How general lost control of his troops

Alex Hayes canvasses opinions on the reasons behind the leaving of Luca
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The Independent Football

On 18 August, Gianluca Vialli made his position very clear: "The other day, I said to the players: 'Look, you are the soldiers and I am the general. We are all working for the same cause, which is the club. It just happens that I am the general, so I am the guy in charge. I make the decisions'." Three weeks on, and it appears the Italian leader finally lost control of his troops.

On 18 August, Gianluca Vialli made his position very clear: "The other day, I said to the players: 'Look, you are the soldiers and I am the general. We are all working for the same cause, which is the club. It just happens that I am the general, so I am the guy in charge. I make the decisions'." Three weeks on, and it appears the Italian leader finally lost control of his troops.

Long before the general's final confrontation, with private Zola it would seem, there had been signs of trouble. Dan Petrescu was one of the first of Chelsea's senior professionals to be pushed from the Bridge. Vialli felt that the 33-year-old Romanian defender, who has won 94 caps for his country, was a trouble-maker. "The fans wanted me to play but Vialli didn't," said Bradford's £1m summer signing.

Petrescu added: "Vialli never explained things to me but the message was obvious. Before the end of July, I got a call from Vialli to say I would not be playing. When you get a call like that there is only one thing you can do and I am glad Bradford gave me the chance to leave. I want to finish my career at Bradford now. That is what I wanted to do a Chelsea, but Vialli would not let me."

Nor, it appears, was Vialli prepared to relax his more recent tougher stance. Following Frank Leboeuf's suggestion that "Vialli has problems with everybody, with Albert Ferrer and many others", the Chelsea manager retorted: "If you make mistakes, I have got to punish you, to fine you. My job is to train you but also to make sure everybody is behaving within the rules and everybody is pulling in the same direction." The net result of Vialli's contorted explanation was that Leboeuf was fined and then dropped from the squad for 10 days.

The most recent player to be jettisoned by Vialli was Emerson Thome. The Brazilian, a £2.3m signing from Sheffield Wednesday last December, was suddenly surplus to requirements and sold to Sunderland two weeks ago. Thome denies that he ever fell out with Vialli, although he clearly fell out of favour with the Italian. "It's been said that I've been unhappy with Vialli," Thome explained, "but that's just not true. At no time have I had any cross words with anyone at the club. Chelsea and I both accepted the deal."

Thome added: "Chelsea wanted to sign Gareth Southgate and now Winston Bogarde has signed. It was therefore best for me to look forward and not spend my time fighting for a place with seven other central defenders. That's an unbelievable number of defenders to compete with."

It had been obvious for some time that several of Vialli's players no longer believed in his methods. More worrying for the 36-year-old was the fact that he was losing the support of senior figures, both on and off the pitch.

Didier Deschamps may not have had the most productive of seasons on the Fulham Road, but the former France captain is an experienced and respected campaigner with an excellent tactical understanding. "In England I had difficulty showing my qualities," admitted Deschamps, who moved to one of the new Chelsea coach, Claudio Ranieri's former clubs, Valencia, for £2.7m last month. "I arrived from Italy with techniques which were useless in England."

During the last World Cup, and again at Euro 2000, Deschamps was virtually managing France from central midfield. Final decisions rested with the coaches, Aimé Jacquet and then Roger Lemerre, but Deschamps had a pivotal role to play. In England, though, he was never allowed to express himself freely. "I felt frustrated on the pitch and in my relationship with Gianluca," he said.

Colin Hutchinson, Chelsea's managing director, is widely regarded as the club's power-broker. His opinion, therefore, counts. And, while he tolerated Petrescu's eviction, he had doubts over the Deschamps sale. "Didier is a great professional and still a very good player, as he proved in Euro 2000," Hutchinson said. "Perhaps because of the length of time he spent in Italy, he didn't adapt to the English game as well as he would have liked last year, but I still believe, if he had stayed at Chelsea, he would have done better in the coming season."

Vialli never gave Chelsea fans the chance to find out and perhapsDeschamps's most damning revelation was that he felt his one-time friend had changed. "Towards the end," he said, "our relations were difficult, or even impossible. It was hard because I had a very different opinion of Luca as a player from the coach he became. At Juventus, he was Luca; we were mates. At Chelsea, he was intent on flexing his muscles."

As Ruud Gullit, Vialli, and others such as Stuart Pearce and David Platt have found, the direct transition from player to coach is not an easy one. "It is very hard to do," Graeme Le Saux, the Chelsea defender, said. "Especially if you try to do it at the same club. It brings its own burdens with it. You have to go from being in the players' dressing room to the manager's room and I can imagine that can be a very lonely place. Luca had a lot to deal with. What he wanted was the support and understanding of the players."

For some time now, it has been evident that Vialli had neither.

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