BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

By Mark Wheeler
Apr 6th, 2001

As murmurs of disquiet surrounding the recent performances of Dennis Wise gather momentum, Mark Wheeler gazes into his crystal ball to see what the future holds for the Chelsea’s inspirational skipper.

Chelsea skipper Dennis Wise will forever hold a special place in the affections of Blues supporters. Having joined the club at a time when the fans’ idea of a cup run was getting through to round two, he has become synonymous with Chelsea’s triumphs over the last few years. Each of the trophies won was raised aloft by the combative midfielder, except for the memorable occasion when he insisted that Gianluca Vialli collect the Coca Cola Cup at Wembley.

But lately people have been suggesting that his performances are not up to the required standard and their voices are beginning to drown out those swearing blind allegiance. So would it be sacrilege to suggest that Dennis has overstayed his welcome, or just common sense?

Wise deservedly earned a recall to the England squad last season, a decision that most Chelsea fans considered long overdue. It was most likely his impressive performances in the Champions League that secured the phone call from Kevin Keegan. Who can forget that priceless goal scored in front of 5,000 Blues fans at the San Siro – a strike so legendary that it has its own song.

Wise featured for England at Euro 2000 and played in the 1-0 victory over Germany. Incidentally, he was not chosen for the World Cup qualifier when the Germans reversed that scoreline at Wembley and Keegan subsequently resigned. Howard Wilkinson, in as caretaker manager for England’s trip to Finland, re-installed Wise to the midfield. But that disappointing 0-0 draw looks like being his last outing with the three lions on his shirt, as he has not figured in any of Sven Goran Eriksson’s baby-faced squads to date.

So Dennis will have to be content with domestic glory for the remainder of his career, although he will not be collecting any medals this season. But should he continue playing for Chelsea? Judging by his recent performances, the answer has got to be no. Many correspondents to CFCnet WebSite have pointed out that his star is clearly in decline. The misplaced passes, the poorly timed tackles, the inability to control the ball with two touches – these all point to a career on the wane.

Despite these faults though, Blues fans still worship their skipper – quite right too. The man’s popularity is certainly not in question. It is hard to remember any past Chelsea player who commanded such broad adoration from the supporters. Not even Pat Nevin or Ruud Gullit in their pomp received the kind of reception that Dennis still gets every time he trots across the field just to take a corner. Although he is far from the most talented player to don the Blue jersey, his never-say-die attitude, refusal to dodge a challenge and rapport with the fans have combined to secure him cult status.

Wise’s motivational qualities are also beyond doubt. He is clearly still held in the highest esteem by his team-mates, as evidenced by the reaction to his possible departure earlier this season. Who else in the current squad could wear the armband with such authority? Never mind retiring the number twenty-five shirt after Gianfranco Zola leaves – we ought to retire the captain’s armband after Dennis goes, at least until someone else shows that they have balls the size of watermelons by taking on Roy Keane in a players’ tunnel dust-up.

But is it just Wisey’s popularity and leadership that are keeping him in the first team? Claudio Ranieri has not left him out of a starting eleven since Wise slapped in a transfer request and appeared to be on the verge of moving to Blackburn Rovers. There are a few possible reasons for this. It could be because Wise has too much influence behind the scenes and if Ranieri were to drop him again he would find himself on the receiving end of another infamous players’ revolt.

Alternatively, Ranieri could be overly sensitive to media criticism of the number of overseas players in the team, hence bulldog Dennis plays no matter what. It is harder to believe that Wise has retained his place through the strength of his performances.

Whatever the reason, it seems clear to all concerned that Dennis is extremely unlikely to hold down a regular starting place next season. Giovanni Van Brockhorst and Barry Ferguson could be on their way from Glasgow Rangers and Roberto Di Matteo has resumed training after breaking his leg. So should Chelsea have accepted his transfer request and done a deal with Blackburn when they had the chance? An accountant would probably say yes, it would have been fiscally prudent. But a supporter would definitely say no, and threaten to break the legs of anyone who dared to suggest otherwise.

Wisey already has a coaching role at the club written into his contract for when he does decide to stop playing. However, there is precious little about Wise that makes him stand out as a potential coach to the average punter. His game has always been based more on physical attrition rather than tactical nous. Perhaps he would be best served spending the summer attending a few FA coaching courses in preparation for next season.

Regretful though it is, the time has come for Dennis hang his boots up – metaphorically that is, rather than around an opponent’s neck. But this should not mean that he has to leave Stamford Bridge, unless he wants to continue his playing career. He should at least be given the chance to prove himself as a coach, as his presence alone has the affect of galvanising the team. Were he to leave, we would be witness to the bizarre circumstance of a diminutive man’s absence leaving a disproportionately immense hole.

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