Football: Ken rotates kiss and yell policy

Vialli's fortunes take turn for the better as his non-strikers keep the Champions' League flag flying

THERE WILL always be a safe seat for the blue party in the constituency of Kensington and Chelsea. Not so down at the Fulham Road end of the royal borough for the managerial incumbent of Stamford Bridge. Football politics would not be the same without some kind of creative tension between Ken Bates and his manager of the moment. The Chelsea chairman thrives on such devilment as we have witnessed during a week when he has pontificated on his manager's rotationals, remarking that they were not always spiralling to good effect.

The way it was received by some - "the wrath of Ken" - it might have been imagined that there was inner fury akin to that of his distant motel- running cousin, Norman. Yet an hour after the defeat of Hertha Berlin on Wednesday left Chelsea atop their Champions' League group, the twinkly- eyed Falstaff of SW6 was protesting with typical insouciance that far from a verbal slap he had nothing more on his mind than a smacker for his manager.

"I phoned Luca this morning and we talked about it and had a good laugh. The last occasion there was a bit of pressure I said to him `When I see you next I'll give you a big, sloppy kiss', and I did. I said to him today, `I think it's time for another kiss'." While you cannot imagine that such a relationship exists within the machiavellian state of Serie A, Vialli is presumably by now familiar with his chairman's idiosyncrasies.

"I didn't criticise the players or the manager," Bates, part zealot, part despot, growled as he departed. "I simply said that Luca has acknowledged that maybe he has made a few mistakes in his rotation policy and that the players who were given the opportunity to play in the Worthington Cup and against Derby blew their chances to demonstrate what valuable squad members they were."

The ever-astute Vialli has played it politically very correct by ostentatiously donning the hair-shirt and issuing an unreserved apology in Wednesday's programme for the debacle at Derby. While love affairs can quickly turn to bitter recrimination in football, there is little prospect of a schism between the pair, although there is real frustration from all quarters that a side who can outclass Milan can be overturned by Watford and Derby County.

In a sense Wednesday was the easier part of Vialli's week. On a surreal night one could be forgiven for assuming that Berlin had already received advanced notification that they would qualify by dint of Galatasaray's eventual defeat of Milan, such was their dismal performance.

Whatever had inspired Vialli to begin with an arrowhead front three, with Gianfranco Zola and Tore Andre Flo working wide of the apex provided by Chris Sutton, it did not look a convincing strategy, although the manager got lucky. Didier Deschamps and Albert Ferrer became the ninth and 10th non-forwards this season to contribute to Chelsea's goalscoring charts and by the time Vialli had reverted to a two-pronged attack, replacing Zola with the attacking midfielder Gustavo Poyet, the vision of further exotic foreign stages was already in his players' minds.

Lazio are not exactly what Chelsea had in mind. Even without the departed Christian Vieri, the seeded Italians will present a formidable obstacle to Chelsea's ambitions, not least in the form of the Argentinian midfield trio of David Beckham's antagoniser Diego Simeone, Matias Almeyda and Juan Veron. Neither will Feyenoord and Marseilles, the latter Manchester United's conquerors last month, offer an easy passage to the quarter-finals. United, however, should be relatively content to find themselves bracketed with Valencia, Bordeaux and Fiorentina, assuming they do not permit Gabriel Batistuta the freedom that Arsenal allowed him at Wembley.

For the moment Vialli faces merely the dreaded prospect of his team suffering the ignominy of a fourth consecutive Premiership reverse when West Ham visit today. Although it was unwitting, Bates placed a further burden on his manager by making it clear where his priorities lie. "I want to win them both," he said when asked to state a preference for the Champions' League or the Premiership. "But I was more disappointed we lost at home to Arsenal than away in Berlin. That's why I believe that the Premiership is the prime competition for all English clubs."

That, according to Bates, is why a European breakaway league is untenable. "There was an argument about that 18 months ago. I told Manchester United to b****** off and go and play in Europe if that's what they wanted to do. But they daren't do it because the supporters will not put up with it. Football is tribal. That's why the Premiership is so great."

Well, not quite so grand at the moment for Chelsea's talent-laden trolley of foreign dishes who have been wheeled in to Pride Park and Vicarage Road and found not to possess the spice, the flavour or the value of the local fare. It is facile to suggest that their defeats are merely the result of Vialli changing a winning team. One suspects it is more a question of his players failing to adapt their approach to the different rigours of the Premiership.

All the players are acutely aware of their chairman's criticism, according to Ferrer, who is from Barcelona and who knows a thing or two about performing under a Mister Fawlty, having played for the mercurial Dutchman Louis van Gaal. "If we can play this way in the Champions' League, why not in the Premiership?" is the rhetorical question of the diminutive Ferrer, probably the least noticed but most accomplished right-back in English football. "Maybe we need more concentration, to be a little bit more focused," he added. "It is not a problem of quality, it is a problem of, how you say, not being angry enough. When you play against Milan, and then against Derby, on paper you think you are better than them. Maybe you relax."

Yet again, as highlighted in these columns last week, none of that triumvirate of Flo, Zola and Sutton were on the scoresheet on Wednesday. It was fortunate that Deschamps and Ferrer's finishing was so adept.

Ferrer's own pleasure could hardly contrast more with the slurry of despair into which Sutton has pitched headlong. We had always known he was a flawed gem, with a propensity for taking frustration out on his opponents. Now, there are plenty who will eagerly testify that Vialli has spent pounds 10m on paste. Yet he is a perceptive striker, who still contributes significantly when ostensibly having a poor game. On Wednesday the dearth of crosses, and the fact that he was also taking time to assimilate himself into an often abstract style of play, was also evident. "He was very important for the team today. Maybe it didn't show, but he worked really hard for us," maintained his fellow striker Flo. "He really showed desire, and I like that about him. Confidence will come with him, like any striker, when he scores."

Fortunately for Chelsea, they have sufficient numbers with an eye for goal to sustain them in the meantime. They will need such favours against Lazio, but more crucially today against West Ham.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits