Fleeting glimpse of top boss Villas-Boas in making
It is well documented that Norwich City manager Paul Lambert took his coaching qualifications in Germany.
But in one of those curious twists that football throws up, the man against whom Lambert pits his wits tomorrow, new Chelsea boss Andr� Villas-Boas, collected all his badges in Scotland – and all under the tutelage of an ex-Canary defender.
Jim Fleeting, the Scottish FA’s director of football development, helped guide Villas-Boas through his complete coaching education programme from the day in 1994 when he arrived from Portugal as a teenager to take his C licence, through to earning his ‘pro’ licence in 2008.
Fleeting, who played for City in the mid-1970s during the managerial reign of John Bond before returning north of the border, is the last person to want to take any of the credit for the remarkably rapid rise to prominence of the Premier League’s youngest manager, now in charge at Stamford Bridge at the age of 33.
Instead he heaps praise on Villas-Boas, who took the bold step of leaving his homeland as a 17-year-old, fluent in a second language thanks to his English grandmother and given a helping hand by the then Porto boss, Bobby Robson, who moved into the same apartment block and was so impressed by the youngster’s knowledge of the game that he took him on to his scouting staff and helped arrange his trip to Britain.
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Villas-Boas spent time at the FA Centre of Excellence, then based at Lilleshall, and at the Scottish equivalent at the Inverclyde National Sports Centre, in Largs, where Fleeting first encountered him.
“Andr� was a wee bit different in that he managed to find his way to Scotland. It was a bold move for someone of his age,” said Fleeting, immediately impressed by the young man’s courtesy, confidence, ideas and ambition.
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“You could see he was special. A star pupil? Yes, but excuse me if I’m a bit cheeky here, there are a few very good students of ours in the Premier League right now, but that’s very little to do with our coaching methods, it’s down to the individuals.
“It’s great credit to Andr� what he has achieved. If we have played a very small part in his story, then I’m delighted but we don’t make them managers and coaches – they make themselves coaches.”
While Villas-Boas returned to Scotland at intervals to add to his coaching qualifications – a B licence in 1997 and A licence in 2001 – he became an assistant coach to Jos� Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. Last season he took charge at Porto and led them to a famous treble of Portuguese league and cup and the Europa League before returning to Stamford Bridge. “It doesn’t surprise me – nothing really surprises me. I’m just delighted to see him so successful, as with any of the coaches we have worked with. I’m still in contact with Andr� and he’s always been polite, very approachable and down to earth,” said Fleeting.
By contrast, the 56-year-old Fleeting admits he has not worked with Lambert but has huge admiration for what his fellow Glaswegian has achieved as a player and manager.
“I don’t know Paul personally but I have followed his career with great interest,” he said. “He’s a bit of a legend up here after his success with Celtic, and in the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund and, of course, his international career with Scotland, and for what he’s done as a manager.
“Paul had a golden opportunity to go to Germany and it’s all gone very well and I’m delighted for him. It’s always pleasing to see young coaches and managers succeed and he’s had fantastic success and I’m absolutely delighted – not least because it’s Norwich City.”
Fleeting retains a real affection for his former club despite his lack of first-team opportunities in 3� years at Carrow Road.
After a trial in 1974, he signed for the Canaries the following summer but made only two senior appearances in the centre of defence before refusing a new contract in the summer of 1978 and leaving the club that November with no fewer than 106 reserve games under his belt.
“I didn’t get the opportunity I hoped for. That was the manager’s choice,” he recalled.
“An FA Cup tie against Orient was my only full game and I had a few minutes as a substitute at Newcastle. I always say we had a very good reserve side!
“But the way I left did not sour my memories of Norwich in any way. The supporters were always very kind and I loved the place. I was a young man at my first club and just wanted to play football. I was living the dream.”
Fleeting sampled the glamour of the North American Soccer League, playing for Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1978 with City team-mates Mick McGuire and Graham Paddon, when they reached the play-off final against New York Cosmos. He then had six years playing for Ayr United, and later managed Stirling Albion and Kilmarnock. His footballing daughter, Julie, the Arsenal Ladies and Scotland striker, was made an MBE in 2008.
He retains links with Norwich, saying: “I still keep in touch with Ian Davies and Duncan Forbes. I went back as a manager when I took a couple of players down, and I know Peter Grant, who was manager there.
“I loved my time there and it’s great to see the club in the Premier League. And don’t worry about Tuesday night’s result – it doesn’t count for anything.”