A walk down memory lane: Andre Villas Boas’ exceptional signings during his time at Chelsea

Varun Pai
By Varun Pai
11 Min Read

Chelsea fans will fondly remember the time when they won the illustrious Champions League in 2012 against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on a daunting night in 2012. Chelsea rose to the challenge and did the impossible under Roberto Di Matteo. However, not many remember why Di Matteo was appointed in the first place. In the summer of 2011, Chelsea appointed Portuguese manager Andre Villas Boas as the manager of the club, in a very odd-move but a proven method Chelsea had employed before with Jose Mourinho, who ironically was a scout for Chelsea when Mourinho was managing the club from 2004 to 2007.

While Villas-Boas’ career as a Chelsea manager was short-lived and disastrous, he had a keen sense of transfers and recruited some of the best talents in world football as we can see today.

Let us take a look at them:

Kevin De Bruyne:

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Is there a better place to start? Kevin De Bruyne was brought to Stamford Bridge in 2011 by AVB after his impressive performances at GENK, however, the Belgian was sent back on loan to GENK in January 2012 after Villas-Boas felt that De Bruyne needed more time. Chelsea deeply regrets that decision today as De Bruyne was then shunned by Jose Mourinho as well in 2013 and was then sold on a permanent basis to Wolfsburg. Today, the Belgian ace is practicing his trade at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola and is probably one of the Top 5 players in the world, with 2 Premier League titles to his name and now on track to win one more.

Oriol Romeu:

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A signing not as spectacular as De Bruyne, Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona in 2011, however, AVB saw the potential of the defensive midfielder and slotted him into the first-team squad as a 20-year-old. Romeu’s most notable contribution to the club was in a 2-1 win over Manchester City under the reign of AVB, however, apart from that Romeu’s statistics were dull. Loan spells to VfB Stuttgart and Valencia was followed by a permanent move to Southampton in 2014. The midfielder is now in his 7th season at Saint Marys and has become a consistent figure for them over the years at the heart of midfield.

Juan Mata:

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One of the more influential signings for Chelsea by AVB was Juan Mata, the buzzing Spaniard who Chelsea recruited from Valencia in the summer of 2011. Juan Mata was a huge part of Chelsea’s Champions League win, as the Spaniard delivered the assist for Chelsea’s equalizer in the 88th minute. In 135 appearances for the club, Mata scored 32 goals and provided 58 assists – most goal involvements by a player since Mata’s arrival until his exit in January 2014. The Spaniard also won the Europa League with the club in 2013 after which, Mata left Chelsea for Manchester United in 2014 and has since gone on to make 268 appearances for the Red Devils and continues to be a crucial squad player for the club in his 7th season with them.

Raul Meireles:

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Yet another player that was crucial to Chelsea’s Champions League win, Raul Meireles was signed by Villas-Boas in the summer of 2011 from Liverpool, after only a year with the Reds. Meireles scored a crucial goal in Chelsea’s 2nd leg against Benfica in the quarter-final of the Champions League, a goal that will not be forgotten by the Chelsea faithful. Like Liverpool, the midfielder only stayed at the club for a single year as the Portuguese was bought by Fenerbahce in September 2012. Meireles retired in 2016 at the age of 34, but his memories of the 2011/12 season will forever remain a success in the minds of the Blues.

Gary Cahill:

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Inarguably, the most successful signing for the club under the AVB reign, Gary Cahill unlike the others in the list, joined Chelsea in January 2012 from Bolton for a measly £5 million and went on to achieve greatness. The defender went on to make 290 appearances for the club in his 7-year stint with the Blues and won 2 Premier League titles, 2 Europa League titles, a bunch of domestic trophies, and the Champions League. It must also be noted that Gary Cahill was also the club captain for 2 years between 2017-2019, after which the Englishman left the club for Crystal Palace in the summer of 2019. The defender has made 43 appearances for the club till now, however, his time at Chelsea will be what most of his fans will remember him for once Cahill hangs his boots in the near future.

Romelu Lukaku:

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Like De Bruyne, Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku from a Belgian club, RSC Anderlecht in the summer of 2011. However, a little too much like De Bruyne, AVB could not bring out the best from Lukaku as the forward made only 8 appearances for the club under AVB. What happened afterward hurts Chelsea till today as Lukaku was then sent out on loan to West Brom in 2012 where he impressed, courtesy of which Everton went on to take the player on a loan + option to buy next summer in 2013 and Chelsea eventually lost Lukaku for just £21 million in 2015. Lukaku’s impressive performances then warranted a move back to a top club in 2017 and while Chelsea were in the running for Lukaku, the Belgian joined Manchester United in a £76 million move. However, after only 2 years and a sour relationship with Solskjaer later, Lukaku joined Antonio Conte at Inter Milan for £66 million and is now a top player at the club and on course to win the Serie A ending Inter’s 10-year drought for the league title.

Patrick Bamford:

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Yet another forward bought in the AVB era, Patrick Bamford joined Chelsea in the winter window of the 11/12 season from Nottingham Forest. However, the forward did not feature for the side at all, courtesy of which Bamford was sent out on a flurry of loans to MK Dons, Derby County, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace, Norwich, and Burnley. Later, in January 2017, Middlesbrough bought the player on a permanent transfer for £6 million, almost 6 times as much as Chelsea spent on the youngster back in 2012. The forward impressed at Middlesbrough and was then purchased by Leeds United in 2018. Bamford played a crucial role in bringing Leeds back up to the Premier League in the 19/20 season and is currently Leeds’ top scorer in the current season as he has scored 14 goals and provided 8 assists.

Thibaut Courtois:

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One of the very few signings of AVB which won trophies as a loanee and as a Chelsea player was Thibaut Courtois as the Blues recruited the keeper in July 2011 as a long-term successor of Petr Cech. The Belgian was immediately sent out on loan to Atletico Madrid for 3 years, where the shot-stopper won almost everything there was to win besides a Champions League, albeit Courtois did reach the final. However, in 2014, Mourinho recalled the keeper as Chelsea won the Premier League in that season and Courtois became Chelsea’s starting goalkeeper. Courtois went on to win yet another Premier League with Antonio Conte in 2017. However, in 2018, Courtois went on to join Real Madrid in a move that angered a lot of Chelsea fans as Courtois forced a move and refused to come back to the club before the start of the season. Courtois will soon face Chelsea in a Real Madrid shirt in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Andre Villas-Boas also purchased the likes of Sam Hutchinson, Kenneth Omeuro, Ulises Davila, and Lucas Piazon, however, their careers never really took off and were either sent on loan or sold over the years. 

However, it is amazing to see the kind of talent AVB recruited in the short time that he was at the club. Now, after 10 years, most of these players are the most important players at their clubs and for Chelsea, it is just a case of ‘ what could have been’?.

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