After becoming the first Portuguese coach to guide a side through a Liga season unbeaten, André Villas-Boas can cap a remarkable debut campaign at FC Porto in style in Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final.
It is fair to say that expectations were not too high when Villas-Boas returned to the Estádio do Dragão as coach in June. Just 32 and with less than a season under his belt at A. Académica de Coimbra, he represented a brave, instinctive choice by president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa: how fortune favours the bold.
On Saturday Porto signed off their Liga campaign unbeaten, refusing to let their foot off the gas in the last five games with the title already secure. The team's record is worth highlighting: P30 W27 D3 L0 F73 A16. Remarkable; all the more so as last term, under Jesualdo Ferreira, they finished third behind SL Benfica and SC Braga.
Yet Villas-Boas is dismissive when it comes to talk of his Midas touch. "People focus too much on the manager – it's down to the structure of the club and the players," he said. "Football is not a one-man show. My job is to nurture talent, to allow players to explore their capabilities to the full. You have to free them and let them make their own choices. I'm no dictator."
It is a philosophy his players have embraced. "It's the freedom he gives us," said goalkeeper and captain Helton, only seven months younger than Villas-Boas. "He looks after us and tries to give us what we need, while making sure he gets what he wants from us tactically. [When things aren't going right] he gives us tranquillity and reminds us what we're capable of. We've heard that speech a few times now."
It could all have been very different. As a teenager Villas-Boas had aspirations of being a journalist when a letter to then Porto coach Sir Bobby Robson, bemoaning striker Domingos's lack of chances, changed everything. "Fortunately Robson took me to the club and got me on training courses in England and Scotland," he explained. "If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here but with you on the other side of the barricade."
By 16 Villas-Boas was working at Porto's scouting and statistics department and at 21, when schoolmates were making their first tentative steps into employment, he was director of football of the British Virgin Islands. José Mourinho, with whom he is often (reluctantly) compared, brought him back to Porto as his head of opposition scouting and when he moved to Chelsea FC and FC Internazionale Milano he took his protege with him.
Villas-Boas struck out on his own in October 2009, arriving at Académica seven games into the new season with the side rooted to the foot of the Liga, still seeking their first win. He guided them to mid-table respectability and, over the course of those 23 games, did enough to persuaded Pinto da Costa to re-employ him.
Neither he nor Porto have looked back since. They won their 25th Liga title by a record 21-point margin and meet Vitória SC in Sunday's Portuguese Cup final. Only the treble, with UEFA Europa League glory, will satisfy Villas-Boas, though, but to do that it will this time be at that man Domingos' expense. Now better known by his surname, Paciência, Domingos is Braga's coach.
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