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Aug 19, 2011

Andre has potential to become a giant

ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.

It's very early to judge what sort of impact Andre Villas-Boas is going to make at Chelsea and those throwing criticism his way after last week's draw should perhaps step away and give him a chance. Coming away from Stoke with a 0-0 is a reasonable result from a tough first outing as a Premier League manager and I think there were positives to be taken from the game.

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He had to make some big decisions - leaving big name players like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka is not a move that could have been made lightly - and the major plus was the performance of Fernando Torres. The Torres we saw against Stoke was the one we were used to watching at Liverpool. He had a great work-rate and was determined, eager and hungry - all the things he hasn't been since January. He looks like he will be part of Chelsea's future in a big way and Villas-Boas deserves some credit there.

What Torres, Villas-Boas and Chelsea really need, though, is a creative spark in midfield. If you look through their entire squad, they haven't got a world-class inventive midfielder. Chelsea brought Deco in a couple of years ago and things didn't quite work out; they've got Yossi Benayoun but he's never looked like a permanent fixture and young Josh McEachran is also around the first team, but is not the finished article.

That's why they're trying to get Luka Modric. They need a player like that and it doesn't necessarily have to be Modric. A Fabregas, a Nasri, even a Charlie Adam; someone who can open a door when Plan A isn't quite working. Chelsea have always been more of an effective team than an exciting team and though they've changed the manager, they haven't changed the staff - Villas-Boas can only play a certain way with the players he's got at the moment.

One criticism of the Chelsea boss I've felt is particularly unfair is that he has never made it as a top player. Obviously there are some benefits of having had a successful playing career. You can stand in front of your players and they look at you and say 'this guy has been there, he's played for teams that have won the league, he's played for his country, he's won these honours'. That gives you a level of respect. But they will still only listen to you and do what you ask of them if they trust in you, believe in you, and think what you're saying is right. Just having a name and having won things in your career isn't enough, that's been proved by a lot of top players who have struggled to make the grade in management.

People seem to forget that Arsene Wenger wasn't a top class player, Sir Alex Ferguson wasn't a top class player and, of course, Jose Mourinho was not a top class player. Villas-Boas should not be judged on what he hasn't achieved on the pitch as a player, but what he has won as a manager. You might get lucky winning the odd cup, but he managed to bring home three trophies last season with Porto and go through the league unbeaten. His track record speaks for itself.

The main thing is, regardless of experience, you've got to get results. You can change the team, drop players - you can get away with anything really, as long as you're winning. It's certainly not fair to write Villas-Boas off so early, he has so many challenges ahead before he can be properly judged. He will have to try to please the fans, who have paid £60-£70 for a ticket wanting to see more than a 1-0 win and they will want him to bring a certain style to Stamford Bridge. Then there's the players; rotation is such a big part of the modern game and he will need to choose the right time to rest players, ensuring he keeps them fresh and motivated.

He's a young man of course and it's a big job, a big challenge for him. Didier Drogba is older than Villas-Boas while the Portuguese is barely older than other senior players like Frank Lampard and John Terry, but he will be respected in the dressing-room for what he achieved in Portugal. However, the players will talk about how good they think training is, they will judge him on his tactical acumen, what they see from him day in day, how he treats them and how well he can tell them what the opposition are about and how to play. They'll probably make their minds up over the next six-eight weeks. As well as his football knowlege, a major factor in his favour is that his English is excellent. When you think about the likes of Fabio Capello and Claudio Ranieri, he's way ahead of any them in his ability to communicate with his players.

West Brom are the opposition for Villas-Boas and Chelsea on Saturday evening and there will be a very different manager in the away dugout at Stamford Bridge. Roy Hodgson is a man who has been all over the world, has experienced ups and downs, knows what it's like winning things and also knows what it likes to get the sack. He has ambitions for West Brom to become an established Premier League side, just as he did with Fulham, and he has certainly taken them in the right direction. It'll be difficult for Roy to get a result at Chelsea, though; the Baggies have never beaten them in the Premier League and they got hammered there last season. It looks like they'll be without last season's top scorer Peter Odemwingie and Jerome Thomas, too, and I think if neither of them win their fitness battles, it could be a tough evening for West Brom.

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