Football: Wise words after Frank folly

Norman Fox examines the captain's English beef with imports
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The Independent Online
WHEN CHELSEA'S new centre-half from Benfica via Sheffield Wednesday, Emerson Thome, settled into training with his new team-mates on Wednesday he was plunged into what seemed like a cold bath of troubled minds.

The team captain, Dennis Wise, is at the forefront of those who are far from convinced that all of the imported first-team squad are giving their best, or even have any sense of club pride.

The home defeat by Leeds United last weekend, when Frank Leboeuf recklessly invited upon himself another suspension, brought matters to a head. The manager, Gianluca Vialli, was said to be "angry" with Leboeuf but lenient on the team as a whole. Wise was annoyed with Leboeuf but livid with the rest, making it clear that he felt his constant demands for greater effort had largely been ignored.

Wise's anger was probably heightened by a belief that the foreign players seem to have no difficulty in raising the level of their performances against some of Europe's most famous teams. It would not have been omitted from his argument that probably the player who, apart from himself, put the greatest effort into an otherwise ill- disciplined and careless performance was Jon Harley, a 20-year-old who had come through the ranks and made only three appearances last season.

Wise has become the home-grown figurehead for the many fans who have come to the opinion that Chelsea have too many squad members receiving fortunes under the club's flag of convenience. Whether or not Emerson, a 27-year-old Brazilian who last season looked good enough to be given the nickname "The Wall" - but this term has to be associated with Wednesday's leaking defence - is another player enthusiastically taking the offer to jump ship in search of an end- of-career big payday remains to be seen.

His recent performances suggest that at very least he has more composure than Leboeuf and is less inclined to act the prima donna.

Wise will not be slow to make Emerson realise that he feels let down after starting the season believing that at last the Premiership title was a real possibility. He recalls looking forward "believing that after starting to win trophies we had broken through". He thought there was a real chance of Chelsea becoming champions for the first time in 45 years.

"I've always wanted to win that title for the fans as much as for the club and myself," he said. Now, with his team 17 points behind Leeds, that desire is clearly turning to anger over what he regards as a wasted opportunity to build on last season's close pursuit of Arsenal and Manchester United.

The problem is that his theory that once the club started to win things, success "would just continue to come our way and stop people talking about the Seventies" has been damaged by players he knows do not have the fiery ambition that, in spite of attractive offers to go elsewhere, has not only made him loyal to Chelsea but regularly encouraged him go over the top in his enthusiasm.

Yet Wise's blatantly intimidating challenges are much different to the spiteful, arrogant stamping on Harry Kewell seen from Leboeuf last weekend. Even Chelsea's chairman, Ken Bates, who has occasionally defended the indefensible, has not yet said anything in favour of Lebeouf, whose future with the club, now that Emerson has joined, is uncertain.

Bates has already expressed his view that on occasions the commitment of Vialli's boys (the manager says he has yet to find out whether they are really men) has been questionable.

Emerson's arrival will come as a relief to Chris Sutton, who had visions of being asked to play centre-half at the very moment when his confidence and scoring touch is beginning to return after rumours that he might be sold on. What is still missing from his game, though, is the commodity Vialli thought he was buying: an attack leader who can hold the ball and distribute it in the manner of the departed Mark Hughes, and score 20 goals a season.

Hughes, now with South-ampton, who meet Chelsea at The Dell today, says that the ability of his former colleagues to play superbly against classy European sides while failing against some of the Premiership's more modest ones is a matter of "feeling comfortable when they have more time and space but not when they have people on their backs all the time". Vialli's problem is that everyone in the Premiership is aware of that.