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D. Chelsea History (2000-2002)

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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Chelsea History (2000-2002)

Written by Gullit4 in July 2007

jimmy1.jpg Summer 2000 - while Kevin Keegan was showing the world just how far “passion” could take the English national side, Gianluca Vialli, Chelsea manager and respected bald man, was planning for the season ahead. In the Gullit / Vialli era, two of the more persistent criticisms of our side were the lack of a genuine goal scorer up front, and the age of the side. These were areas that Vialli looked to improve upon, and he was certainly backed with cash- around £30m was spent that summer. Replacing the outgoing Chris Sutton came former Leeds man Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for a cool £15m (then equalling the British transfer record), who had managed the humorous feat of getting relegated with Atletico Madrid despite being the top scorer in the Spanish League.

Though no major trophies and a sixth place finish sounds uneventful, the truth is quite different. The season started with a thoroughly convincing charity shield win over Manchester United, thanks to a debut goal from Jimmy and a second from Mario Melchiot before best selling author Roy Keane was shown a straight red. This victory was significant because it raised expectations- it convinced more fans that this could be our year. Of course, it wasn’t, and unfortunately didn’t take too long for us to find ourselves once again fighting for a European place.

luca1.jpg On the 12th of September 2000, Luca’s time at Chelsea was up. Amidst rumblings of dressing room discontent the Blues managed only one win in their first five matches, with perhaps the soul destroying loss to Bradford the final straw. Vialli represented Chelsea with distinction, both as a player and a manager, and I always felt there was a disarming humility to him. He is now a season ticket holder and has admitted to going in the Bridge in disguise while Ranieri was manager, so he wouldn’t appear to undermine Claudio. Class! What remains inexplicable is why Ken Bates, frozen fish salesman and then Chelsea chairman, backed a manager so heavily in the summer only to sack him very early in the season. Opinion is still split of Luca’s dismissal, some still cannot understand it ("Ken Bates does not know the meaning of gratitude. He is arrogant and has made a mistake." - Perluigi Casiraghi), some people think it was on the cards ("There are five players I've spoken to who have told me he's not very good at communicating.” -The late Tony Banks MP) - what I am sure of is that he can be pleased with what he did achieve here.

It was only days before Ken Bates appointed a new manager, with Claudio Ranieri joining the club on the 15th of September 2000. Ranieri actually joined as the “head coach”, which inferred a change in management structure. Outside of Britain, head coaches are commonplace - clubs will often have a head coach in charge of first team affairs and then often either a sporting director, who will buy players for the manager, or a general manager who will handle administration. Bates, known as a hands on sort of chairman, took on part of the general manager role, along with Colin Hutchinson and Gwynn Williams.

Ranieri was a coach with a good background in building sides, and someone who took sides with similar domestic profiles to Chelsea (I would argue Fiorentina and Valencia fit the bill - sides known in their country as big, ambitious clubs but not necessarily traditional powerhouses).

ranieri1.jpg Ranieri’s first game in charge was only away to Manchester United, but a strong performance led to his side sharing the points in a 3-3 draw, featuring a memorable volley from Hasselbaink. Many people were sceptical of Claudio for some time- why was a manager who could not speak English hired when one of the reasons Luca was sacked was apparent poor communication? Why did we hire a manager who hadn’t won many major trophies? Why is Dennis Wise at left back… again? It took a lot of time for Claudio to win the majority over, but slowly, slowly no, we arrive in a good moment, together with all our hearts.

Looking back at the season, the final major point to remember was another lowlight - in the away leg of a disappointing UEFA Cup appearance (underachieving in this tournament was an unfortunate habit for Ranieri’s side) against Swiss side St. Gallen, Roberto Di Matteo, he of those cherished cup final goals, classy celebrations and socks pulled up over his knees, sustained a triple leg fracture. For a year and a half, he struggled to regain fitness, before finally accepting his career was over. Retrospectively, you can see the bitter irony in that Robbie ended his career in the same country he began it. Roberto was one of my favourite players, he scored great goals (42 seconds), made great goals (ten minutes to go in the San Siro) and was arguably the first major international player (in the post Hoddle era) to join the club in his peak- but what I liked most was how willingly he adapted to English culture -and Dennis Wise’s phrasebook!

