Novice delighting in the Dragao dugout
Andre Villas-Boas has made quite a start to his career in the Estadio do Dragao dugout, overseeing victories in all of his first nine games, five of them in the Liga Sagres. Even for domestic giants like Porto, those statistics make impressive reading, but when you consider that the man responsible for their 100 per cent record is only 32, that feat becomes even more remarkable.
Villas-Boas learned his trade as a result of an unlikely education under two of Os Dragões' most illustrious coaches: Sir Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho. The new man at the helm has applied their teachings to great effect, taking the side to the top of the league standings and steering them to three straight wins in the UEFA Europa League, all this after kicking off the season with a Portuguese Super Cup triumph over Benfica.
Villas-Boas’s burgeoning coaching career began in unusual circumstances back in 1994, when he was a mere 16-year-old. Harbouring dreams of pursuing a profession in the game in some form or other, the Porto-supporting teenage had been planning to do a course in physical education when he stumbled across an alternative way into football.
The club’s coach at the time was Robson, who would win two league titles during his stay on the banks of the Douro and whose technical staff included his translator, one Jose Mourinho. Though the much-respected Englishman brought the fans the trophies they craved, the young Villas-Boas was not entirely happy, finding fault with the coach’s tendency to leave free-scoring striker Domingos Paciencia - now head coach at Sporting Braga - on the bench.
Unable to comprehend the sidelining of his hero, Villas-Boas, who happened to live in the same apartment block as the Porto coach but was too shy to approach him, decided to register his displeasure in writing. The letter he later dropped into Robson’s mailbox would change his life.
Impressed by what the teenager had to say, Robson called on him a few days later, challenging his neighbour to back up his argument in favour of Domingos by collecting statistics from Porto’s next few games. The reports compiled by the eagle-eyed fan were so comprehensive that Sir Bobby invited him to work as a trainee with the club’s youth-team coaching staff and encouraged him to take a coaching course.
When Robson and Mourinho decamped to Barcelona two years later, Villas-Boas stayed put, working his way through the ranks at Porto before being reunited with the returning Mourinho in 2002. Though the latter had yet to become the self-styled 'Special One', his career was on an upward trajectory. Drafted into his team to scout Porto’s future opponents, Villas-Boas played a supporting role in Os Dragões’ UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2004, and worked under the increasingly high-profile Mourinho during his spells at Chelsea and Inter Milan.
Intent on making his own name, Villas-Boas then moved into coaching himself, taking on the Academica job in October 2009 and coaxing some attractive football from the Coimbra side as they maintained their top-flight status.
Despite attracting the interest of Sporting, Villas-Boas then chose to follow in the footsteps of his two esteemed mentors, taking over from Jesualdo Ferreira as Porto coach in the close season. Both Mourinho and Robson, who passed away last year, won two league titles with the northern giants, an achievement their pupil will be keen to emulate in his own inimitable way.
As far as the future is concerned, and unlike many of his counterparts, the unorthodox Villas-Boas is willing to contemplate assignments outside Europe’s major leagues, recently declaring: “I’d like to coach in Argentina, Chile and Japan.”
Yet, with a perfect start to maintain in Porto, the astute apprentice has plenty to keep him occupied for the time being, not least the task of matching the impressive records of the two men who helped him shape his destiny.