SIR Bobby Robson has influenced the careers of many footballing greats, and Andre Villas-Boas can be added to the list.
The late Sir Bobby would never have imagined when he responded to a letter from a young Villas-Boas in 1994 that would be igniting the career of someone now regarded as one of Europe’s finest up-and-coming managers.
Villas-Boas was this morning announced as as Chelsea manager after leaving Porto.
At 16 years of age, Villas-Boas had not finished his studies when he noticed that Robson, then manager of Porto, was living in the same apartment block as him.
Robson would go on to win the first of three successive titles that year, but for fan Villas-Boas, he was making a mistake in keeping striker Domingos Paciencia on the bench.
The youngster wrote to Robson raising his concerns and the UEFA Cup-winning coach responded by asking him to supply data to support his argument.
He soon did. Villas-Boas sent back a raft of statistics and arguments pinpointing why he was correct.
Robson was so impressed he offered the Portuguese a trainee position with the youth team’s coaching staff, and the rest is history.
In the Porto hotseat, Villas-Boas led the side to a treble last season as they won the Portuguese league and cup as well as the Europa League following victory over countrymen Braga.
Robson took the youngster under his wing and, sensing his love of the game and of coaching in particular, sent him to Lilleshall academy in England, where he earned his coaching badges. At 17 years old, he was by far the youngest student in the class.
Villas-Boas went on to gain further experience in Scotland and at Ipswich under George Burley, before returning to the Estadio Dragao.
Having learned fluent English from his grandmother, who was English, Villas-Boas jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of head coach with the British Virgin Isles.
His 18-month tenure ended after two defeats in two matches though, and he returned to his homeland to pursue his coaching dream at Porto, where he was offered the role as coach of the under-19 side by the new man in charge - Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho remembered the attention to detail Villas-Boas had wowed Robson with and promoted him to the role of opposition scout.
Villas-Boas took on the mantle of the club’s super-sleuth, compiling thick dossiers on the team’s next opponents by sneaking into their bases to watch training sessions.
“It takes me four days to put an entire file together,” Villas Boas said after joining Mourinho to carry out the same job at Chelsea.
“It is very comprehensive. The reports are given to all the players as well as the manager.
“The idea is that when the players go out on the pitch, they are totally prepared, so there can be very few surprises during the game.”
Mourinho described Villas-Boas as his ``eyes and ears’’ and also took him to Inter Milan, but his young apprentice was frozen out of the equation when he revealed he had management ambitions of his own.
The pair do not speak, but Villas-Boas denies he has a problem with Mourinho, recently describing the Real Madrid manager as “the greatest coach of all time”.
Villas-Boas, then 32, got his first crack at club management with strugglers Academica in October 2009 where he led the rock-bottom team from Coimbra to a respectable 11th-place finish. They also reached the Portuguese cup semi-final before defeat to Porto.
A wretched third-place finish by Porto, and Academica’s heroic performance in the semi-final defeat, persuaded Porto president Jorge Pinto Da Costa to replace Jesualdo Ferreira with Villas-Boas.
Many doubted it could work but they were soon proved wrong as Villas-Boas led his squad to six successive wins in his first month in charge despite selling key players Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves.
Villas-Boas continued to defy the sceptics and went on to secure the title with five games remaining.
A record-breaking run to the Europa League final, and the Portuguese’s commitment to playing free-flowing attacking football, also alerted his potential to many suitors on the continent.
With his youth, success and fast-tracked ascent into management, comparisons between Villas-Boas and Mourinho are inevitable, but the 33-year-old wants to carve out a future of his own.
Unlike Robson, Villas-Boas is determined to have a short career in management, of 10 to 15 years. But if the young manager keeps on winning trophies, it would be daring to bet against the apprentice usurping the achievements of the English master, even in such a brief amount of time.