Chelsea will appoint Henk ten Cate as their new first team coach as soon as they negotiate compensation with his current club Ajax, it emerged last night. The Dutch coach has been promised a major role under director of football Avram Grant in which he will take complete control of training sessions at the club's Cobham base.
Ten Cate's exit from Ajax was only hastened last night when the Dutch club made an embarrassingly early exit from the Uefa Cup at the hands of Dynamo Zagreb. With relations between the former Barcelona coach and his club at a new low it only remains for his agent Sigi Lens to negotiate a package with Chelsea and the two clubs to agree on compensation on the final year remaining on Ten Cate's current Ajax contract.
It has not been a hard choice for Ten Cate, 52, whose relationship with Ajax has worsened over the last month and will enjoy a significant pay increase at Stamford Bridge. He made his name as the brains behind Barcelona's Champions League triumph last year as Frank Rijkaard's assistant. As Ajax coach he lost out on the league title to PSV Eindhoven last season on goal difference. In August, Ajax were the shock losers in the Champions League qualifiers, eliminated by Slavia Prague, and now their season in European competition has gone from bad to worse. Having won 1-0 in Croatia they lost 3-2 last night and went out to Zagreb on the away goals rule.
Ten Cate was already 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. Although he does not expect that kind of influence at Chelsea, he regards the English club as a much bigger opportunity to boost his profile. As a manager of almost 20 years he has the Uefa Pro License qualifications that Grant lacks.
He has been endorsed by Chelsea's Danish chief scout, Frank Arnesen, and Roman Abramovich's personal football advisor, Piet de Visser. While regarded as an astute tactician, Ten Cate is also known as a tough taskmaster.
The juggling of coaches and assistants still relies to a large extent on whether Grant's current No 2, Steve Clarke, decides to stay at Chelsea 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, sources at the club believe Clarke will leave soon.
The club issued an edict from 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 among them that it was time to shake off the uncertainty that his departure had created. As they spoke in the Mestalla after Wednesday's win over Valencia 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's defence 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 the win on Wednesday evening 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, got to be a unit. 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. That's what Chelsea are all about. 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 praise, 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 when 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. This can be the start of our season now.
"You get on with things and deal with situations. 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 at home with the kids 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 might have to wear the mask around the house a bit and when I am around the kids, or when I go shopping. I look a bit silly but I need to protect myself."Reuse content