I know it seems like we’ve talked this issue to death, but after watching Chelsea dismantle Copenhagen with ease and then over-power Manchester United, I started to wonder about Ray Wilkins. The former assistant to manager Carlo Ancelotti sat in the Sky Sports studio reflecting on Chelsea’s announcement that they are not quite over-the-hill yet. He offered a diplomatic response whilst still showing unwavering affection to the team who sacked him three months previously for no real reason. The question has to be asked what could have been for Chelsea this season? They were flying at the start of the season and looked untouchable. Surely Wilkins’ dismissal and the Blues’ drop in form wasn’t just some coincidence, was it?
Many may have questioned what all the fuss was about when it was announced Wilkins would leave Stamford Bridge. After all, it wasn’t the manager of Frank Lampard being ushered away from West-London. But I think the role of assistant manager is undervalued. Take Manchester United for example. Sir Alex Ferguson is obviously very good at what he does, but United have been most successful when they’ve had a strong man behind him. In 1999, Steve McClaren joined and United went 33 games unbeaten en route to winning the treble. I’m not saying that Chelsea would have continued to win every game with Wilkins still in place, but I’d argue that they would be better off than fourth in the league with only the Champions League left to play for.
He’s a football man but more importantly, he seems a man’s man. How difficult must it be for a group of players who have to deal with managers coming and going? Stability is imperative to a successful side, even more so when a club has an owner like Roman Abramovich, who likes to freshen things up every couple of years with a complete overhaul of the management system. David James recently blogged that an assistant manager can bridge the gap between the players and the manager. Since 2008, I’d say Wilkins had done that (among other things) quite well at Chelsea, especially with all three managers being foreigners during his time at the Bridge. I know a lot of Chelsea’s squad are also from outside the home nations, but who are the most important players at Chelsea? John Terry? Or Frank Lampard perhaps? So who now has the job of effectively conveying the concerns Chelsea’s top boys have? Well, Michael Emenalo, obviously! The head opposition scout. It all makes perfect sense now…
I’m being facetious, of course. It doesn’t seem to be a move which has paid off, not until now anyway. Chelsea spent heavily in January to dig themselves out of a hole which it would seem they made for themselves. If Wilkins was still there, doing what he was so successfully doing, Chelsea could have maintained the consistency and may well be in with a shout of reclaiming the Premier League trophy. Combine the early-season Chelsea with Ray Wilkins and add David Luiz and Fernando Torres on top of that. Sounds frightening, doesn’t it?
Chelsea have identified the importance of an assistant manager, not just to the man in charge himself, but to the rest of the squad. Ancelotti et al can argue until they’re Chelsea-blue in the face that their poor form was not down to Wilkins’ departure, but really – who are they trying to fool? Ray Wilkins seemed to be the heartbeat of Chelsea. They won the league last season, so why change it?
Maybe one day we will hear the truth, because there has to be more to it. For now, Chelsea have fired a warning shot to any other club thinking that they can cut corners by getting rid of their assistant manager: Do so at your peril, Wilkins is the proof. Actually, forget that. It was just a coincidence. Right?
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