Chelsea have revolutionised their efforts to get the best out of £31m striker Andrei Shevchenko by employing the former British Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell to help the Ukrainian regain his explosive pace. Despite Shevchenko's indifferent first season in the Premier League, the club are determined to get the former European footballer of the year back to his very best.
Shevchenko, 31, was on the bench for Wednesday's 2-0 victory over Schalke 04 in the Champions League and has not been a major part of Avram Grant's plans since he took over the club last month, starting just two games under the new manager. However, the Israeli was first brought to Chelsea on the ticket that he could get the best out of Shevchenko. Since taking over Grant has promised that Shevchenko does have a future at the club and is understood to be supportive of the scheme to help the striker regain the sharpness that has been lacking from his game since he left Milan.
The job of rehabilitating a player whose reputation has nosedived since he came to Chelsea falls to Campbell, 34, who is well-known as a lifelong Manchester United fan as well as a decent former amateur footballer. His qualities as a sprint coach are not in doubt. He was twice an Olympic medallist, winning the silver in the 200 metres in Sydney in 2000 and a gold in the 4x100m relay team in Athens four years later. He has worked with Shevchenko at both the club's training ground and the striker's home in Surrey.
The sessions began in the last few weeks of Jose Mourinho's reign and Shevchenko is believed to be already seeing a difference in his pace and sharpness. When he joined the club in the summer of 2006, Shevchenko brought a personal trainer with him from Italy although he has since returned. The player himself is understood to be enthusiastic about the new approach and has got on well with Campbell.
Their focus has been on the short bursts of pace which were the hallmark of Shevchenko's successful seven years at Milan. The coaching with Campbell has been in addition to the work that Shevchenko does with the rest of the first-team squad.
The use of Campbell was never really approved by Mourinho but his subsequent introduction after the departure of the Portuguese manager shows that Grant is willing to try new ideas and practices. While Mourinho was determined to control every element of the team's preparation, without interference from beyond his cabal of Portuguese assistants, Grant has been much more open-minded. With the appointment of assistant Henk ten Cate and first-team scout Michael Emenalo, his back-room team is taking shape.
Whether that will quell the dissent among certain elements in Grant's squad remains to be seen. Didier Drogba was whisked past reporters by a club official after Wednesday's defeat of Schalke 04 in the Champions League. However, Frank Lampard, another player who was among those disillusioned at the departure of Mourinho, said that the club had to keep the Ivorian if they wanted to stay in contention for the major honours.
"It is important for Chelsea that he stays," Lampard said. "Players like Didier you want alongside you. He makes his own decisions but when he is here and playing for us, even with all the controversy of the last week or two, he has put in two performances which show what he is all about.
"Didier is the best, it is as simple as that. There are different types of players, like Wayne Rooney, and absolutely fantastic, world-class players who come off defenders and score. But as an out-and-out striker there is no one better than Didier. He has an all-round game with pace, power, is a team player, scores goals with his head and holds the line.
"He is a great lad to have in the dressing room, will always fight to the end, and the way he has played in the last 18 months there is no one better in world football."
Grant will have a difficult decision to make on Michael Ballack, who looks like he may be close to a return after more than six months out with an injury to his left ankle. The German international said this week that he expected to play "this year" and has good reason to be conservative given how many set-backs he has endured in his recovery.
The 31-year-old has had two operations on his ankle and last played against Newcastle on 22 April. While he is running free of pain he is yet to test the ankle in a tackle or challenge – only then will he know whether it will hold up to the rigours of a Premier League match. The club have been very careful not to rush him back because a third operation would mean him almost certainly missing the rest of the season. However, it has not yet come to that.
In the meantime, Lampard defended Chelsea's style of football which Grant has promised to make more entertaining. "People are looking for reasons to say we are playing with more freedom because they want to say Chelsea were boring but now they are entertaining," he said.
"That's just a load of talk. We want to win, play to win – if that means good football it means good football but there is a fine line between playing with freedom and overplaying."
Results: Chelsea 1 Rosenborg 1; Schalke 04 0 Valencia 1; Rosenborg 0 Schalke 04 2; Valencia 1 Chelsea 2; Chelsea 2 Schalke 04 0; Rosenborg 2 Valencia 0.
Remaining fixtures: 6 November: Schalke 04 v Chelsea; Valencia v Rosenborg. 28 November: Rosenborg v Chelsea; Valencia v Schalke 04. 11 December: Chelsea v Valencia; Schalke 04 v Rosenborg.Reuse content