Football: Poyet supplies goal ingredient

Clive White assesses the Uruguayan who can bring European glory to Chelsea tonight
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The Independent Online
WHEN they look back on the goals scored by Chelsea this season their fans will naturally have a few spectacular ones from the likes of Mark Hughes and Gianluca Vialli to savour. But should Chelsea triumph in the Cup-Winners' Cup final, none will be remembered with deeper gratitude than Gustavo Poyet's equaliser in the second leg of the semi-final against Vicenza. Without it, Chelsea would almost certainly not be in Stockholm tonight.

As Poyet has said himself, in all modesty, it is unlikely that Chelsea would have found the strength and inspiration to recover from an overall two-goal deficit had he not scored when he did, 11 minutes before the break. It was a high-quality finish, too, which few strikers, never mind midfielders, would have been able to execute, the ball flying awkwardly at him as Pierluigi Brivio parried Gianfranco Zola's shot.

The fact that he was starting - and finishing - his first game in six months after snapping a cruciate ligament in a freak training ground accident, made it all the more remarkable. "Until I scored I had hardly touched the ball," said the Uruguayan, who arrived in England from Spain last June not being able to speak a word of English.

His performance against Vicenza was a reminder to Chelsea of what they have been missing for most of the season. Not that their goal output has been lacking, but one does wonder how many more points they might have garnered in the Premiership had Poyet been around to lend a hand at set pieces and to make those late forays into the penalty area.

Frank Leboeuf was not over-stating his team-mate's importance when he said: "Alex Ferguson has said that Manchester United would not have lost several games this season if Roy Keane had been there, and I am certain the same could be said about Gustavo at Chelsea."

Poyet is poised for his second winners' medal in this competition, having been a member of the Real Zaragoza side who beat Arsenal in the final three years ago, not to mention Chelsea in the semis. Glenn Hoddle will not thank him for his assessment of his Stamford Bridge side at the time. "They played like a normal English team - lots of long balls," he said. "It was easier than we expected. Now Chelsea have many foreign players and our style is very different."

Michael Robinson, the former Liverpool striker who is now a commentator in Spain, saw plenty of the 29-year-old during his time at Zaragoza. "He was very popular there, a compulsive chatterer," Robinson said. "The other players used to call him `the Radio'. When it was announced he was leaving, the fans handed in petitions pleading with him not to go and even draped a giant No 11 shirt over one end of the ground to persuade him to change his mind."

Now, David Mellor, that is what you call a Radio Star.