Vialli pays price in Bates' high-risk world

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The Independent Football

Anyone who read between the lines of recently printed stories suggesting that this would be a critical season for Gianluca Vialli would not have been surprised by the news of his dismissal by Chelsea yesterday.

Anyone who read between the lines of recently printed stories suggesting that this would be a critical season for Gianluca Vialli would not have been surprised by the news of his dismissal by Chelsea yesterday.

There was obviously enough going on at Stamford Bridge to excite the ferreting attention of those diligent football writers who were drawn to the scent when Chelsea's performances did not support the notion that they could buy themselves a championship.

It was clearly all or nothing for Vialli once funds were released in the summer to further strengthen a squad that was already running up one of the Premiership's highest wage bills.

Last season's victory in the FA Cup final may have provided Chelsea's chairman, Ken Bates, with an opportunity to indulge his rampant ego but it fell short of expectations that took a serious down turn with exit from the Champions' League and the poor League results that put paid to another money-spinning adventure this season.

Apart from the massive loss of revenue, Bates is a hard man to please and not slow off the mark when he feels that the time has come for affirmative action. The management of high-profile football clubs is today a high risk business with high-risk money, but in common with most of his peers Bates is unlikely to hold himself accountable for Chelsea's failure to threaten Manchester United's domination of the Premiership.

That failure is only comparative but it was becoming increasingly clear that Bates found it unacceptable.

The appointment of Vialli following the rancorous upheaval that led to the departure of Ruud Gullit (who was also moved on shortly after an FA Cup victory) was a daring move even when seen in the contest of growing foreign influence in English football.

An outstanding player who had been brought to the club by Gullit, Vialli quickly made his mark as well as a command of colloquial English. The fact that Vialli is from a rich Italian family and didn't have to worry where the next Ferrari was coming from, gave rise to the notion that he was ideally equipped to try and further Bates's ambitions.

Vialli showed plenty of tactical nous too and along with the imaginative football he encouraged Chelsea to play, football in his own image (even when it came time to hang up his boots the Italian could still provide strikers with a master class in movement), there was plenty to suggest that it was a terrific appointment.

The first cloud appeared on the horizon when Chris Sutton was unable to justify the £11m Chelsea paid to sign him from Blackburn. The more Vialli tried to justify the move, repeatedly insisting that it was only a matter of time before Sutton proved his worth, the worse things got for the striker who was sold on to Celtic during the summer.

Equally, there were the controversial selections that sprang form the rotational policy Vialli favoured. But nothing harmed Vialli's reputation more that Chelsea's miserable form in matches against teams who seemed there for the taking.

It was perplexing for Vialli and inevitably raised the suspicion that his galaxy of foreign stars - including, at the time, three members of France's 1998 World Cup team - were only seen at their best in glamorous matches.

The record signing of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink during the summer and his form against Manchester United in the Charity Shield, suggested that Vialli had acquired a key player who could extend Gianfranco Zola's career, but it wasn't long before fresh cracks were showing. Following last week's game against Arsenal, when a two-goal lead was squandered as the result of poor defending, Vialli found himself struggling for an explanation.

In not being able to provide one to satisfy Bates he may simply have told Chelsea's chairman that he is above the impossibility of football management.

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