“Really Watson, you excel yourself. I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.” – Sherlock Holmes, while talking to his assistant Doctor Watson.
Clearly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character was a nonpareil genius; however, even he needed someone as reliable as Watson to assist him during their various escapades in London. Back then, the author, by his literary mastery, gave his main protagonist a trustworthy ally. Today, Chelsea Football Club must present their new manager, whoever he may be, his own Watson.
The job of an assistant manager is not a glamorous one – he has to work under the shadow of the manager, who enjoys all the attention and gets to make most of the decisions. However, the role is of paramount importance, undeniably. An ideal candidate is someone who understands the club, who knows the first team, who can act as a bridge between the players and the manager, who is confident enough to provide second opinion to the boss, who is experienced enough to handle the demanding job but humble enough to work in the background, and most importantly who can serve as a perfect foil to the manager, come rain or shine.
The last decade was the most successful one for Chelsea in its 106 year old history. A lot is attributed to the owner or to the managers, but is it a mere co-incidence that the three titles were won when there was a stable managerial team at the helm, be it Jose-Clarke or Ancelotti-Wilkins? In all likelihood, no.
“Steve Clarke is a man who knows every player in English football. So if I’m before the game and I have the sheet of the opponents and there comes the subs – who is this player? He knows this player is from the academy, he has 179 centimeters, he is fast, he is slow, he is fat. He knows everything about that. He is someone I enjoy to speak with because he always has an opinion. Sometimes it’s not mine, but he always has an opinion and the reasons for his opinion.” – Jose Mourinho on Steve Clarke, in 2005.
“Ray was a fantastic assistant coach – I want to say thanks to him because he was a fantastic support last season and this season. He did a fantastic job and helped me and all the team to win the Double, so the first thing is to say a lot of thanks to him. He is my friend, I have a fantastic relationship with him and I will have a fantastic relationship with him. He knew very well English football and has a lot of experience as assistant. His job he did very well.” – Carlo Ancelotti on Ray Wilkins, after the latter was fired.
Knowing the importance of the role and the part played by Steve Clarke and Ray Wilkins in previous title-winning campaigns, we look at a few coaches who have the caliber to serve as an Assistant Manager for Chelsea FC.
Rarely there have been players, especially foreigners, who have earned the respect of not just the fans but also of the rivals. Gianfranco Zola is one such special player. Zola, who was voted the most popular player to ever play for Chelsea, carved out a place for himself in the heart of every Chelsea fan. His return, whenever that happens, would be a a fulfillment of a romantic dream – a dream that would see the legend return home.
“At the moment I am coaching the Italian Under-21s, and enjoying it very much. Will I come back to Chelsea? We’ll see. I think so. I think sooner or later I’ll have a go. He (Abramovich) did meet me in Sardinia and made a couple of offers to me to come back and work for Chelsea. I was very flattered. I said to him that I care about this club very much, and when I do come back, I want to do something very valuable. I am getting the (coaching) knowledge so one day I can do something important for the club.“
Zola said this in 2008, when he was still with the Italy under-21 side; thereafter, he took up the West Ham job but was sacked despite managing to keep the Hammers in the Premiership – a job at which his successor Avram Grant miserably failed last season. In successive campaigns, both the managers had to deal with unsupportive owners and board, but Zola still managed to fair much better than Grant.
THT Verdict: The Italian is out of job, and is the perfect candidate to fill the void that still remains after the departures of first Steve Clarke and then Ray Wilkins. As an assistant to the eventual manager, Zola would have the luxury to work without the continuous media spotlight. He would be at a place, where he is dearly loved and respected. He has played in the league for 7 years and knows what it takes for a player to succeed in English football. Also, the West Ham experience would have taught him invaluable lessons in football management. After a spate of unpopular decisions, the club hierarchy has a chance to make an extremely popular appointment.
Roberto Di Matteo
Robbie, as he was adoringly called, is another fan-favorite. After arriving at the West London club in 1996 from Lazio, he became a part of the Chelsea folklore by virtue of his goals in the cup finals, memorable celebrations, and charming demeanor, both on and off the pitch. His career was cut short after suffering a triple-leg fracture and had to retire at a young age of 31.
