Italians find new respect for Vialli Milan under pressure from a countryman in exile as display of tactical acumen passes examination

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The Independent Football

For Gianluca Vialli, the greatest personal pleasure following Chelsea's 5-0 demolition of Galatasaray in Istanbul on Wednesday came when he had a quiet moment to consider how the performance would have been received in his home country of Italy. With the decisive European Champions' League match against Milan coming up in the San Siro on Tuesday, he proudly predicted that "those who had no opinion on Chelsea will now have one... they are beginning to worry about us".

For Gianluca Vialli, the greatest personal pleasure following Chelsea's 5-0 demolition of Galatasaray in Istanbul on Wednesday came when he had a quiet moment to consider how the performance would have been received in his home country of Italy. With the decisive European Champions' League match against Milan coming up in the San Siro on Tuesday, he proudly predicted that "those who had no opinion on Chelsea will now have one... they are beginning to worry about us".

What Italians think of him and his decision to manage an English club about which, until recent seasons, the average Italian fan knew little is of motivating importance to Vialli. Even after Chelsea won the Cup-Winners' Cup, Italian reaction was dismissive, and not without some justification. On the way to the final Chelsea had not exactly overwhelmed Vicenza, who later finished a lowly 14th in Serie A.

It was this season's goalless draw with Milan at Stamford Bridge which did most to make Italian football followers begin to believe that Vialli the coach, rather than the player of treasured memory, was making his mark. Chelsea failed to take their chances but equally Milan had to struggle for their point. "After that they started talking seriously about us," Vialli said.

They also started talking seriously about what he might achieve if he returned home. Indeed, he has done enough for the Italian football authorities to let it be known through the "personal opinion" of their coaching organisation's vice-chairman, Azeglio Vicini, that they would be prepared to allow him back to a Serie A club without completing the usually obligatory coaching course. Their view now is that he has passed the practical examination in European competition where his tactical awareness is especially responsive to the demands of the Champions' League. His use of a squad rotation system, which was criticised last season for being the cause of unrest and inconsistent performances, is now making sense as an answer to the pressure of the extended Champions' League programme.

If Italians have been impressed by his progress since succeeding Ruud Gullit, at the same time he has been delighted to "see Chelsea getting known as one of the top clubs in Europe". Whether they can emulate their European success in future domestic seasons is largely a matter of eliminating their inconsistency - the sort of quirky post-European performance which saw them draw with Milan in September then lose to Watford on the following Saturday.

As Chelsea leave for Italy to face a Milan team whose 1-0 defeat by the group leaders Hertha Berlin again emphasised that they are not penetrating well-organised defences, Vialli is encouraged by the fact that those members of his multi-national squad who are less experienced in big European days, such as Graeme Le Saux, are learning quickly. Indeed Le Saux said that the Champions' League "adventure" this season had convinced him that visiting a place like the San Siro would not be the problem he had originally imagined "because images can often be more daunting than reality".

Chelsea can also take comfort from the fact that the European Cup hold which Italian clubs used to have over teams from Britain was well and truly broken last season by Manchester United beating Juventus and Internazionale. That, of course, has a lot to do with the way football in Britain has changed from the days when it tended to restrict itself to using British players to a time when importing many who have appeared for or against Italian clubs in Italy (the cornerstone of Chelsea's present campaign) often makes Premiership matches feel European.

Vialli is clearly excited by the possibility of seeing Chelsea beat Milan on their own ground because it would confirm his stature in his homeland. He is a rich man who will not be drawn back there by promises of further wealth, but sooner or later he is certain to return for the sake of his own pride. And if Chelsea became European champions it could be sooner rather than later, although he would rather see them win the Premiership and then the Champions' League in that order "because that way I would not feel that we got into the Champions' League without really being champions".

He accepts that this week brings a test of huge importance to himself as well as to Chelsea. "The challenge against Milan is not just about one match but going there and comparing ourselves with one of the outstanding clubs of the past 10 years". Not to speak of comparing himself with his counterpart, Alberto Zaccheroni, who reconstructed Milan last season then took them to the Serie A title. He reached the Champions' League the traditional way. Vialli envies him that.

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