Football: Gullit must remain the diplomat

Norman Fox hears the Chelsea manager delight in the success of his system
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The Independent Online
A Week that festered more speculation about his own long-term plans also persuaded Ruud Gullit that his selection system that has brought some of the Chelsea players to the point of despair is now fully accepted and working. It was easy to see why Gullit believed this after having watched his team beat Tromso 7-1 in the European Cup Winners' Cup last week. Whether the Dutchman will be quite so satisfied after today's visit by West Ham and whether he can retain a happy ship in order to sustain a serious Premiership challenge is not so straightforward.

Certainly Gianluca Vialli, scorer of three goals, had never looked so satisfied with himself since arriving at Stamford Bridge. He was among those who had seriously considered their future under Gullit's squad system of alternating selections. It was particularly pleasing for Gullit to find that Vialli had now accepted the advantages of such a policy, which on Thursday saw Mark Hughes take his turn on the bench. But the true test of the system is in the attitude of young, high-potential players who find themselves becoming permanent members of the squad but with only the occasional opportunity to get a game. Chelsea's Jody Morris, who would command a place in most first teams, is an example. He has started in only one Premiership match this season and has made only 18 appearances since his debut, including substitutions.

Obviously Gullit commands great respect but his powers of diplomacy in keeping everyone happy will inevitably become stretched. For the moment, though, he insists that he has no problems. Indeed, a seemingly obvious but perhaps revealing comment after the match against Tromso may have quashed the whole theory that he could soon be on his way to a big foreign club. Speaking about the atmosphere now that the new Shed End is complete, he added: "Just imagine what it will be like when we get the other stand finished as well." Hardly the words of a coach about to leave. Ken Bates, the chairman, doubts that any other club could afford him anyway.

It was the atmosphere and pressure of the night, not to mention having a player sent off, that did as much to destroy Tromso as Chelsea's second- half display of irresistible attacking football. And while Gullit was quick to point out that all teams in European competition, no matter how small the club, can organise a defensive system that requires "clever teamwork and individuals" to overcome, his own defence looked anything but well-organised or secure any time Tromso managed to raise a counter- attack.

When the time comes for Chelsea themselves to do a defensive job, one wonders whether they will have the ability. Indeed, even allowing for their discomfort in Norway, it was there that they could well have conceded half a dozen goals, which even an attacking performance as impressive as Thursday's might not have overcome. As it happens, the quality of opposition in the Cup Winners' Cup is not outstanding and most of Chelsea's likely quarter-final opponents have been leaking goals.

Sadly, Chelsea's often sophisticated football continues to be made less pleasurable by the uncivil behaviour of all-too-many of their "fans". Some never seem able to sit back and appreciate an exhibition of modern cosmopolitan (goals from a Romanian, two Italians and a Frenchman) without dragging in their xenophobic bile. As Dennis Wise was beginning to inspire in midfield and Vialli and Zola turned giant defenders into statues, so a small group drearily raised the irrelevant chant: "Stand Up If You Hate Man U". And even sadder, thousands did.