Interview

Driving force

Now behind the wheel of former European champions Marseille, adrenaline-junky André Villas-Boas still has dreams of success as a rally driver

WORDS Caroline De Moraes and Ian Holyman

“That has a bit to do with my personality,” says André Villas-Boas to explain how, at 43, his coaching odyssey has already taken him from Portugal to France via England, Russia and China. “I’ve always been a bit restless.”

The former Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Zenit boss has been settled at Olympique de Marseille since the start of the 2019/20 campaign, a truncated season that provided anything but a direct route back to the Champions League for the French club and their coach. Villas-Boas would not have it any other way.

“I’ve always been a wanderer who goes off walking on the lookout for new things, hoping to experience them, whether that’s nature, new countries or meeting new people,” explains Villas-Boas, who last featured in club football’s top competition while at Zenit in 2015/16. “That’s me all over. So, in a way, I’m happy that my career reflects my adventurous nature.”

Stepping out of his comfort zone is in Villas-Boas’s DNA. This is a man who, as a 17-year-old, accosted his neighbour, then Porto coach Sir Bobby Robson, to ask why the Englishman was not picking his favourite player. It was a dash of fresh-faced bravado that sparked Villas-Boas’s coaching career, one that would flicker into flame under the tutelage of José Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

He has since stepped out of the Special One’s shadow, but his spirit of adventure and wanderlust have never waned, and after leaving Chinese club Shanghai SIPG in November 2017, he found a new way to fuel them. While Michael Owen and Sir Alex Ferguson, among others, went into horse racing, Villas-Boas opted for horsepower.

André Villas-Boas’s Toyota in Peru for the 2018 Dakar rally

“A friend of mine, who had already done the Dakar Rally and was aware of my dream of participating, suggested that I should do it,” recalls Villas-Boas, whose uncle Pedro had taken part in the iconic rally-raid twice in the early ’80s. For a passionate but under-prepared motorsport fan, it was an irresistible if potentially perilous step.

“We got to Morocco, and I turned to my co-pilot, Rúben Faria, who has done the Dakar nine times, and I asked him if the dunes in Peru are the same size as the ones in Merzouga, to which he replied that they are slightly bigger but not very different.

“But when we got to Peru and saw those dunes, it felt impossible. Indeed, the Dakar Rally in 2018 was considered by many as the hardest Dakar Rally ever.”

Four stages in, Villas-Boas’s Dakar dream was already over as he was helicoptered out of the desert lying on a stretcher and grimacing after crashing heavily in the towering dunes.

“It was a shame, because we’d already gone through so much and we were on our fourth day. We’d started well, we were in the middle of the scoreboard – it was a day in which we were doing well.

“WE FLEW OFF THE DUNE AND LANDED NOSE DOWN. I FRACTURED MY BACK AND HAD TO BE EVACUATED”

“At the moment of the accident we were 30th, I think, and we had the impression that the dune was going up. But the dune where we were was a different shape, and we were in first [gear] because we were trying to find a waypoint.

“So we flew off the dune doing 40 km/h and landed nose down. It was all so fast, and I ended up fracturing my back and I had to be evacuated.”

It is worrying to think what might have happened had the daredevil dugout dweller not been talked out of entering the race on two wheels by his friend Alex Doringer, the manager of motorbike manufacturer KTM. The injury ended Villas-Boas’s ambitions in 2018, but it has not extinguished his hope of getting behind the wheel again.

“It was sad because I had the feeling that if we finished that day then we’d go into Argentina and Bolivia and we’d finish up all right – we wouldn’t have problems in finishing.

“But it was an excellent human experience, a challenge with the unpredictability. I gained a lot of experience. I did the Morocco Rally, I did the National Championship, and now I’m able to compete, I’m ready for it again.”

First, though, OM hope Villas-Boas can drive them on to become Champions League regulars once again.

“That has a bit to do with my personality,” says André Villas-Boas to explain how, at 43, his coaching odyssey has already taken him from Portugal to France via England, Russia and China. “I’ve always been a bit restless.”

The former Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Zenit boss has been settled at Olympique de Marseille since the start of the 2019/20 campaign, a truncated season that provided anything but a direct route back to the Champions League for the French club and their coach. Villas-Boas would not have it any other way.

“I’ve always been a wanderer who goes off walking on the lookout for new things, hoping to experience them, whether that’s nature, new countries or meeting new people,” explains Villas-Boas, who last featured in club football’s top competition while at Zenit in 2015/16. “That’s me all over. So, in a way, I’m happy that my career reflects my adventurous nature.”

Stepping out of his comfort zone is in Villas-Boas’s DNA. This is a man who, as a 17-year-old, accosted his neighbour, then Porto coach Sir Bobby Robson, to ask why the Englishman was not picking his favourite player. It was a dash of fresh-faced bravado that sparked Villas-Boas’s coaching career, one that would flicker into flame under the tutelage of José Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

He has since stepped out of the Special One’s shadow, but his spirit of adventure and wanderlust have never waned, and after leaving Chinese club Shanghai SIPG in November 2017, he found a new way to fuel them. While Michael Owen and Sir Alex Ferguson, among others, went into horse racing, Villas-Boas opted for horsepower.

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André Villas-Boas’s Toyota in Peru for the 2018 Dakar rally

“A friend of mine, who had already done the Dakar Rally and was aware of my dream of participating, suggested that I should do it,” recalls Villas-Boas, whose uncle Pedro had taken part in the iconic rally-raid twice in the early ’80s. For a passionate but under-prepared motorsport fan, it was an irresistible if potentially perilous step.

