Villas-Boas echoes Mourinho with Porto's Europa League title
Porto so dominated the league during the season that its win was anti-climactic
Andre Villas-Boas credited his team, who in turn say they feel they're a family
But English and Spanish powers are already eyeing the team's premier players
They came for a coronation and, after a slightly uncertain start, they got it. Andre Villas-Boas seems doomed to live at least the first part of his managerial career as the new Jose Mourinho, but he won't shake the tag if he keeps repeating his former boss' successes.
Mourinho was 40 when he won the UEFA Cup (as it was then called) with Porto. On a breezy Wednesday evening in Dublin, Villas-Boas won the competition in its modern Europa League guise at the age of 33. Of course, given that Gianluca Vialli was only 95 days older than Villas Boas when he led Chelsea to the Cup Winners' Cup in 1998, early European success isn't necessarily an indication of a glittering managerial career to come.
Mourinho's maiden European triumph came in an epic against Celtic, a magnificent game that finished 3-2 and featured two red cards. The overriding memory of that roasting evening in Seville was of how Celtic fans, 80,000 of them, took over the city, and of the spoiling and play-acting that tainted Porto's triumph.
This time, the sense was of anti-climax. Porto was simply much better than Braga in its 1-0 victory, and the deficiencies of Domingos Paciencia's side raised questions about just how great Porto's 30-0-3 league record this season really was. If the fourth-best team in Portugal is this poor, then what does it really mean to have swept so imperiously through the league? Braga finished the season 38 points behind Porto; the gulf in class looked every inch that big.
It seems churlish to write that, particularly when the demolitions of Villarreal and Spartak Moscow are taken into account -- and Villas Boas noted that "this doesn't reflect the quality of both teams" -- but it will always be the doubt until this side proves itself in the Champions League. The problem is that by the time it takes its place in the premier competition next season, it is unlikely to be the same side, as the giants of England and Spain eye up Porto's best talent.
Villas-Boas dedicated the victory to his parents, to Mourinho and to the late Bobby Robson and his wife, Elsie. He has said his intention is to stay, and he spoke of leading Porto to take Benfica's record number of Portuguese league titles. He spoke calmly, too, of Sunday's Portuguese Cup final; he gave no sense that this was an ending for him or this team. "Porto has highest release clauses in the market," he said. "It's not easy to prise these players from us. We want to keep this talent."
His insistence, as it has always been -- almost as though he is differentiating himself from Mourinho -- is that it is the players, not him, who have been decisive this season. "We've mixed this year a lot of competence from top to bottom," he said.
Foremost among them is probably Radamel Falcao, the Colombian forward who took his European tally for the season to a record 17 with the 44th-minute winner in Dublin. In execution it was exceptional: Fredy Guarin, probably the best player on the pitch in the first half, clipping in a perfect cross for Falcao to score with a fine header. It was devalued, though, by Braga's inadequacies: Alberto Rodriguez gave the ball away cheaply, Silvio allowed Guarin to turn inside him onto his right foot, and Paulao left Falcao mystifyingly untended to convert the delivery.
"The big secret of this team is that we're a family, a family that gets on very well, a very humble team," Falcao said. "We know the role each player should play so we always play for the good of the team. We are cohesive -- we have the same aims we want the same things." He also suggested he expects Villas-Boas will be at Porto next season. "He said his destiny is tied to Porto," Falcao said.
Until Falcao's goal, Porto had been the better side without really impressing. Had Custodio not snatched at an early chance as Porto's back line was caught flat when Silvio returned a half-cleared corner, it might even have gone behind. Hulk, who seemed easily to have the beating of Silvio until a dreadful foul from the fullback on him sent him into his shell, had a couple of chances, but it was an ugly, nervous game.
Villas-Boas prowled his technical area anxiously, a little more restrained than Mourinho, but only a little. He doesn't pout or smoulder, sulk or laugh sarcastically, but he does strut and point, one hand usually in trouser pocket, the other gesticulating constantly, beckoning players closer, urging them wider, dismissing poor play or refereeing decisions with angry wafts. His celebration of the winner, pelvis thrust forward, elbows in to waist, fists clenched just above the horizontal , was pure Mourinho, a reminder of who it was who taught him his trade.
Within seconds of coming on at halftime, Mossoro had a chance to level, but like Custodio before him, he never looked comfortable and, after the ball had slightly got caught under his feet, he shot tamely into the right leg of Helton. When Albert Meyong found space on the edge of the box with 15 minutes to go, he too scuffed his shot. Braga had its chances; it just seemed too cowed by Porto's reputation to take them, their nervousness reflected by a pass completion rate of just 58 percent. Braga might have argued that the referee, Carlos Velasco Carballo, was similarly influenced: a number of dubious calls seemed to go Porto's way in the second half, and the fullback Cristian Sapunaru was extremely fortunate not to be sent off for what appeared a second bookable foul on Silvio.
Like Mourinho's vintage team, this Porto is perfectly prepared to feign injury and waste time, although whether that is the result of managerial instruction or the general environment it's hard to say. Distasteful as some of that was, this has been a stunning season for Porto, however debatable the quality of some of its opposition. Villas-Boas has his first European trophy, and if it wasn't achieved in such dramatic circumstances as Mourinho's, if the final was frankly a little drab, he didn't seem too bothered as he ran across the pitch at the final whistle, fist raised in celebration.
The Portuguese Cup final against Vitoria Guimaraes awaits. Win that, and Villas-Boas' Porto will have won every competition it entered this season. The hard part is emulating what Mourinho did the year after he had won the UEFA Cup by winning the Champions League. Villas-Boas has suggested that is impossible; certainly it is highly improbable. For now, though, whatever the questions that remain to be answered, he has won everything and nobody can do more than that.