The announcer at Reading on Saturday could be forgiven his apparent inferiority complex prior to his team's friendly against Chelsea. "Welcome to Elm Park as the Royals take on the rest of the world," was his opening gambit.
The visiting team started with six foreign internationals, including two Italians, a Frenchman, a Romanian, a Uruguayan and a Dutchman. In addition, Ruud Gullit will have at least five more foreign players at his disposal (including himself) by the time the season proper starts with the Charity Shield in a fortnight's time.
Not on display were the Nigerian winger Celestine Babayaro (out with a knee strain), Guadeloupe-born Bernard Lambourde (groin problem), Norwegian goalkeeper Frode Grodas (away on international duty), and Tore Andre Flo, his 24-year-old countryman and wonderstriker, due at Stamford Bridge on 4 August and touted as the man to understudy Mark Hughes.
Not that Chelsea are replacing every home nations player with one from abroad. Five of Saturday's squad, including Frank Sinclair, Paul Hughes and the lively Jon Harley, are products of the club's youth programme. In addition, they have an emerging international in the 17-year-old Jody Morris, absent and resting after playing in every game for England during this summer's Under-20 World Cup in Malaysia. But, undoubtedly, the attention on Saturday was on the foreigners.
Unfortunately, the first half of this encounter was still contested with a lack of passion typical of an English pre-season friendly. "You can't expect too much in the first half," said Gullit afterwards, pointing out that his squad had only been back in training for a week, and that it would take some time for his united nations side to adjust to the English game.
One still settling is the 6ft 6in Dutch international keeper, Ed De Goey, signed for pounds 2.25m from Feyenoord over the summer. Two minutes inside the second half, his awry punched clearance allowed Darren Caskey to put Reading ahead from close range.
However, before the Reading supporters had a chance to think the foreign legion were fallible after all, Robert Di Matteo fed an exquisite pass to Gianfranco Zola on the left edge of the box, and the mini-maestro slotted the ball home off the post.
Seven minutes later, Chelsea took the lead courtesy of another Italian job, this time initiated by Gianluca Vialli. Bought on at half-time to replace an ineffectual Mark Hughes, Vialli intercepted a wayward Reading header in the centre circle and lobbed a through ball to the feet of Zola, 20 yards from goal. With all the cool in the world, Zola walked the ball into the box, shimmied past Reading's Australian defender, Andy Bernal, and then paused momentarily to choose his precise spot before rifling the ball low past a helpless Steve Mautone.
Gullit, understated as ever, said he thought his side had "done OK" and that he had been satisfied with Zola's performance. He conceded that one reason 11,000 people might have been drawn to a friendly in mid-July, on albeit a glorious sunny afternoon, was the exotica that is his imports. "All these players from Europe - people are curious and it's a good thing in general," he said. On this evidence, it certainly is.
Goals: Caskey (48) 1-0; Zola (49) 1-1; Zola (56) 1-2.
Reading (4-4-2): Mautone; Booty, Bodin, Bernal, McPherson; Parkinson (Freeman, 46), Meaker, Caskey (Houghton, 68) Roach; Holsgrove, Lambert (Smith, 81). Substitutes not used: Thorp, Swales, Hammond.
Chelsea (4-3-3): De Goey (Hitchcock, 63); Petrescu, Granville, Sinclair, Lebeouf; Clarke (Harley, 46), Poyet, Di Matteo; P Hughes (Nicholls, 54), M Hughes (Vialli, 46), Zola. Substitutes not used: Myers, Richardson.
Man of the match: Zola.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Attendance: 10, 973.Reuse content