Chelsea's conniving players must be brought to heel

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The Independent Online

In today's crazy climate, the only possible way to get a star footballer to perform at or near his peak is to surround him with good players and a good coach and a sound organisation that will pay him more annually for his trouble than the majority of people make in a working lifetime.

In today's crazy climate, the only possible way to get a star footballer to perform at or near his peak is to surround him with good players and a good coach and a sound organisation that will pay him more annually for his trouble than the majority of people make in a working lifetime.

To outsiders, the essential criteria must have seemed securely in place at Chelsea with a squad that includes some of the game's leading players, a coach who went close to reaching last season's European Cup final before adding the FA Cup to four trophies won in three years while appearing to enjoy the affectionate support of an aggressively ambitious chairman.

Each of us brings our own sensibility and neuroses to the sports stadium, enabling us to find whatever we want there, from fun and games to hero and scapegoat. The latter step proved to be only a short one for Gianluca Vialli when he was fired after a meeting with Ken Bates.

Bates' insistence that the parting was amicable is all very well but if, as reported, he was acting on the belief that Vialli had lost the confidence of senior Chelsea players an important issue is being devoutly ignored. It seems to me, at least, foolish and short-sighted not to face the fact that footballers are not usually inclined to question themselves when disappointing results bring pressure to bear on their instructors.

Of course, player power is nothing new. The animosity of senior figures in Leeds United's dressing-room caused Brian Clough's downfall after only 44 days in the manager's chair.

The big thing Clough took from that disturbing experience was the determination (successfully employed when steering Nottingham Forest to a League Championship and two European Cup triumphs) to play all the angles before the angles started playing him.

All through the false-armistice excitement of Chelsea's first five matches of the season Vialli's future was the subject of malicious rumour. Significantly, the situation was not without precedent. In the 1970s it was the conniving of senior players that led to the dismissal of Dave Sexton, who had ended many years of comparatively fruitless endeavour by winning the FA Cup and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. One of his successors, John Hollins, also found himself short of support from Bates when players ganged up on him.

One thought that occurs is that the bluster of successful managers from the past would today sound quite fatuous. It was a central conviction of those men that putting trust in footballers was asking for trouble.

In any case, football management has become increasingly difficult; in the opinion of some, almost impossible. "Name me a football manager today who has all the authority of his title?" I was recently asked. "Perhaps only Graham Taylor at Watford."

It is pretty easy for players to make a manager appear sluggish in living up to the crusading promises that accompanied his appointment. Take remarks passed in the echo of Vialli's departure by Tony Banks, whose many guises include that of a professional Chelsea supporter.

Predictably, when approached for a comment, Banks eagerly revealed that Chelsea players could be heard expressing doubts about Vialli's management after the FA Cup final.

The seriousness of this event seen down the perspective of many years is that football is now totally in the grip of its investors.

Vialli's aim, the aim of all coaches, was to produce a team whose reliability, of intelligence, reaction and temperament, could be trusted most of the time, especially in a crisis. The fact that this didn't work entirely to the satisfaction of Chelsea's supporters made it easier for Vialli's employers to act upon dissent in the dressing-room.

Some managers I have spoken with have come to a shrewd conclusion about Chelsea. It is that the next man in will need to be hard. "Never mind what the players earn," one of them said. "If they don't come to heel then get rid of them." It's one way, perhaps the only way, for Chelsea to advance their lofty ambition.

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