Football: Wise walks tall for the Didier men

Chelsea's tireless terrier alerts the England coach as he proves a central force against Milan giants
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RARELY IN football has there been such a misnomer as Dennis Wise. Sagacity has never been the byword of a man who, at his most precipitate, was accumulating bookings with more regularity than Morecambe and Wise in their prime and dealt with more dismissals than the average chairman of an industrial tribunal.

At 32, an Englishman and occasional mad dog, he is a player who can trace his Stamford Bridge genealogy back six managers to Bobby Campbell, who signed him from Wimbledon in 1990. The more cynical might have imagined that his inclusion in Gianluca Vialli's side against Alberto Zaccheroni's Serie A champions, Milan, was an oversight. Or that the cheeky chappie, born just down the road in Kensington, was merely the token local lad.

Nobody who witnessed the performance of the lone Briton in Chelsea's starting line-up on Wednesday night could contest the fact that he was there not just as of right, but necessity. The remarkable fact was that, though this contest positively glittered with all the technical virtues of the continental game, with the additional component of Premiership pace, the irascible midfielder was not out of place.

If his midfield cohort Didier Deschamps is, as Eric Cantona once described him, "a water-carrier", it presumably makes Wise, in deference to his former club and England coach as well as his style, a Hod-carrier. But tradesmen though they may be in some eyes, the contribution of the Diddymen was fundamental to Chelsea, who might have overcome the might of the five- times Champions' League winners, but will be satisfied they denied a victory to their principal rivals in Group H.

Gianfranco Zola's majesty on his night of so many extravagant Latin dance steps on the floor of Stamford Bridge, turned into the Chelsea Palais for the occasion, would not have been possible without the inspired prompting of Marcel Desailly and the likes of Gustavo Poyet; yet none of those players would have luxuriated in the possession they enjoyed without the capability of Wise and Des-champs in defusing the pyrotechnic potential of the Milan midfield. As Wise put it: "Diddy and I just kept it simple and tried to stop Milan from playing. That way we could leave the lovely stuff to Marcel and Franco."

The former England man and Chelsea captain, who on this display could yet warm the heart of the national coach Kevin Keegan, added: "Having Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps makes a difference. They've been there before. Milan were very quick. I've not played against a team like them. The quality is higher and the level of play better, but we can play with more confidence now we know what to expect."

Correct, up to a point. The problem is that Hertha Berlin, Chelsea's next opponents on Tuesday in this relentless Champions' League programme, are an unknown quantity in Europe. It is two decades since the Berliners, who play at the city's Olympic Stadium, last made an appearance, and that was in the Uefa Cup. They have never appeared before in the elite competition. Though the unfashionable club are considered the weakest of Germany's Champions' League contenders, the London side would be imprudent to dismiss the team who started with a satisfactory 2-2 draw away to Galatasaray. Their coach Jurgen Rober, who as a midfielder spent a season at Nottingham Forest in the early Eighties, and also played for Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen, has transformed a collection of players from Germany, Holland (in the shape of the former Forest and Dutch striker Bryan Roy), Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and the Cameroon into a harmonious set-up where the team ethic reigns supreme.

As the German striker Oliver Bierhoff, subjected to a frustrating night by the Chelsea rearguard, who have conceded goals in only one of this season's nine games, explained: "Berlin have had some problems in the Bundesliga, but two-each in Istanbul is a good result. They are a good young team. They've not got a lot of big names or highly experienced players, but they have a great mentality. They have lots of enthusiasm."

Berlin, however, are not without talented individuals, namely last season's top scorer Michael Preetz, who scored Berlin's first against Galatasaray on Wednesday, together with the gifted attacking midfielder Dariusz Wosz, who added a second, to give the German side an early advantage.

"The other result went well for us," reflected Wise. "If we can draw away, and then nick a win at home, we'll be doing well. The Cup-Winners' Cup is nowhere as good as this competition. All these teams could win the Premiership, or at least be in the top three. It's very important that we don't lose in Berlin. Bad teams don't finish third in the Bundesliga."

Wise is not everyone's cup of cockney char. At times even his own team- mates, let alone his opponents, must feel they'd like to swat him as they would a hovering wasp. Yet the impressive feature of Wise's contribution to Chelsea is the manner in which he has surveyed managers, from Glenn Hoddle onwards, begin and then continue the foreign revolution at Stamford Bridge.

Instead of reacting against it, Wise, who used to "room" with Vialli on away trips, has concentrated on assimilating himself into the cosmopolitan culture. As he observes in his new autobiography: "Some people outside the club were concerned that there would be resentment from the players already there to the influx of all the foreign players. Nothing could be further from the truth. You do get it, but not in our case. Definitely not."

What has been an exceptionally good week for English clubs in Europe has to be qualified by the absence of goals from them in the Champions' League. Kanu and Fredrik Ljungberg were the profligates in Florence where Arsenal otherwise distinguished themselves; Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and substitute Teddy Sheringham and a rather lacklustre midfield must share collective guilt at Old Trafford, while even Zola, for all his grace, did not finish with his usual venom at Stamford Bridge.

However, the English sides' refusal to entertain defeat is the more crucial factor. As Vialli stressed: "The fact that Berlin scored two against Galatasaray doesn't worry me. All matches are different. You can score plenty of goals away and then not score at home. If you look at the other groups, you realise how tight it's going to be. All the teams want to start in the best possible way, so they don't want to concede any points."

Nevertheless, three goals in their last five games - excluding yesterday's at Vicarage Road - is poor return for a Chelsea forward line that boasts Tore Andre Flo, Zola and Chris Sutton and the talented teenage Finnish striker Mikael Forssell, who has scarcely figured this season. While Vialli is understandably buoyed by this exhibition, the current lack of scoring prowess is a significant concern. That virtual "lost" year at Blackburn appears to have taken the edge off Sutton, and the Norwegian is given to ebb more than Flo, particularly when he starts a game. Both have scored one apiece. No doubt, they will return to the profitable form that first earned them admiring glances. Meanwhile, Vialli must thank his God for Gustavo Poyet and the always lethal hitman, og, Chelsea's second highest scorer.