Italian charm offensive signals Chelsea changes

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The former England manager Don Revie once said (before absconding to Dubai) that loyalty and respect were the most important qualities a manager could command.

The former England manager Don Revie once said (before absconding to Dubai) that loyalty and respect were the most important qualities a manager could command.

They were certainy conspicuous by their absence in the downfall of Gianluca Vialli, and his successor, Claudio Ranieri, hinted at why when the new Chelsea manager was presented to the media yesterday.

Though nothing less than complimentary about his predecessor and compatriot, as both a man and a footballer, Rainieri made it clear what he felt about Chelsea's recent habit of trying to turn former players, albeit great ones, into managers overnight.

Speaking through an interpreter - Ranieri does not yet know any English - he said: "It is difficult to be one day a team-mate and the next a manager. Whether you like it or not it is very difficult to share the same banter (with the players) any more. It takes an incredibly clever bunch of people to be able to adjust to such a dramatic change."

Apparently, Ranieri had rung Vialli to discuss Chelsea and, according to the new man, Vialli was complimentary about both the playing staff and the Chelsea management. "He's an exceptional man - not just a great player," he added.

It was a polished performance by Ranieri. He said all the right things - or at least his intepreter did - while giving little away. He did crack the odd joke, though, which helped endear him to his audience. When asked if he was concerned that Chelsea had had eight managers in 12 years, he replied: "In Italy there's eight in a year."

It is doubtful, though, whether he will be as popular a figure as Vialli, but, as Vialli's fate proved, popularity is no guarantee of success. Indeed, it can be a positive incumbence as a manager.

He did let on that some things will change. There was no mention of double training sessions, which are apparently on the new agenda, but Vialli's former assistants, Graham Rix and Ray Wilkins, were clearly peripheral figures during training yesterday and Ranieri concurred that "they won't be doing exactly the same job as they have been doing".

Ranieri has brought over his own right-hand man, Salvatore Antenucci, from Italy. But Wilkins' knowledge of Italian, if nothing else, should come in handy for the time being, though.

He concurred with Arsÿne Wenger's view that to win the Premiership the backbone of the side should be British, but putting such a theory into practice, he may find - as Vialli did - is problematical, given the dearth of home-grown talent.

He was not a great fan of the rotation policy, which Vialli favoured so often: "If a player is in good form he will be in the team," he said. "It doesn't seem right to me to drop a player when he's playing well. It's logical if a team plays the same 11, 12 and 13 players they will know how to play with each other from memory."

Of course, whether he will still be of the same view when the games are coming thick and fast in an English season and on top of European involvement is another matter.

On that same subject, he declined to say whether he thought Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Gianfranco Zola - two players with whom he has already worked with at former clubs - were a natural pairing, only that Tore Andre Flo was a player he had always admired.

He may overstepped the diplomacy, though, when, asked if he had any problems conversing with Dennis Wise, he replied: "No, he is a very intelligent person - we communicate with our eyes". I suppose it makes sense to be well in with a player who may have the ear of the chairman.

At least he was right about one thing, when he conceded that Chelsea were a long way behind Manchester United in terms of spirit and determination. Just how far behind he will find out this Saturday when he takes his new side to Old Trafford. A baptism of fire? "No, it will be a very beautiful experience." We shall see.