to be charismatic, an expert tactician and, importantly, his man-management skills are top notch. The players at Porto regarded him as their friend but he held the command of the dressing-room. Another reason Abramovich is impressed in him, overlooking the obvious factor that is his success measure, is that unlike Mourinho during his Chelsea days, Villas-Boas practices a much more attractive brand of football. He is also known to be a gentleman, which will help him with press-support unlike Mourinho whose arrogance sometimes lost him the press, while giving him feuds aplenty with rival managers.
On the outset, Villas-Boas and Chelsea seem like a perfect match. However, the Portuguese will have to tackle a couple of important problems if he is to escape the fate of his predecessors.
The first problem is his owner himself - Roman Abramovich. During the latter part of Mourinho's reign, Abramovich took a more hands-on role at the club, buying Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko, who infamously turned out to be a flop. Mourinho wanted full-control of the running of the club, something which didn't go well with Abramovich. It eventually led to the tactician and the club parting ways in September 2007.
Villas-Boas will have to manage the high-demands of the trigger-happy Abramovich, while delivering on the pitch.
Another issue he has to tackle is player-power. Many of Mourinho's successors had trouble dealing with a power-figure cluster consisting of the senior players, led by the hugely popular John Terry. Luiz Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant, the latter who lead the club to their only ever Champions League final, faced the problem in huge measure. In fact, any incoming manager at Chelsea had to win over John Terry to gain rights of commanding the dressing room.
Villas-Boas faces the tricky task of breaking this parallel power cluster. How will he handle Terry? Will he be brave enough to drop a waning Lampard? How successful he is at the club will depend on how he handles these issues.
Another potential problem is that of Guus Hiddink, or anyone else in the sporting director's role. It is no secret that back in 2007, Abramovich appointed Avram Grant in the role, which left Mourinho as the first-team coach, rather than the club manager. It was the beginning of the end of the special one's time at Chelsea, as uneasiness between coach and owner stretched relations.
Currently, it seems likely that Hiddink will be appointed in the role. Another way to look at it is that there is a ready-made backup manager should Abramovich decide to oust yet another manager.
Villas-Boas radiates the air of a man who is out to win everything. But does he have the know-how to deal with a tricky club like Chelsea?
Chelsea fans will be genuinely hopeful. It is the closest they have come to witnessing a return of the special one. Mourinho's time at Chelsea was special indeed. With a bit of luck, the Blues could have it back.