“We got to Morocco, and I turned to my co-pilot, Rúben Faria, who has done the Dakar nine times, and I asked him if the dunes in Peru are the same size as the ones in Merzouga, to which he replied that they are slightly bigger but not very different.

“But when we got to Peru and saw those dunes, it felt impossible. Indeed, the Dakar Rally in 2018 was considered by many as the hardest Dakar Rally ever.”

Four stages in, Villas-Boas’s Dakar dream was already over as he was helicoptered out of the desert lying on a stretcher and grimacing after crashing heavily in the towering dunes.

“It was a shame, because we’d already gone through so much and we were on our fourth day. We’d started well, we were in the middle of the scoreboard – it was a day in which we were doing well.

“WE FLEW OFF THE DUNE AND LANDED NOSE DOWN. I FRACTURED MY BACK AND HAD TO BE EVACUATED”

“At the moment of the accident we were 30th, I think, and we had the impression that the dune was going up. But the dune where we were was a different shape, and we were in first [gear] because we were trying to find a waypoint.

“So we flew off the dune doing 40 km/h and landed nose down. It was all so fast, and I ended up fracturing my back and I had to be evacuated.”

It is worrying to think what might have happened had the daredevil dugout dweller not been talked out of entering the race on two wheels by his friend Alex Doringer, the manager of motorbike manufacturer KTM. The injury ended Villas-Boas’s ambitions in 2018, but it has not extinguished his hope of getting behind the wheel again.

“It was sad because I had the feeling that if we finished that day then we’d go into Argentina and Bolivia and we’d finish up all right – we wouldn’t have problems in finishing.

“But it was an excellent human experience, a challenge with the unpredictability. I gained a lot of experience. I did the Morocco Rally, I did the National Championship, and now I’m able to compete, I’m ready for it again.”

First, though, OM hope Villas-Boas can drive them on to become Champions League regulars once again.

“That has a bit to do with my personality,” says André Villas-Boas to explain how, at 43, his coaching odyssey has already taken him from Portugal to France via England, Russia and China. “I’ve always been a bit restless.”

The former Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Zenit boss has been settled at Olympique de Marseille since the start of the 2019/20 campaign, a truncated season that provided anything but a direct route back to the Champions League for the French club and their coach. Villas-Boas would not have it any other way.

“I’ve always been a wanderer who goes off walking on the lookout for new things, hoping to experience them, whether that’s nature, new countries or meeting new people,” explains Villas-Boas, who last featured in club football’s top competition while at Zenit in 2015/16. “That’s me all over. So, in a way, I’m happy that my career reflects my adventurous nature.”

Stepping out of his comfort zone is in Villas-Boas’s DNA. This is a man who, as a 17-year-old, accosted his neighbour, then Porto coach Sir Bobby Robson, to ask why the Englishman was not picking his favourite player. It was a dash of fresh-faced bravado that sparked Villas-Boas’s coaching career, one that would flicker into flame under the tutelage of José Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

He has since stepped out of the Special One’s shadow, but his spirit of adventure and wanderlust have never waned, and after leaving Chinese club Shanghai SIPG in November 2017, he found a new way to fuel them. While Michael Owen and Sir Alex Ferguson, among others, went into horse racing, Villas-Boas opted for horsepower.

André Villas-Boas’s Toyota in Peru for the 2018 Dakar rally

“A friend of mine, who had already done the Dakar Rally and was aware of my dream of participating, suggested that I should do it,” recalls Villas-Boas, whose uncle Pedro had taken part in the iconic rally-raid twice in the early ’80s. For a passionate but under-prepared motorsport fan, it was an irresistible if potentially perilous step.

“We got to Morocco, and I turned to my co-pilot, Rúben Faria, who has done the Dakar nine times, and I asked him if the dunes in Peru are the same size as the ones in Merzouga, to which he replied that they are slightly bigger but not very different.

“But when we got to Peru and saw those dunes, it felt impossible. Indeed, the Dakar Rally in 2018 was considered by many as the hardest Dakar Rally ever.”

Four stages in, Villas-Boas’s Dakar dream was already over as he was helicoptered out of the desert lying on a stretcher and grimacing after crashing heavily in the towering dunes.

“It was a shame, because we’d already gone through so much and we were on our fourth day. We’d started well, we were in the middle of the scoreboard – it was a day in which we were doing well.

“WE FLEW OFF THE DUNE AND LANDED NOSE DOWN. I FRACTURED MY BACK AND HAD TO BE EVACUATED”

“At the moment of the accident we were 30th, I think, and we had the impression that the dune was going up. But the dune where we were was a different shape, and we were in first [gear] because we were trying to find a waypoint.

“So we flew off the dune doing 40 km/h and landed nose down. It was all so fast, and I ended up fracturing my back and I had to be evacuated.”

It is worrying to think what might have happened had the daredevil dugout dweller not been talked out of entering the race on two wheels by his friend Alex Doringer, the manager of motorbike manufacturer KTM. The injury ended Villas-Boas’s ambitions in 2018, but it has not extinguished his hope of getting behind the wheel again.

“It was sad because I had the feeling that if we finished that day then we’d go into Argentina and Bolivia and we’d finish up all right – we wouldn’t have problems in finishing.

“But it was an excellent human experience, a challenge with the unpredictability. I gained a lot of experience. I did the Morocco Rally, I did the National Championship, and now I’m able to compete, I’m ready for it again.”

First, though, OM hope Villas-Boas can drive them on to become Champions League regulars once again.

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