At Zenit, Villas-Boas will be reunited with his former Porto protégé Hulk, who is now the Petersburg team’s star player. Source: Photoshot / Vostock Photo
Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas has been confirmed as the new head coach of FC Zenit St. Petersburg. According to the official site of the Petersburg club, the former Chelsea and Tottenham manager has signed a two-year contract with last year’s Russian Premier League runners-up.
Zenit’s previous coach, Italian Luciano Spalletti, was fired earlier this month after over four years in charge at the club. During his tenure he won two Premier League titles and one Russian Cup, but paid the price for failing to make significant progress in this year’s Champions League.
Former CSKA Moscow and Zenit player Sergei Semak was appointed as caretaker coach after Spalletti’s dismissal, but the team failed to achieve results in his first match, losing 0-1 to CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League .
A number of high-profile names were rumored to be in the running for the Zenit post, including: former Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, currently at Dutch team AZ Alkmaar; Fabio Capello, the coach of the Russian national team; Vitesse Arnhem coach Peter Bosch, and Thomas Schaaf, the former coach of German side Werder Bremen.
Valery Gazzayev, known for his work with CSKA Moscow and Dynamo Kiev, was also mentioned as a possible successor to Spalletti.
Villas-Boas was not initially considered by many to be among the favorites for the post, but when Jorge Jesus, head coach of Benfica, declared to Portuguese media “Andre is going to Russia”, it became clear that Villas-Boas had been chosen for the job.
Villas-Boas rose to worldwide prominence during his time at the helm of Portuguese club FC Porto. In 2011, he won the country’s Primeira Liga and the UEFA Europa League with the “Dragons”, in doing so becoming the youngest coach to win a UEFA competition at the age of just 33 years and 213 days.
Before his triumph with Porto, Villas-Boas worked as assistant to Jose Mourinho, the legendary Portuguese coach with whom he has often been compared. Like Mourinho, Villas-Boas went to Chelsea after a brilliant start in Portugal, but at this point the similarities between the careers of the two Portuguese end.
At Chelsea, Villas-Boas did not even last a season, parting ways with the club after well-publicized disputes with senior players and a series of disappointing results. In the summer of 2012, the Portuguese returned to the English Premier League as Tottenham coach, but his comeback was disappointing and he was fired after a year and a half.
At Zenit, Villas-Boas will be reunited with his former Porto protégé Hulk, who is now the Petersburg team’s star player. “I learned much from Andre in Porto,” said Hulk.
“He is very knowledgeable about tactics. He was always well informed about our opponents, so well in fact, that when we came onto the pitch, we knew almost everything about the opposing team. Sometimes it made me feel scared, how much he knew.”
Experts skeptical about Villas-Boas
However, neither Russian nor European football experts have been particularly positive in their assessment of the appointment of Villas-Boas, singling out his exceptional stubbornness and inability to build harmonious relations with star players for criticism while acknowledging his strategic abilities and remarkable efficiency.
“Villas-Boas is an adherent of attacking play and I think he will use Zenit’s attacking trump card more effectively. Zenit will be different under the leadership of Villas-Boas – it will be more powerful and creative in attack,” said former Zenit striker Alexander Panov.
“We should not expect quick results. However, the situation can change quickly. I think it will be primarily the foreign players who will listen to Villas-Boas, as he is a great authority for them - and especially for Hulk.”
Meanwhile, football expert Yevgeny Lovchev struck a note of caution, calling the appointment “highly questionable” and claiming that Boas was still living on the capital he gained at Porto.
“Now it is obvious that Boas has ruined his reputation, this comes after two sackings in a row, and, of course, the players look at the coach somewhat differently in this situation. However, given that the team has Portuguese-speaking players, and they are the leaders, the appointment may be positive,” said Lovchev.
Alexander Gorshkov, former Zenit captain, however, was less optimistic: “Villas-Boas has already shown himself as a good coach, but at the same time, his work in England was unsuccessful,” said Gorshkov.
“I think it will be difficult for him to work at Zenit. The situation is difficult: there is a motivational issue and internal problems. He will need time to remedy the situation.”
FIFA agent Sandor Varga, meanwhile, accused Villas-Boas of being a man who was “unable to find a common language” with his players. “He is a good coach,” said Varga. “Unfortunately, Andre’s personal qualities prevent him from becoming a really great coach.
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