Football: `I will play on' insists Vialli

Chelsea's leader is swift to counter speculation over his dual role after defeat in Europe
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The Independent Online
GIANLUCA VIALLI was yesterday putting a brave face on defeat in the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final by Real Mallorca and trying to end confusion about his own role by insisting that he would continue playing as well as managing the team.

There was widespread surprise when Vialli's name did not even appear on the list of seven Chelsea substitutes before a 1-0 defeat in Palma on Thursday night put them out of the competition on a 2-1 aggregate. He had previously kept his best efforts this season for Cup competitions, scoring nine times in 11 games, but drawing a blank in each of his seven Premiership matches.

There was not an orthodox striker on the bench as Chelsea tried to retrieve the goal headed in by Leo Biagini after 15 minutes, following slack marking at a set-piece.

Vialli's comments immediately after the game - "I was not fully match fit. Sometimes it's better if I concentrate on being a manager" - had lead to speculation that he would do just that as early as next season. The Chelsea hierarchy, having pushed Ruud Gullit to the brink 14 months ago with their demands that he do the same, would presumably have had no problem with Vialli following suit. Yesterday, however, he said: "I've got no problems carrying on with both roles. Sometimes it's demanding, but it's always exciting. If you want to be a good manager, you have to realise it's difficult being part of all games.

"I don't like being a substitute. I'm not the sort of player who can come on and turn a match. I need to be on for 90 minutes. I rarely score coming on as a substitute. I'll have to start thinking about quitting sometime because I can't play till I'm 37 or 38. But I want to play next season, definitely."

Vialli felt that the run of the ball did not favour his team on Thursday, when in the last 20 minutes Argentina's goalkeeper Carlos Roa touched Roberto Di Matteo's powerful drive on to the bar and Dennis Wise failed to put the bite on Mallorca with a soft header.

The damage, however, had been done at Stamford Bridge, where for the third time in four home legs Chelsea failed to convert an abundance of scoring opportunities. Against the limited Scandinavian opposition provided by Helsingborg and FC Copenhagen they managed only a single goal, leading to unnecessarily anxious away legs, while Real, renowned for their mean defence and swift counterattacking, were allowed a draw and an away goal from the only chance they created in 90 minutes.

Now Vialli must pick up his "chaps" with immediate effect, starting in the Premiership at Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow, just the sort of game to sort out which of them have the heart for five more battles this season. A big haul of points could yet earn the runners-up position, which would not only be Chelsea's best finish apart from the championship year of 1955, but would avoid the necessity to pre-qualify for their first shot at the Champions" League.

If a mood of self-pity takes hold, the priority will become to prevent Leeds, who are five points behind, from beating them to third place and ruining a season's work.