Football: Keeping Rix sweet could be vital to Vialli

Nick Callow assesses the qualities of the new manager and his right-hand man
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The Independent Online
GIANLUCA VIALLI forsook San Lorenzo, his culinary home and where a dish is named in his honour, to spend his first night as Chelsea manager at Langan's restaurant with Graham Rix. Wise move. As Ruud Gullit and Glenn Hoddle discovered before him, Rix is the man Vialli will need in his corner more than anyone else if he is to succeed as Chelsea manager.

As a player, for both Arsenal and England, Rix's perceived languid style belied the true nature of an assiduous professional with an intensely intelligent footballing brain, nurtured by the guru's guru of coaching Don Howe. Hoddle was smart enough to recognise those qualities and brought him to Chelsea as youth coach; Gullit promoted him to first-team duties and Vialli is keeping Rix on as right-hand man.

While the first Italian manager in England makes the essential transition from being one of the lads to the ruler of their fate, he will need Rix to help maintain stability and continuity in terms of training, guidance and possibly tactics. Attaining a leader's authority, however, should not be a problem for the 33-year-old Vialli, despite his love of the good life, a propensity to play pranks and a gentle way of speaking which almost makes one sighwhen he pleads: "I will need help, lots of help, from everyone."

To supporters, Vialli is possibly the most popular member of the Chelsea band, not only for his ability and commitment on the pitch, and achievements as a World Cup star and a European Cup winner. He also has their respect for his loyalty and dignified conduct when he was the most famous of Gullit's discards.

Chelsea's England defender Graeme Le Saux has already told him there will be no more daily lifts to the training ground to avoid his team-mates accusing him of courting favouritism, a sign that the players are willing to accept his new status. Those who know him best believe he will succeed in a role he never courted, or particularly desired before it was offered, because his track record is one of a winner based on the steely desire of a natural competitor.

His one-time club and international team-mate Attilio Lombardo, of Crystal Palace, says: "I hope he is going to do well. It's a different job altogether now as he's got the responsibility of being the manager of a big club who are successful at the moment. But I feel that Gianluca can do well. He is a clever person, a gifted player and has a sober personality. So he has a combination of qualities that should enable him to succeed."

Vialli has already stated that he would never consider being a manager in Italy because of the intense pressures which come with a Serie A job. There are no such people as player-managers in his native country because it takes years to earn the coaching qualifications necessary to manage there.

Rix will shield him from some of the spotlight in England, but he still faces the immediate responsibility of converting Chelsea's present strong position into tangible success. He promises a more open style of management than Gullit, which hints at dressing-room unrest inspired by the Dutchman's aloof approach. But he has also pledged to be brutally blunt with the Chelsea players and is prepared to risk a few friendships along the way. Tactics remain a mystery, but it is expected Chelsea will be a more aggressive and tighter unit under the Italian.

The international forward Roberto Mancini, Vialli's footballing blood- brother back home, believes the Premiership will also see the occasional touch of Gullit's ruthless team selections in the new king of Stamford Bridge. But one would expect Vialli to start a match more often. On hearing the news of Vialli's dramatic promotion, Mancini said : "Do you want to know if he has contacted me to come to Chelsea? Well, no he hasn't because, in the end, he would leave me on the bench."