Football: Wise decision does the trick

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 1 Chelsea 1

The acid test, according to Alan Sugar, will come next summer, when Johnny Foreigner weighs up his options and considers whether the Premiership really was for him. That will be the time, the doubting Tottenham chairman says, to see which overseas stars stand up to be counted.

You cannot imagine many at Chelsea sharing Sugar's cynicism. With the addition of Gianfranco Zola, the side wearing the west London club's shirts on Saturday included more Italians than Englishmen. So far, however, Ruud Gullit's wisdom in signing them is not questioned.

Zola, the 30-year-old Sardinian for whom Chelsea paid Parma around pounds 4.5m, made an eye-catching debut, growing more influential as a hard, muscular, unmistakably English match progressed. If he dislikes the rough stuff, as has been suggested, he conceals it well. His willingness to learn impressed his new player-manager, who wanted Zola to acclimatise before next Saturday's encounter with Newcastle at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, by the later stages Zola, having adapted to a risk-laden tactical rethink by the Chelsea manager, was linking so promisingly with his two compatriots, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo - and with Gullit himself, when he arrived as substitute - that he seemed already to be at home, in more than one sense. It must have helped to receive instructions in his own language but intelligence also played a part.

Gullit acknowledged that it was not until he replaced Wise for the last half-hour that his team was able to dominate and force an equaliser to Kevin Gallacher's well-taken goal. The Dutchman, having undergone knee surgery, intends to resume his playing role as soon as possible, which means someone's place is under threat. Therein, of course, lies a problem. How do you assemble a deep, adaptable squad and keep all the players - imported and home-grown - happy?

"You can't," Gullit said. "But I have been there and the most important thing I learned from Milan was that you have to create a situation in which, no matter what they think of the coach's decisions, all the players have only one goal, which is for the team to achieve something.

"I don't mind if they don't like me sometimes as long as they have a common goal. At Milan, I hated the coach's guts when he left me out but in the end I realised what he did was right for the team."

Clearly, Chelsea know where they stand, unlike Blackburn, still to learn who will occupy the vacant manager's chair. But a common, instinctive goal bonds their players behind the coach, Tony Parkes, and this performance, lifting them off the bottom, was as courageous and positive as the one which recently swept Liverpool aside.

Goals: Gallacher (55) 1-0; Petrescu (82) 1-1.

Blackburn Rovers (4-3-3): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Croft; Sherwood, Flitcroft, McKinlay; Gallacher, Sutton, Wilcox. Substitutes not used: Bohinen, Marker, Gudmundsson, Duff, Given (gk).

Chelsea (3-5-2): Grodas; Duberry, Burley, Clarke; Petrescu, Wise (Gullit, 61), Di Matteo, Zola, Minto; Vialli, Hughes. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Sinclair, Newton, Colgan (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Warwick).

Bookings: Rovers: Hendry, McKinlay; Chelsea: Grodas, Hughes.

Man of the match: Zola.

Attendance: 27,229.

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