Andre Villas-Boas has recalled the impact and influence ex-England manager Sir Bobby Robson had on his career, saying he would not be in the Tottenham Hotspur dugout were it not for his former mentor.
The Portuguese met the FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalist when he was just 17, when the aspiring reporter plucked up the courage to enquire about some of his tactics in recent games. Without this meeting with the then Porto coach, Villas-Boas admitted, he would probably still be writing about football rather than shaping the matches themselves.
“I had no aspirations [to work in football], I wanted to follow journalism,” the UEFA Europa League-winning coach told TheFA.com. “When I approached Sir Bobby it was as a fan, because I was asking questions about the team and why he used this player and not that player. I was just 17 and he didn't take it as an insult. He opened the door completely; he told me everything had an explanation.
"From then on we arranged a time for the next morning to be by his car for training. It was fantastic, these are memories I cherish a lot.”
From there on a surprising relationship blossomed between he and Robson, who passed away in 2009, with the former PSV coach taking the young upstart under his wing.
Villas-Boas, who already spoke fluent English thanks to his grandmother being British, began producing statistics on Porto games for Robson to use in post-match press conferences. Then the Porto native went on to take FA and Scottish FA coaching courses at Robson's behest, before the manager from the north-east of England asked a favour to get Villas-Boas some time observing his old club Ipswich Town.
“When I finished that he set up for me to start being an assistant coach in Porto's U-8s," the now-35-year-old said. "All of this happened very, very quickly and it was the most important thing in the start of my career.”
Since, Villas-Boas had a spell with British Virgin Islands and was part of Jose Mourinho's backroom staff at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, before a brief stint in charge of Academica. He produced a fabulous league, cup and Europa League treble in his one season with Porto in 2010/11, and while an ill-fated campaign at Chelsea followed, he is now in charge of a promising Tottenham side. Throughout that time he admits that the influence of Robson has been there, as he has looked to define himself as a manager.
“I try to lead myself with good values in my coaching and with values of respect," he explained. "I think there is no better example than Sir Bobby in that case. "There were no mind games with Sir Bobby. He was truthful in his essence and always had a word of appraisal for every single person. These are the moments that I recall of him, and I think these are similar between myself and what the public saw him of from outside.”
Robson has an impressive legacy in the game, forged at some of Europe's finest clubs, and Villas-Boas believes his spirit and desire were key factors in the path he traced through football.
“When I think of the moments of Sir Bobby's life, there were ups and downs, but he was able to turn them into successes,” he said. “He had many years at Ipswich, then success abroad with PSV, then Sporting, Porto and Barcelona. His career is an example that hard work repays and if you are in love with what you do you are able to achieve great things.”
And though Robson's triumphs throughout his time in management are many, Villas-Boas feels the respect earned during his time on the bench is the real crowning glory.
“Normally we are able to look back and find out how many titles a coach has won in the past, but with Sir Bobby you don't want to know how many titles he has won, you know how good the man was. You know the impact he has had in so many lives, you know the struggle he has gone through with his disease and his fight with cancer, and he has been an example not only as a manager but as a man because of all these challenges.”
Villas-Boas was speaking ahead of Sir Bobby Robson National Football Day, which takes place on Saturday 10 August.