Football: How Gullit got wise to Dennis

Norman Fox says Chelsea's little dynamo can have a big impact in Europe
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The Independent Online
Ruud Gullit's theory about squad equality is all very well. He says the players know where they stand, or sit as the case may be. But after Chelsea's frustrating European Cup-winners' Cup 2-0 defeat of Slovan Bratislava at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, he was happy to steer the conversation away from Gianfranco Zola, who was magnificent but remains subject to Gullit's unusual selection policy, towards Dennis Wise who is becoming an exception to the rule - an ever present.

Gullit is well aware that at the moment the little home-grown guy with the "big motor" is the one who makes the foreigners purr and will be as invaluable. After playing Arsenal this afternoon, the club face Manchester United, Newcastle and Liverpool as well as the return against Bratislava. The fact that not even Zola or the industrious Gianluca Vialli could purloin a goal from a congested defence was no fault of Wise's support from midfield where he provided the bulk of the chances Vialli missed.

Curiously, after a week in which so many Premier clubs matched their own foreigners against those still left playing at the other end of the Channel Tunnel, today brings a domestic confrontation that promises to be a huge cosmopolitan, metropolitan showpiece over which the influence of two home- produced players could be crucial. Wise, for Chelsea, and Ray Parlour, who plays a similar role for Arsenal, will be doing a lot of the drudgery at Stamford Bridge but both now lace their labour with a range of creativity.

The two could easily have been cast aside by foreign managers who might have deemedthem archetypal English league handymen. Both seem to have won the confidence and admiration of their bosses, though these days there is an uncomfortable feeling that Arsene Wenger and Gullit are getting dangerously close to being forced to play a few token Brits.

Parlour was someone you always expected Arsenal would use occasionally and eventually offload to a mid-table Premier or First Division club. The arrival of Wenger seemed certain to hasten his transfer. Far from it. Only last weekend Wenger said the fact that the squad had newcomers and was stronger this season had forced Parlour to grow up and concentrate on developing a talent that was first recognised five years ago, when he became an England Under-21 international at 19, but seemed to be on hold.

Parlour confesses to "being a bit wild when I was younger" and says that the experiences of Tony Adams and Paul Merson off the field, together with Wenger's insistence on longer sessions of skill training and better fitness for everyone in the squad, have had a beneficial effect. Undoubtedly, Merson's departure has helped him to establish a regular midfield spot, though he knows he is now coming under pressure from yet another import, Luis Boa Morte, a Portuguese Under-21 international.

Almost as much as Zola, Wise deserved better than to work so persistently yet achieve so little against Bratislava. But he is convinced that in a competition lacking the quality of the Champions' League and Uefa Cup, Chelsea will be successful in Europe this season. Whether Gullit can continue with his rotation of players throughout the season and keep them all happy is debatable.

Without wanting to compromise his policy of guaranteeing no one a first- team place, Gullit said: "In the past, Dennis was seen as a hard player, but now we and the fans see him differently. Everyone can see that he has a talent which had not come out before all the other great players came along. I'm proud of what he has achieved. At the beginning we had some problems but if you explain exactly what you want, then you get the best out of the player. He recognised his mistakes and became a better player. He did himself a favour - not me."

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