Villas-Boas faces test of mettle at Chelsea

LONDON, Aug 6, 2011 (AFP) - John Terry believes new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has won his first battle at Stamford Bridge, but the real test of the Portuguese coach's mettle is still to come.

First impressions are everything in the cut-throat Chelsea dressing room, where managers have to deal with a group of streetwise and influential stars who don't suffer fools gladly.

Avram Grant and Luis Felipe Scolari both paid the price for failing to win the players' support, while even the affable Carlo Ancelotti lost respect after his assistant Ray Wilkins was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich without the Italian's knowledge.

To succeed at Chelsea means earning the trust of senior pros including captain Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba and, judging from the early noises emerging from the Bridge, it seems that Villas-Boas has done just that.

"Andre is a modern manager," Terry said. "He's come in and, really, from day one, he's been on the ball with us all.

"He won't mumble on for 20, 30 minutes at a time. It's quite short, quite brief, but he covers everything, whether that be in training or in the team meetings, and everyone seems to finally understand the way he wants us to play."

With nine players over 30 in Chelsea's squad and two -- Drogba and Lampard -- the same age as Villas-Boas, it has been suggested that the new boss will struggle to retain authority over his players.

But Lampard was impressed with the personable and intelligent way Villas-Boas conducted himself during the club's pre-season tour of Asia.

"We always respect the manager, and that applies to any manager," Lampard said. "A lot has been made of Andre being 33 but he has a great maturity about him. He's more mature than me!"

However, while winning the players' support is essential, the real power-broker at the Bridge is Abramovich and satisfying the Russian is the only way Villas-Boas will be able to survive.

That means Chelsea must win the Champions League. The Premier League would be nice as well, but success in Europe has been Abramovich's holy grail since he bought the club in 2003.

After one final loss and four semi-final defeats, Ashley Cole confirmed the Champions League remains the main motivation for Chelsea's players as well.

"A lot of the players in this Chelsea team have not won it so the hunger is still there," Cole said.

"If they did finish their careers without winning the Champions League it would kill them."

Villas-Boas's rapid rise to the top in just two seasons as a professional coach means failure must seem a distant prospect.

He led Porto to the Portuguese league without losing a single match last season, establishing a new points record in the process, and became the youngest coach to win a European trophy thanks to victory over Braga in the Europa League final.

Even so, he will be tested like never before in London.

Villas-Boas hasn't managed outside Portugal or in the Champions League and now he must pit his wits against rivals like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Kenny Dalglish, who can all draw on a vast wealth of experience.

Adding to the challenge, he inherits a squad that seemed to lose its' hunger during last season's trophyless campaign and clearly needs an infusion of new blood.

With that in mind, he has signed Oriol Romeu, a 19-year-old midfielder from Barcelona, and highly-rated young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, but a deal for Luka Modric is also on the agenda.

Villas-Boas's preferred 4-3-3 formation is likely to leave room for only one of Drogba and Fernando Torres, the £50 million forward who flopped so badly following his January move from Liverpool.

It is believed Villas-Boas has been more impressed by Drogba, but getting the best out of Torres is essential to keep Abramovich happy after the Russian played a major role in the British record signing.

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