THE Chelsea manager thought he had done a good job and, when he went into a meeting with the club's officials he thought it was to discuss his contract for the next few years. Instead he was asked to leave. "I had no inclination of what was coming," he said later.
That was David Webb in May 1993, dispensed with by Ken Bates after saving the club from relegation during a three-month "trial period". His dismissal did not even make the back pages of most of the following day's papers with Webb's brief statement buried amid speculation on his successor.
Five years on the only similarity is the manager's surprise. Ruud Gullit held a two-hour press conference yesterday which was emblematic of the changes at Chelsea in particular and English football in general. The location was evidence enough, a dining club in Kensington just across the road from a Pizza Hut restaurant awash with images of Gullit, their advertising vehicle.
Inside the club almost 150 media representatives scrambled over sofas and tables, even standing on the bar itself, as Gullit held court. Some settled for watching Sky's live broadcast in the other bar, unable to see past the the 15 television crews that ringed the table where Gullit sat, elegant in a fashionably cut dark suit, flanked by his agents. A phalanx of photographers crouched below him and journalists from Europe and beyond waited on every word. The thought occurred that if only the International Sportsman's Club had been as busy in its previous guise, as Scribes West, Terry Venables would still be running it.
But this was an exceptional event, as Gullit made clear. "I have never been treated like this before," he said. "I am still in shock especially when you consider what I've done for Chelsea. I thought everything was going well. I am really disappointed, I had given Chelsea my word. It was a day I can't forget."
Gullit admitted to having had a sleepless night as he asked himself the reasons for his departure. But after 20 years in the game he had made the belated discovery that, in the world of football, even genius will not protect for ever.
There was a trace of the arrogance possessed by all great players when he said "After all I did for Chelsea", but generally it was a bravura performance alternately sad, shocked, bewildered and close to tears but also funny and thoughtful with the obligatory, but heartfelt mention of the late Matthew Harding.
There was anger also, not just as he recounted his version of events but as he traded accusations with Italian journalists who pressed him on his attitude to Gianluca Vialli. Then, bizarrely, it ended with handshakes and mutual expressions of "good luck" and "ciao" as the daily press ended their session and Gullit was ushered into yet another room for interviews with the Sunday correspondents.
Gullit is probably correct when he asserts that his exit is not just about money although that is surely a prime factor. There also appears to be a personality clash with Ken Bates, the chairman, a dispute over his commitment and methods and an awareness that the uncertainty over the future may hinder the grand plans of Chelsea Village plc.
Chelsea yesterday claimed it would have cost them nearly pounds 3.5m a year to keep Gullit. Their rent-a-quote "insider" David Mellor chipped in by calling Gullit "greedy". If true, and Gullit admits his opening negotiating gambit was a request for pounds 2m-a-year [pounds 3.5m gross if he meant pounds 2m net] it looks that way but there is a mitigating factor and a dissenting one.
Mellor said that Gullit "could not understand that great players earn more than great managers." He is not the only one. The highest paid manager in the country is generally believed to be Alex Ferguson at an approximate salary, including hefty and well-earned bonuses, of about pounds 750,000 per annum.
Ferguson had a long struggle, involving a certain amount of brinkmanship, to get that out of the club plc's remuneration board but it is unlikely to be United's highest wage (quite apart from the fortune Martin Edwards, the chairman, has made from the club). Yet before Ferguson arrived United were perennial underachievers rather than the game's dominant force. Their current millions are due, above all, to his judgement and efforts.
Brian Clough, understandably, was another who found it hard to accept his players were paid more than him and this was before the explosion in wages. Thus the Gullit problem with Chelsea seeking to pay him as a manager, not a player-manager (Gullit, incidentally, claimed his salary, around pounds 800,000, possibly net, had not changed when he took on the management duties).
The dissenting factor is Chelsea's previous recognition that Gullit is not money-orientated. In August Hutch-inson told me Gullit had not even collected his wages in his first two months at the club. "`You look after them,'" he had said," recalled the chief executive, adding: "He didn't come here for the money. He could have gone to Japan for that."
At that stage Chelsea seemed happy with a system which meant Gullit took training, picked the team and identified and interviewed transfer targets but left the nitty-gritty to Hutchinson, Graham Rix, the coach, and Gwyn Williams, the assistant manager. Now, in the wake of some poor results (Chelsea have won twice in nine) and internal dissension among players, they cite it as a reason to release him.
Gullit's lack of preparation has occasionally been exposed. He is an excellent reader of the game but he has not always been able to repair the damage done by poor team selection in mid-match. That he was also attending a coaching course in the Netherlands which appears specifically designed to equip him for the Dutch national coach's job did not help.
While Chelsea's dissatisfaction has simmered for a while, the final act was swift. Last Thursday, said Gullit, he and Hutchinson met for the first time in three months to discuss the new contract. Gullit had previously asked for a delay, citing his imminent fatherhood and the need to concentrate on the team.
He asked for pounds 2m [net, rather than gross according to Hutchinson] just as he had in the summer of 1995, when asked to join Chelsea, and expected a counter offer as happened then when negotiations were concluded in 15 minutes.
"But they didn't offer me anything and didn't speak to me for a week about it. That made me suspicious. Then I found out about Laudrup and asked myself "what was going on?"
According to Gullit, Laudrup had been due to meet him and Hutchinson on Monday but had cried off as his wife was ill. Then Gullit heard he had been in London on Wednesday with Hutchinson, Vialli and Gianfranco Zola and been told Gullit was "too busy" to see him.
On Thursday Hutchinson turned up at Chelsea's Heathrow training ground. "He told me the board had made the decision [to sack me] and I told him he couldn't hide behind the board, that he knew about the meeting with Laudrup, and I left. I didn't know that Luca Vialli was taking over until I read it on Teletext."
Gullit wished Vialli "luck" yesterday, which provoked a few laughs among a press corps which has charted the pair's estrangement for more than a year. He also set his successor an unwanted standard: "My target was the championship. With the material you have, you have to achieve this."
This may or may not include the much-admired Dutch defender Jaap Stam, of PSV Eindhoven, who Gullit said Chelsea were negotiating to buy for pounds 10m.
Gullit's final meeting with Bates took place on Thursday evening, and was brief. "There was no way I was going to ask him to reconsider. There was no way back. He knew what was going on. It's about pride. I wanted to stay and finish things but now I know how these people really are maybe it's better that I go now, rather than having to keep working with these people."
Webb has expressed equally disenchanted views on Bates in the past but the chairman's decision to replace him, initially with Glenn Hoddle, has long been vindicated. Only time will tell if Bates' latest change of manager, his seventh in 15 years as chairman, is equally successful.Reuse content