He began his managerial career with a job at MK Dons in 2008 and led them to a third place finish in League 1, only to lose 6-7 to Scunthorpe in the play-off for the promotion. Thereafter, he was hired by West Brom to guide them to Premiership, and he did just that in his first season in-charge. He brought a refreshingly new approach to Midlands as he molded his team to be comfortable on the ball and play football on the ground, and he became very popular. West Brom began well in the top flight, but after a string of poor results, he was surprisingly replaced by Roy Hodgson. During his tenure, he wasn’t afraid to look at lower divisions or lesser known leagues for players and one of his signings, Peter Odemwingie, played a crucial role in eventually taking the club to safety in the league.
THT Verdict: Robbie is another candidates who would be welcomed back by the fans with open arms. Not just that, he was an intelligent footballer – something which reflects in his management. He is a confident man, who is tactically sound and would bring a fresh approach to the table. The only hindrance may be his ambition – he may not want to become someone else’s assistant. However, the job may present an ideal opportunity for Di Matteo to learn from someone senior to him.
Zola and Di Matteo – The Legends
If the first two candidates were popular choices because of their time at Chelsea, this one offers a stark contrast – the one time attacking left-back made 297 appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in a career spanning 360 football league games. After retiring in 1993, he has been a part of the Tottenham, Newcastle and Republic of Ireland’s coaching staff, before taking over the Newcastle job in 2009-10. He took over the the Magpies in the Championship and led them straight back to the Premier League by winning the second division emphatically. Back in the Premiership, Newcastle looked at home. They defeated Aston Villa 6-0 in the first home game, won at Arsenal, eliminated Chelsea from the League Cup at Stamford Bridge and outclassed local rivals Sunderland 5-1.
It was due to his calm man-management skills that he was able to get the best out of volatile characters such as Joey Barton. He believed in talented yet fringe players such as Andy Carroll, and backed them to realize their true potential. He signed unknown players such as Ivory Coast international Cheik Tioté, who can be considered as one of the signings of the season.
Despite all this, he was shockingly fired in December, 2010, and is presently out of job.
THT Verdict: For long, he has been considered as one of the best young coaches in the country. He is experienced, and is known for his calm, soothing presence in the dressing room, and his man-management skills. Hughton would be a welcome addition to the coaching staff – the manager and the players would certainly benefit from his presence.
Sometimes, when we strive too hard to find a solution elsewhere, we may overlook someone or something, which has been here all along. Paul is the brother of Chelsea academy product Neil Clement and his association with the club dates back to 1995, when he joined the academy’s coaching ranks. In 2000, he moved across the road to Fulham, to coach their under-16 team, in addition to serving as an assistant manager of Republic of Ireland’s under-21 team. After a six year gap, Clement returned to Stamford Bridge and took over the under-16s here. Over the last five years, his reputation has only grown and he has risen through the coaching ranks at the club.
In 2009, when Guus Hiddink replaced Luis Scolari, Paul was promoted to work with the first team squad – a role which he retained under Carlo Ancelotti as well.
“He has fantastic experience because he was a teacher at our school, he has great ability to speak with the players, his experience with the academy was very good because he had a lot of exercises to propose to the players. Last year was the first time I worked with him, and he will be a fantastic coach in the future. Technically he is able to explain exercises in training well, and he gets his point across.” – Ancelotti, while speaking about Clement.
THT Verdict: Paul is not someone who’s had a distinguished playing career. In fact, he started coaching at a very young age. It has been seen in the world of football that even such men can become wonderful coaches; ergo, Chelsea should retain him as part of the first team coaching staff and let him gain more experience. He has worked with almost all the young players at the club very closely, so will be of great help to the manager.
Apart from these coaches, there are two other men Chelsea can look at – one is former Liverpool assistant Phil Thompson and the other is present Aston Villa youth team coach Tony McAndrew. Thompson was offered a role at Aston Villa in September last year by his erstwhile boss Gérard Houllier, but he turned it down due to family constraints, while McAndrew, although being vastly experienced, hasn’t really worked with a first team before.
Finally, Chelsea Football Club has two alternatives for the coaching team –
1) If a Director of football is appointed, then get a younger manager who is eager to learn and promote Paul Clement as an assistant manager.
2) If a Director of football is not appointed, get an experienced manager and a reliable assistant, while retaining Paul Clement as a first team coach.
Eventually, it may all come down to one man and the position he takes at The Bridge.