After consulting the Indie spin doctors about ‘getting his message across’ he sticks by his guns and explains his opinion …
Vialli had to go. Simple as that. You might think that is a treacherous statement but if the Inquisition galloped in to town tomorrow I would be bleating the same mantra: Vialli had to go.
Don’t get me wrong. I realise he was our most successful manager. I realise that he was loved by the fans, the media and even people not connected with football who glimpsed his sensitivity, courteousness and respectfulness. Vialli was a true gent and I would not say a bad word against him as a person. Even as I write this an autographed photo of Luca hoisting the European Cup Winners’ Cup looks down on me from above.
You see, I loved the man as well. I admired him. I am supremely thankful for what he gave me as a fan: the best night of my life in Stockholm, a sustained Championship contending team for the 1998/99 season, a Champions League adventure that five years earlier would have seemed impossible even on an LSD trip, a Coke Cup, another FA Cup. and there were plenty of other highlights almost too numerous to mention, like beating Tottenham to go top of December 1998’s Premiership or our demolition of Barcelona this spring.
But bollocks to all that. There is no room for sentiment in football and there is only one situation relevant to September 2000. Vialli had to go. Why? He had simply lost the respect of the players. In that instance you’ve either got to sell the players or sack the coach. Given that Vialli had “problems with everybody” (copyright Leboeuf and Weah) selling the first team would have been inappropriate. Ciao Luca. Thanks for a few great years. Arriverderci.
The barracking of Leboeuf misses the point. Sure, Frank was a tart for speaking to the press but he was telling it like it is. (When Leboeuf spoke out just before the opening Saturday I was outraged. He should have been sold on the spot. Instead Luca drops him for two games. Poor management.) George Weah summed up the players’ mood when he was asked before a recent Man City Sky TV game whether he was surprised about Vialli’s sacking. His answer? “Not at all”. And why? “Things weren’t right, there were a lot of players who weren’t getting on with him”.
Step forward Ferrer, Zola, Petrescu, Desailly, Leboeuf, Weah, Deschamps and a few others. Weah continued by saying that: “He made the mistake of keeping players who didn’t respect him” and just as tellingly: “I was one of the few people who would tell him when things weren’t right, which they weren’t on the football side and. Vialli never liked that so he let me go.” Other rumours to hit the Indie were symptomatic of a team at odds with the coach: training ground bust ups, player cliques and cabals, a breakdown of discipline, eight-week holidays, poor team spirit, indecision on buying players and a gradual erosion of confidence in the manager. Even Zola piped up after the Bradford game to announce that: “Chelsea need to improve as a team and Vialli has to improve as a manager.”
But Vialli wasn’t improving as a manager. Quite the opposite. The team I have witnessed this season is worse than last year’s which itself was worse than the season before. Third place in 1999, fifth place in 2000 and on the evidence of this season’s performances, tenth place in 2001.
And as the pressure has mounted Vialli has looked increasingly lost. His team selections have been increasingly erratic and have perplexed the fans as much as the players. In fact the team rotation has been the major problem. It’s pissed everyone off. How can you keep a star player motivated when he plays a blinder and then gets dropped for two matches? It’s simply poor man management.
Coupled to that has been Vialli’s increasingly paranoid outbursts which even led him to suggest that some of his players were only suitable for home matches and that he would have to select a different team for away fixtures. Give me a break.
The first cracks appeared in late December 1998 barely a year after Vialli had taken up the mantle of manager. Top of the Premiership, both Poyet and Flo got injured and rather than buy a new striker Vialli kept his wallet in his pocket and instead relied on a 17-year-old Finnish kid to win us the Championship. Yeah right.
It became obvious by late spring 1999 – with our Championship dreams cast adrift on a sea of Upton Park bubbles – that we needed more pace and more goals. Step forward Chris Sutton and Gabrielle Ambrosetti. Two exceptionally bad buys who along with an inconsistent Deschamps represented a bad, bad summer of transfer activity. All Vialli’s responsibility. By the end of 1999 rumours were surfacing that all was not well in the Blues camp. And since then things have disintegrated faster than the value of a Chelsea Village share. As far as I am concerned Bates and Hutchison got it spot on. Okay, the timing was poor, but having won the FA Cup not even Herr Bates would have dared sacked Luca close season. Instead they gave him £25 million, a free rein to buy who he liked and all the control he wanted. And Vialli bottled it.
What else was Bates supposed to do? Although he loved Vialli the results this season, combined with everything else going on behind the scenes, hardly gave him a choice. To suggest that Bates should have given Vialli till Christmas is nonsense. For those with short memories Bates did just that with Ian Porterfield and from reaching the top three after an Eddie Newton inspired brace against Rottenham we plummeted into a free fall nosedive which David Webb only just managed to rescue us from.
Andy Townsend subsequently said that Porterfield had simply lost the respect of his players. Enough said. When you’ve lost the respect of the players keeping a manager in his job is cruel and to the detriment of the club.
Ruud Gullit is a great example. I was outraged when he was sacked by Chelsea but after reading about what went on behind the scenes and witnessing his failure at Newcastle, I can only say that Bates got it spot on when he fired him even if the way he did it was obscene. Look at Gullit now. He’s a football leper.
People who are having a pop at Bates for hiring and firing are missing the point. It’s not that he hires and fires but rather that he has never, ever dared appoint a top class manager (John Neal perhaps excepted). They have all either been rookies or yes men. Where is Campbell now? Florida. Porterfield? Africa. Webb? No f’ing clue. Gullit? On the rock ‘n’ roll. Hoddle? Even worse, Southampton.
So the real argument that should be levelled at Bates is why has he never dared appoint a top class manager? Until now of course. This will be a test for Bates because the new manager will take no crap from upstairs. It’s a brave appointment but from what I hear the new man is outstanding. And more than that, unlike Hoddle, Ruud or Luca, he has experience. Believe me, in two years time people will be looking at Vialli as just another chapter. Just like the rest of our managers.
Vialli had to go. I loved him but he had lost the respect of the players and as Kerry Dixon said at the Indie Christmas party five years ago: “When a manager loses the players’ respect he has to go.”