Gustavo Poyet: Chelsea old boys borrowing from Blues

Stamford Bridge has created a prolific production line of players who went on to become managers. Nick Szczepanik asks one of them what the secret is...

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They used to say that if a manager wanted to find a footballer, he only had to shout down a pit in the North-east. Nowadays, a chairman looking for a manager might have the same results by visiting the restaurants near Chelsea's training base in Cobham.

When Steve Clarke took over as manager of West Bromwich Albion last month after 10 years as an assistant at Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool, he became the 18th former Chelsea player of the Premier League era to manage at League or international level.

He joins former team-mates Roberto Di Matteo of Chelsea and Mark Hughes of Queens Park Rangers in charge of Premier League clubs, Di Matteo having earned the right to have the word "interim" removed from his title by delivering the club's first Champions' League trophy. And while the Italian plots a repeat of the feat, his erstwhile midfield partner Didier Deschamps is considering an offer to take over as the France coach.

Many owners are mesmerised by the prospect of having big-name former players as managers, but that alone does not explain the relative dominance of the Chelsea old boys. Di Matteo was at a loss when asked last week, but his former teammate Gustavo Poyet, now managing Brighton & Hove Albion after being assistant manager at Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur, has a theory that explains the particular success in coaching of the 1999-2000 team that won the FA Cup under the managership of Gianluca Vialli.

"A lot of foreigners together in a different country, always talking about football," Poyet said. "When you move to a new country and there are a few of you together, either single or with just your immediate family, you need that support. And we were strong characters, most of us, already quite experienced in different leagues, so that knowledge was there to share with each other.

"I think that was also why we were so successful as a team, because we sorted out problems between ourselves, not only with the formation and instructions that the manager gave you. We made so many decisions on the pitch that it is showing in the level people are coaching. And not only as managers – I played with four goalkeepers at Chelsea. Carlo Cudicini is still playing but the other three are goalkeeping coaches.

"The only other [similar] situation I can think of is at Manchester United, with Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince and Mark Hughes – more or less the same type of group and mentality. Strong, experienced, and they learned a lot from Sir Alex Ferguson. Of course they had only one manager where we had a few, so maybe their influence was more focused on what Sir Alex did."

Before Poyet's time in England, West Ham produced a crop of influential League managers including Malcolm Allison, Dave Sexton, Frank O'Farrell, Noel Cantwell and John Bond. They used to talk football after training at Cassettari's Cafe near the Boleyn Ground, using salt cellars and pepper pots to demonstrate formations.

You imagine that the Chelsea players of 2000 would have gathered at a wine bar, using bowls of olives or bottles of balsamic vinegar, but the reality is much less glamorous.

"The place we went to the most was the masseur's room at the [old] training ground at Harlington," Poyet said. "In the morning, an hour or an hour and a half before training, the main group was always there, talking about football situations or problems or fixtures. We would sit around the table that someone was having a massage on.

"The masseur was Terry Byrne, who became David Beckham's personal assistant after the problems he had in Spain with [Rebecca Loos]. It wasn't a spectacular room, but it was one of the best rooms I've ever been in in football."

Poyet had not realised that he was in a finishing school for managers until Vialli was promoted from the ranks to replace Ruud Gullit in February 1998. "He was sitting next to me in the dressing room and then the next day he was my manager. I thought: 'Wait a moment, this can happen to me as well if I want it'. So I started to pay closer attention to decisions, training sessions, tactics, fitness, getting ready to think about things a player doesn't."

Poyet is pleased that his friend Di Matteo was the first manager to bring the Champions' League trophy to the Fulham Road. "So many managers tried to achieve that trophy that was so important to the club, they won the [FA] Cup or the Double, [Jose] Mourinho, [Carlo] Ancelotti, but Robbie did it in three months. I'd been saying: 'We are managing everywhere, come on – give it to one of us'. I'm delighted that Abramovich made the decision to give the opportunity to Robbie, and I'm happy now that it has been confirmed."

And Clarke, finally a No 1? "Knowing Steve very well, and having done what he has done, although for a shorter period of time, he will be more ready now, things will be a hundred times clearer than they were five years ago.

"He's been an assistant to foreign and British managers, and he will take all that and use his own personality and way of seeing football. He's ready to be a successful manager and I'm looking forward to seeing his team playing and being Clarkie's team, which is great."