André Villas-Boas has defined Chelsea's ambitions for the season by revealing he would end up dissatisfied if the club did not regain the Premier League title and setting himself the target of emulating, if not surpassing, the Double achieved by Carlo Ancelotti is his first year at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's seventh manager of the Roman Abramovich era faces an awkward baptism in charge on Sunday with a visit to the FA Cup finalists Stoke City, a side he described as "one of the magnificent teams" in the top flight. His own side, which will be largely unaltered from last season at the Britannia Stadium, finished nine points adrift of Manchester United in May, a gulf Villas-Boas believes is deceptive. He feels his club are ready to challenge both domestically and in Europe under his leadership.
"I wouldn't be satisfied if we don't win the Premiership," said Villas-Boas when asked if progress could be measured in anything other than silverware. "The domestic title is always the priority. It has to be. In the Champions League a pattern of United and Barcelona reaching the final has developed over the last few years, but Chelsea are usually in the later stages and we're threatening to challenge. We're not that far away, but so much depends upon the draw in that competition, both in the group and the knockout phases. Luck is needed. But we can raise our level again to be ready to compete.
"Any top job is a hard job. The expectation at this club is to win games, but there's nothing else that drives me on other than winning games. It is the same with this squad. In the end, you have to respond to the expectations of the owner and the club. I have my own desire to win the most amount of titles as is possible. That is my target. My players have that kind of ambition, too, as do United's – they showed that in the Community Shield by coming back after half-time, displaying the drive needed at any top club. Anyway, if I win all four trophies here, I'll retire."
That was delivered with a smile, with the follow-up – "But you won everything you were in last year at Porto" – prompting Villas-Boas to add: "And I thought about [retiring]." Yet the acknowledgement from the 33-year-old, who has not overseen a loss since Porto's first-leg Portuguese Cup defeat to Benfica in February, of the need to deliver trophies was telling given Abramovich's established willingness to change the management structure if he senses the club is not progressing.
Ancelotti had claimed the first league and Cup Double in Chelsea's history in 2010, but the Italian's inability to arrest an alarming mid-season slump last term until United had forged well ahead, combined with a failure to progress beyond the last eight in Europe, contrived to see the two-times Champions League winner dismissed.
"It's unfair for me to criticise Carlo in any sense, or to criticise what happened last season," Villas-Boas said. "But this club wasn't successful in obtaining the Premier League title and its owner decided to part company with the manager, a manager who's been very successful in football and in his first year at Chelsea, which we can only dream to emulate. Hopefully we can be up to what Carlo did in that first year and, hopefully, more. But, while the squad went through a couple of big injuries [Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry all suffered at some stage], they still managed to shorten a gap that had reached 15 points at one stage.
"In the end, Chelsea really had a big possibility of winning back-to-back titles when they went to Old Trafford [in April]. Had they shortened the distance that day, it could have been a different story and the man speaking today might not have been me. But, as it was, the owner decided he had to part company with the manager and now we focus again on the standards this club has established over the last seven years, aimed at winning the most titles as possible. That's what we're trying to achieve. I just want to be first."
The Portuguese's squad is depleted for the trip to the Potteries with David Luiz injured, Branislav Ivanovic doubtful, Daniel Sturridge suspended, Oriel Romeu still at the Under-20 World Cup with Spain and Chelsea awaiting clearance from the Premier League to field Romelu Lukaku. Fernando Torres should be fit enough to feature after suffering concussion in midweek but is likely to begin on the bench, with Drogba, so impressive in pre-season, expected to start. The unsettled Yossi Benayoun will be in the squad though could leave before the end of the transfer window, particularly if Villas-Boas is successful in his ongoing pursuit of Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric.
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