Mourinho still casts a long shadow
The job description was demanding: to break up a side Jose Mourinho had constructed while delivering the same sort of success the Portuguese had enjoyed. The new manager inherited an ageing group of players and a dressing room featuring a cadre of big personalities. He took over a team with a radically different - arguably, a far less ambitious - style of play to his own, which had proved hugely effective at his former club. To make the task harder, he was certainly not in sole control of recruitment.
He lasted five games. He was not Andre Villas-Boas, but Gian Piero Gasperini, who departed Internazionale after the shortest reign of any manager in the club's history. Events unravelled at spectacular speed in the Italian's reign at the San Siro. They have taken longer at Stamford Bridge, but the outcome may be the same: the experiment with a revolutionary manager may be written off as a mistake.
Gasperini seemed doomed to fail from the start; perhaps that will be the eventual verdict on Villas-Boas, too. His employers hardly helped, discarding his suggestions for signings. The Italian saw Samuel Eto'o sold but hoped the funds would be reinvested in Napoli's excellent Ezequiel Lavezzi and his former Genoa winger Rodrigo Palacio. Instead, Inter bought Diego Forlan, another striker when Gasperini required forwards for the flanks in his front three.
There are parallels with Chelsea. Only Oriol Romeu was a Villas-Boas buy; besides the Spaniard, only Juan Mata and Raul Meireles of the recent additions figure remotely prominently in the manager's thoughts. Gary Cahill was bought and promptly omitted, the Belgians Thibaut Courtois and Kevin de Bruyne - a "club signing", in Villas-Boas' words - were no sooner signed than loaned out and their compatriot Romelu Lukaku represents the oddest tale of all. His Premier League career amounts to 78 minutes, but then the teenager is a specialist centre-forward who joined a team with one out-and-out front man as perhaps fifth in line for that role. Meanwhile Chelsea, like Inter, are rather shorter of options on the wings, especially given Daniel Sturridge's preference for playing in the middle and Florent Malouda's decline.
These are two managers whose system is signposted and who demonstrate a marked reluctance to compromise. On the face of it, Gasperini and Inter was the greater mismatch. His favoured 3-4-3 had no natural position for the 2010 Champions League winners' creative catalyst, Wesley Sneijder. A high-octane approach and a midfield of pensionable age is not a normal combination; perhaps only attacking full-backs like Maicon who were rebranded wing-backs could be called beneficiaries.
Villas-Boas' problems were less about configuration than implementation. Simply saying Chelsea normally played 4-3-3 before and after his appointment ignores the scale of change he planned. The infamous high defensive line no more suited Chelsea's slowing centre-backs than their Inter counterparts, a model of perpetual pressing scarcely offered Frank Lampard the chance of a breather. The quest for penetrative passing from the base of the midfield ignored the lack of invention of the personnel at his disposal. Only Ramires, with his formidable engine and maybe Mata seem suited to Villas-Boas' brand of football. Ashley Cole should be, but instead he appears among the senior players alienated. Two others, Fernando Torres and Lampard, are proof that Villas-Boas is unwilling to adapt to play to individuals' strengths. Like Gasperini, he can be dogmatic about his beliefs.
Chelsea is a club where amiable conciliators like Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink have flourished, albeit temporarily. As short-termism is institutionalised, there was a wisdom to their approach. Since the players were empowered by Mourinho, they have been the constant in the equation, the manager the variable. Yet Massimo Moratti makes Roman Abramovich look positively patient in comparison. Both have found it easier to make the change in the dugout than on the pitch.
Both, too, may soon have a vacancy. Having lost their last five games, Inter are on a disastrous run of form under Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea faring little better with Villas-Boas. If reports are to be believed, one man's demise could be another's opportunity as the 34-year-old is linked with a return to Inter; his scouting reports must really impress billionaires.
Yet it is not merely the disparaging comments Villas-Boas made about Italian football that would render it a strange move. If the possibility of Gasperini Mk II would be welcomed in Genoa, it is a less pleasing prospect for Inter. His approach is only marginally more appropriate for the geriatricos at the San Siro, even if he is at least willing to contemplate fielding a No.10, as he describes it, so Sneijder need not be sidelined.
Scarcely any more logical, despite his fine record, are the suggestions Chelsea will turn to Rafa Benitez . It can seem that Inter and Chelsea are indulging in a game of musical chairs, where the participants are Benitez, Villas-Boas, Mourinho and Ranieri. They are four very different managers for the same clubs to appoint. The lesson that Chelsea and Inter seem to fail to heed is that an impressive track record is not qualification enough to manage them. They need someone who can deal with the unusual dynamics of such dysfunctional clubs.