Football: FA Cup Final: Unsung hero who thrives on responsibility

Eddie Newton (right) rarely dazzles, but he makes the flair players play. He is content with a supporting role, writes Glenn Moore
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Chelsea were holding court. One by one, or two by two, the stars came out. Zola, Vialli, Di Matteo and Lebouef, Hughes and Wise, Petrescu, even Grodas. Then, while the press pack waited for Gullit, the rest of the squad were sent in to mingle in case anyone had any questions left about today's FA Cup final against Middlesbrough.

Sitting quietly among them was Eddie Newton, apparently as unappreciated by the media as he is by most supporters. Newton is one of those players who rarely seems to cross the half-way line, a low-profile David Batty who last scored in November 1995.

Yet the 25-year-old is as important as the eye-catching, flair players. As other teams, notably Osvaldo Ardiles' Tottenham, have found, a balance is required in team-building. Newton provides the ballast in Chelsea's midfield. It may not put his name in headlines, but it is noticed by those who matter - his team-mates and manager.

When Chelsea were linked with Paul Ince, as they now are with every big name, Ruud Gullit said: "I already have a man who plays in that area and in the same role and I am very happy with him." At the club's Harlington training ground, this week Gullit added: "When Eddie was injured it was a terrible loss. He is not one of the flair players but he makes those players play."

Newton said: "It is a role which is appreciated in the game, by the defenders, other midfielders and management. The connoisseur fan may appreciate it, but most look at the goalscorers and flair players.

"Early in my career I was more of an attacking midfielder and when Glenn [Hoddle] came to the club he said: `I don't think you're excellent at one thing, I think you are very good at everything. You can tackle, you have skill when you are in trouble, you are good in the air and you can pass the ball well. This is the position for you'. It has gone on from there, really."

Newton, an Under-21 international, thrived on the responsibility. As a youngster growing up in Hammersmith - but a fan of Queen's Park Rangers rather than Chelsea - he used to look after his little sister and is now a protective father of his young son, Cassius. Newton Snr takes does the daily school run, is careful not to swear at home and is seeking to instil "manners and respect for elders" in Cassius.

Last season he also took over the captain's armband during matches on occasion and was beginning to feature on the fringe of national selection when, in February, he broke his shin against West Ham in a collision with his own goalkeeper, Kevin Hitchcock. He was out until October, then tore his groin before re-establishing himself in the team in December.

Hoddle did not buy a replacement when Newton was injured, but when Gullit brought in Roberto di Matteo Newton wondered what the future might hold. "He was playing the holding role for Italy for a while so little doubts were going through my mind. But I had Terry Byrne [of Chelsea's backroom staff] beside me making sure I did not drop my head. He kept me concentrating on the present, getting my leg better and stronger, not the future."

Newton has a particular incentive to do well today. Three years ago he spent the first half of the final marking Eric Cantona out of the game as Chelsea threatened to over-run Manchester United. In the second-half he brought down Denis Irwin, Cantona scored from the resultant penalty, and United went on to win 4-0.

What does Newton remember of 1994? "The penalty," he replied. "I thought we played really well for the first 60 minutes. We ran the show. We hit the bar and John Spencer had a really good chance. The penalties [there was a second, more controversial one] killed us and that was it."

And today? Will he be marking Juninho? "Ruud has not talked about how we are to play him yet," Newton said on Thursday. "They are a quality side but they have had some problems within the club and that has stopped their progress. Our European players have blended nicely and, though some have had individual problems, we have had a family atmosphere.

"If there is an early goal on Saturday it will be an open game, but there is a lot of importance on it, so it will be a bit cagey."