Long before he washed up on the French coast – injured in a rally car accident and bruising in English football for two years – Andre Villas-Boas sought Pep Guardiola’s advice.
When he was only 33, the Porto coach had worked under Jose Mourinho for seven years – in Portugal, England and Italy.
But in early 2011, when the rivalry between Guardiola and Mourinho in Spain came to a boil, AVB visited Pep in Barcelona.
A rejuvenated Andre Villas-Boas has returned Champions League football to Marseille
The Portuguese has returned from previous failures to help rebuild the sleeping giants
‘AVB’ has long admired Pep Guardiola and the duo takes on a confrontation for the first time on Tuesday evening
“The meeting was arranged between the two of us, who both wanted to share knowledge about our teams and our systems … both did very well,” AVB recalls Monday.
“He is an inspiration because he is one of the few who continues to innovate … the risks are sometimes not accepted by everyone, but he continues to take them.”
Something must have clicked – that season, Porto remained undefeated en route to the domestic doubles before adding the Europa League crown. Villas-Boas, it seemed, was also on a high-speed train to the top.
But after that European final, he paused to remember.
The young boss’s career started with unbridled success at Porto, but remained undefeated in Portugal
Touted as the next Jose Mourinho, AVB then switched to Chelsea to begin its rapid demise
He paid tribute to Mourinho and thanked Sir Bobby Robson, who saw his potential when they shared an apartment building in Portugal. But first AVB checked Guardiola by name.
“Pep was always an inspiration to me,” he said. By then they were shoulder to shoulder, two of the best young minds in modern football.
Until – and after – that point, their paths were intertwined. Both were supervised by Robson; both visited Marcelo Bielsa for advice.
In 2012 Guardiola was tipped to replace AVB at Chelsea; After Pep left Barcelona, Villas-Boas was on their shortlist. Even after Tottenham dumped him as well, Villas-Boas headed to Qatar for another clinic with the then Bayern Munich boss.
However, they will face each other for the first time on Tuesday.
The careers of the two talented managers have moved in different directions after early comparisons
For much of the decade since that initial meeting, Guardiola has continued on its way into the pantheon of greats, while AVB seemed destined for the scrap heap.
He spent time coaching in Russia and China before retiring from football to race in the Dakar Rally. It was a lifelong ambition that crashed into the sand dunes of Peru, leaving him with an injured back and a bruised ego.
But now fortunes are starting to turn. Pressure is mounting around Pep in Manchester City as Villas-Boas are quietly building its reputation in Marseille.
In 17 months, AVB has brought Champions League football and optimism back to the sleeping giants.
His administration began with a defeat to Accrington Stanley, but since then, on a tight budget, he has galvanized a thin squad.
Villas-Boas took a break from football management to compete in the 2018 Dakar Rally
His human touch has earned their trust, while freeing Dimitri Payet from the captaincy is one of the tweaks that paid off.
Most importantly, Villas-Boas has evolved with experience. He’s less attached to the rigid tactics that defined his spell in England – the high line and the press are now being adjusted depending on the opposition. He also added pragmatism to Marseille’s attacking traditions.
The man who once slept on Chelsea’s training ground remains eager to learn. However, it is now said that he listens more to his staff.
However, Marseille is in constant turbulence and Villas-Boas nearly walked out earlier this year.
In July he had never met the Englishman Paul Aldridge – appointed special adviser in January by the President of Marseille, Jacques-Henri Eyraud.
Marseille has not been in the Champions League since 2012-13 with rapid progress in France
The shadowy Aldridge was involved in Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano’s arrival at West Ham and his arrival in Marseille led to the departure of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta. AVB almost followed.
He ultimately decided to stay to lead Marseille’s first Champions League venture since 2013/14. They started with a final defeat to Olympiacos last week, meaning tonight’s visit to Manchester City will take on extra meaning.
If Villas-Boas is to conquer Guardiola – and get Marseille’s campaign back on track – the 43-year-old will have to rely on the experience he has gained along this rocky road.
In England it was reversed by dogma and disappointing results. Despite its philosophy being more akin to Guardiola’s, Villas-Boas was considered the second coming of The Special One. Escaping from Mourinho’s shadow proved difficult.
The Ligue 1 side started their Champions League adventure with a defeat to Olympiacos
To beat Guardiola and his talented Manchester City squad, he needs his experience
At Spurs, he took genius from Gareth Bale before the trouble boiled up; at Chelsea, he struggled to command respect from his side.
Perhaps indicative of lessons learned, it was the phone calls from his Marseille players that helped him stay. Thanks to them, he can resume a conversation tonight that started ten years ago.
“ For us other coaches, we see (Pep) as someone who constantly thinks about the game and sometimes we see if we can do the same things, ” he added yesterday.
‘There are a few managers who are a bit more result-oriented … there are others who can constantly propose and provoke the game and who constantly dare to take the game and I definitely include him in that list, which is not very long. ‘