André Villas-Boas: The former Tottenham and Chelsea manager on charity, football and coaching in Saint Petersburg

Laureus Ambassador AndréVillas-Boas doing his bit, coaching youngsters in London in 2012

How have you found being an ambassador for the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation?

I have been an ambassador since 2011. I’m very grateful for the opportunity they have given me to reach out to people who have suffered from all kinds of problems, from social exclusion, to poverty, to disabilities. As a citizen you never feel you’re doing enough to fight the hatred and problems that reside in modern society. But to change the life of someone or make them happier for just a couple of hours is very important and something all of us should strive for.
What other charities have you worked with over the years?
Further to my work with Laureus I’m actively involved as a patron with Ace Africa, APPACDM Porto and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. Ace Africa empowers communities in Africa to be self-sustaining. APPACDM Porto (the association of fathers and friends of mentally disabled citizen) helps disabled citizens and their families with support, social inclusion, accessibility and education. The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation continues to help cancer patients around England and continues to fund investigations into new ways of treating the disease.
Given the amount of money in football do footballers and footballing institutions do enough for charity?
Whatever we do, it isn’t enough. Though I think most high profile people linked to sports help two to three charities. This is extremely important. The real heroes are the people who work in the background, who volunteer and dedicate their lives to making other lives better. With our image and network of people we try to raise awareness as much as we can. Sport has the power to change the world.
Is there a culture of giving to charity in Russia?
In Russia there is a great culture of giving, particularly to young children with extremely limited access to education. The vastness of the country means that to get access to the fundamentals you might end up travelling two or three hours or more, and for that to happen you need to have funds to support those needs. We have a set of charities that we help through FC Zenit.
How have you found your first season managing in Russia?
I’m settling very well, really enjoying the experience. The club has offered me great conditions to work and decision making power. This is extremely important. The city and the social life that the city offers is great. The Russians are very socially active. They fill the streets so even on the cold days you get warmth from the people and from the buzz in the city. It’s been a great experience so far and I’m very happy with the decision to have come here.
Talking purely football, are you happy with Zenit’s progress?
We are taking the right steps in order to transform Zenit into one of the top 10 clubs in the world. Of course that requires investment and requires time but the name FC Zenit and its brand is growing and this is extremely important in order to continue to attract top players like we did in the last transfer window. Our focus right now is on the domestic title as that would grant our logo the coveted star that goes with five championship wins.
How does managing in Russia differ to managing in the uk? How is the media?
There are different challenges to the Premier League. The league is extremely competitive with five to six clubs investing hard in order to win the title. Spartak, Dinamo, Lokomotiv and CSKA to FK Krasnodar. This makes the league very competitive and difficult. Working out the rest period between trips is also very important as we often travel three to four hours away from Saint Petersburg and sometimes with two to three hours time difference.
How is your Russian?
I don’t speak Russian yet but I try as much as I can to use football related words in Russian during my training sessions. That is the first step. The next one is to master the language and the alphabet but I think I need one more year for that!
For the full World Charity Index 2014 list take a look at our interactive graphic

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