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Villas-Boas swaps touchline for racing line in Dakar Rally

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Andre Villas Boas (R), driver and former head coach of English football teams Chelsea and Tottenham, answers journalists’ questions before a technical check-up in Lima ahead of the 2018 Dakar Rally © AFP / FRANCK FIFE

LIMA, Peru, Jan 6Having coached Chelsea and Tottenham in the unforgiving English Premier League and worked alongside the explosive Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas-Boas should have few problems confronting the 9,000km Dakar Rally.

The Portuguese, who makes his debut in the motorsport’s most gruelling endurance event behind the wheel of a Toyota 4×4 on Saturday, decided to take part as a way of celebrating his 40th birthday.

His participation will also carry on a family tradition — his uncle Pedro Villas-Boas competed in 1982 and 1984.

“I have the free time and the stars aligned,” said Villas-Boas, who left his last coaching job at China’s Shanghai SIPG in November.

“It’s the 40th edition of the Dakar, I’m 40 and my uncle competed in the race when he was 40.”

But he was quick to add: “I don’t have the experience. We have the best team, the best co-driver (Ruben Faria), but not the best driver!”

Jean-Marc Fortin, the director of the Overdrive Racing team, admitted that Villas-Boas faces a journey into the unknown as he navigates mountains and sand dunes through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina over the next two weeks.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to test,” he said. “But you can see that we have a thirst to learn.”

Villas-Boas is not the first football figure to take his chances in the Dakar.

Real Madrid’s Raymond Kopa raced in the 1985 event when it was still staged in Africa, as did former French national coach Michel Hidalgo in 1991.

“Motorsport has been a passion in my family for a long time. My dad took me to watch Formula One Grands Prix and world rally championship races when we lived in Portugal,” said Villas-Boas.

“Of course, football is my job. Motorsport is for leisure but it brings me a lot of happiness.”

Villas-Boas, who worked alongside Mourinho at Porto and Chelsea before the two fell out, said he intends to work again in Europe, where he last coached when in charge at Zenit St Petersburg in Russia from 2014-2016.

But for the next two weeks his focus is on rallying, not football.

With the Portuguese flag proudly draped at the back of his car, his goal is simple — to finish the Dakar when it reaches Cordoba in Argentina on January 20.

“I want to enjoy this mixture of nature and racing, that’s what attracted me to it.”

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