There will be little that Henk ten Cate saw on Wednesday night to dissuade him that Chelsea is a club worth joining, although the arrival of the Dutch coach does not promise to be simple. It were ever thus at Chelsea, where they are waiting on the cooperation of his club Ajax before they can think seriously about making Frank Rijkaard's former Barcelona assistant the latest part of the new Avram Grant regime.
Ten Cate is known to be unhappy at Ajax where he has not been given the full control of player transfers that he hoped for when he joined from Barcelona in the summer of last year. He would certainly not be getting anything like that control at Chelsea but then better to be a first team coach at one of the biggest, most powerful clubs in the world than sidelined at Ajax. With Ajax playing Dynamo Zagreb in the Uefa Cup last night – and 1-0 up from the first leg – matters were understood to be coming to a head in Amsterdam.
The juggling of coaches and assistants still relies to a large extent on whether Grant's current No 2, Steve Clarke, decides to stay or try his hand as a manager elsewhere. The body language between Clarke and Grant on the recent trip to Valencia – even after the 2-1 victory – could not be described as warm and with jobs potentially likely to arise at Championship strugglers Norwich City and Southampton, Clarke's thoughts may well now lie beyond Chelsea. The club issued an edict from Roman Abramovich's office yesterday to dismiss reports that they are ready to appoint the Russia coach Guus Hiddink – sticking to the plan that they will give Grant two assistants, one British and one foreign. At the moment, Clarke occupies the former position but there are candidates already lined up to replace him, potentially the former England international Jamie Redknapp, now a Sky Sports pundit. The issue should be resolved during the international break. In the meantime, the Chelsea players spoke for the first time about life after Jose Mourinho and how they had resolved that it was time to shake off the uncertainty that his departure had left.
As they spoke in the Mestalla after Wednesday's win it seemed that their triumph owed more to an esprit de corps rather than any magic words from their new manager. After his throughball split Valencia to make Didier Drogba's winner, Joe Cole said that the performance had been a throwback to the Chelsea of old and "gutsiness and togetherness". Chelsea is not a particularly sentimental club, life changes too rapidly at Stamford Bridge for that, but after Wednesday's win the talk was of a return to core values and the realisation of the team's promise.
"That's what Chelsea is all about, that's where we've had so much success, by showing that gutsiness and togetherness," Cole said. "I love playing in a team that can show that. It felt after the game that we were really back. When I played at West Ham the situation was bad among the players, with people blaming each other. That's not the way at Chelsea. When you're out on the pitch, you've got to be a team. Those are the games I love playing in. I love playing for Chelsea when we're like that, when we're 11 brothers on the pitch, playing for each other. And that's what I play football for, to play in games like that."
Stirring stuff from Cole whose assertion that Drogba had proved himself "unplayable" against Valencia's defence was not likely to be challenged. He described the Ivorian striker as a "dream" to play with, who "does the work of two players. All of us knew we had to start looking at ourselves and we found that five or 10 per cent better that we needed to show," Cole said.
Drogba returned the compliment by revealing that the Chelsea players have nicknamed Cole "Zizou", the moniker that also belongs to the great Zinedine Zidane. It is some compliment, even more so when it is bestowed on an Englishman by foreign team-mates. Cole's relationship with Mourinho was always uneasy, despite the fact the Portuguese coach was widely credited with having turned him into a more effective player. On Wednesday night – for better or worse – he seemed to have fewer inhibitions on the ball. The last word went to John Terry who once again allied Chelsea's renaissance to the "big guys" within the squad. "There has been no major changes in the camp and that has been important," he said.
"The manager has not come in and made a complete change and he is slowly putting his tactics, feelings and thoughts into it. You deal with players coming and going, great friends like Eidur [Gudjohnsen]. I had a great relationship with the manager [Mourinho] but he has gone now. If we dwell on that, we will suffer as a team."
As for his mask, it is the latest piece of headgear that has become mandatory in the Chelsea squad. "It will take a couple of weeks to heal and I need to be careful because it [the depressed fracture of the cheekbone] can pop back in," he said. "I am ready for England and fit. I have a scan in two weeks and if it pops back in I might have it reset. I look a bit silly but I need to protect myself."Reuse content