Football: Chelsea banish forward thinking
Nick Callow describes the mood for the big game before Chelsea's biggest game
Sunday 10 May 1998
The game against the Germans represents the London club's biggest match since they won the same trophy in their only other European success 27 years ago and that has naturally led to fears, if largely on the blue half of Merseyside, that they will approach the Bolton fixture with something less than total commitment.
This Chelsea side of international stars, bar rare exceptions such as the long-serving defender Steve Clarke, know little of relegation battles having lived off the success of the King's Road revolution plotted by Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit and now Gianluca Vialli.
There has also been talk all week that Vialli will keep up to seven of his planned European side out of the firing line today, and that has naturally led to pre-match criticism from the Everton manager, Howard Kendall.
But there will be no room in today's Chelsea side for prima donnas. Gwyn Williams, Chelsea's chief administrator, has been at the heart of the club long enough to remember their last taste of relegation 10 years ago and insists that Vialli's men will be able to put Europe out of their minds long enough to do the honourable thing today.
"It's the old footballer's philosophy of taking one game at a time," he said. "We recognise the significance of the Bolton game and will not be thinking about Stuttgart until afterwards.
"Remember, we still need a point to finish fourth ahead of Leeds and that means more to us than people seem to think. I hope we are never down at the bottom again, after coming so far in the past five years, but football doesn't allow you to stand still because you never know what will happen in the future.
"It's our last game of the Premiership season and we want to go into the final on Wednesday with the boost of a win."
In the best part of 20 years at Chelsea, Williams has been employed in almost every role bar manager and has coached at youth, reserve and first- team levels. He has never known, he says, such an intense level of desire and ambition for Chelsea to get to the very top. But, whatever he says about Bolton, there can be no doubt as to which of Chelsea's last two games of the season is really occupying their thoughts.
"The final is massive for us," Williams added, "and possibly our biggest game since our last European final in 1971. So much has changed in the last five years here. We've challenged for things before, but we have never had so many established internationals as now and that makes a big difference."
According to Williams, that distant memory of relegation and the knowledge that Chelsea are not quite where they want to be yet will continue to drive the club against Stuttgart and into next season.
"There have been a couple of changes in my time here," he said with understatement. "There has been the introduction of world-class players since Glenn Hoddle became manager and that process has continued.
"Off the pitch, we have a modern training ground with the best facilities for fitness and physiotherapy. The players eat sensibly and get the best possible preparation. We never had these things before.
"But it is the same for us as it is for Manchester United, Arsenal or even Everton. No team have a right to be at the top and although we have done quite well so far, we know we still have a lot of hard work and strengthening to do."
The hard work for Williamscontinued last night when he travelled to Germany with the first-team coach, Graham Rix, to watch Stuttgart play Werder Bremen in their final match before Wednesday.
Williams has been scouring Europe for more than 10 years in search of new players for Chelsea and his current role also includes making the hotel and travel arrangements for the trip to Stockholm.
"I have to help ensure the players have nothing to worry about before Wednesday. Everything is set up for them to go into the match feeling relaxed, and also ready to go at it with all bells ringing by kick-off."
And we really should expect the same attitude against Bolton? "You live for your next match and wanting to win it - that's what everything at Chelsea is geared towards."
Bolton, you have been warned.
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