The summer of 2001 surely did not help Claudio in the popularity stakes, but it was something that had to happen sooner or later- Ranieri was brought in to build a new, younger side, in his image. Chelsea under Gullit and Vialli was a side built to play short passing, with players running into space. It was very attractive, and it brought trophies. The transfer policy of that era was to buy players with experience and a history of winning things. Unfortunately, it didn’t bring us the league, and perhaps Ken Bates felt a different approach was needed- this time we looked for players who were younger, fitter, faster and hungry for success- a side that could gel together over years.

dennis%20fighting.gif Of course, to do this, some players had to leave, and some of those players were immensely popular, including outright legend and Black Cab aficionado Dennis Wise, who left after about a decade of fine service and way to many memories to talk about here - when he returned to the Bridge, playing for Leicester, he was booed affectionately every time he got the ball and spent the whole game trying to wind up our players.

Also set to return to boos, albeit of a less affectionate variety, was Gustavo Poyet, who joined Tottenham. Gus didn’t want to leave London, where his family were settled, and after he retired he insisted he thought our rivalry with Leeds was greater (this was before he became assistant manager of Leeds!). Frank Leboeuf left for Marseille after being edged out by a youngster named John Terry after Ranieri joined. Kevin Hitchcock also departed; the legendarily loyal keeper swapped our bench for Watford’s, only this time he would be a coach.

lamps1.jpg That Great Chelsea midfield of Petrescu, Wise, Di Matteo and Poyet was truly a thing of the past now, and as such, it was time for new players to take their place. In arrived Frank Lampard Jr. the young English midfielder joined from West Ham for what was then seen as a somewhat extortionate £11m. He was known to score about 10 goals a season and be fairly average aside from that. His transformation into the player he is today was one of the most significant contributions made by Claudio Ranieri.

Jesper Gronkjaer, an extremely quick winger had already joined last season for almost £8m, and he was joined by another winger, Dutchman Bolo Zenden, and French Midfielder Emmanuel Petit, both signing from Barcelona for a combined fee of around £15m. Finally, exceptional defender and whiner extraordinaire William Gallas moved in the opposite direction of Leboeuf for £6.2m after surprisingly falling out with his previous club.

desailly.gif While the midfield shuffled about for most of the season, with Lampard playing on the right more often than not and injuries sustained to our wingers, Le Saux often combined with Babayaro down the left flank, and in defence Marcel Desailly, newly appointed skipper having to fight for his place with JT and the versatile Gallas, one area of the Chelsea line up was consistent throughout the season- the strikers. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen struck up a partnership in 2001-2002 that was rightly feared across the country.

There are few things better in football than when you get players who can play together intuitively, and their partnership was as natural as you could ask for. They were so dangerous together perhaps because of how different they were - Jimmy was about pace, strength, running onto passes and finishing while Eidur complemented him perfectly, blending his passing, vision and guile with a knack for goals as well. In many games where we did not play well, their partnership would come to the rescue and all told Jimmy hit 29 goals and Eidur 23, and the majority of those goals came from one creating the chance for the other.

petit.gif Controversy never seems far away from The Blues at the best of times, and upon our latest Uefa Cup draw, it was obvious that we weren’t in for a smooth ride this time. We had drawn Hapoel Tel Aviv, an Israeli side. Given the political troubles in the Middle East, the Club was concerned about the safety of its staff and so gave the option to players to choose whether they would fly out to Israel or stay at home. Six players chose not to go; something which the typically even handed British press decided was a treacherous act of bottling. Despite what was obviously a conclusion arrived at thanks to meticulous research, most newspapers managed to miss the fact that of the six that did not go, most had young children or were expecting children. It’s still quite a sore thing for me to look back on, as after that I noticed British sides scheduled to play in Israel would play on Neutral grounds instead. Bottlers.

(As if I needed to mention, we were knocked out by the minnows. Again.)

After an unbeaten 26 match run against Spurs, it all came crashing down. In the second leg of the Worthington Cup semi final, Tottenham beat us 5-1, winning the tie 6-3. For the fans this was probably the lowest point since we were last relegated. I’m not especially superstitious (I KNOW that stuff is nonsense), but that was the first and last time I’ll listen to us play on the radio. Never again. To make matters worse Gustavo Poyet, according to many Chelsea fans that were there, and who I believe, kissed their badge directly in front of the Chelsea end. Now Gus was a fiery type of person at the best of times, and given that I was not there I can forgive the act and put it down to a “spur of the moment” (if you’ll pardon that unfortunate pun) thing. However, had I been there I honestly think my feelings would be different. I don’t like thinking back that night (I like to repress it like Loz does his childhood).

guddy.gif The good thing about that night is it made our next couple meetings with Spurs all the more sweet. In the space of 3 days, we were due to play Spurs twice. The first game would be in the FA cup, at their place, and then we would play them at home in the league. Spurs fans are famed for their delusion, but you could almost understand their confidence going into the double header. The plan would be to knock us out of another cup and crow about it at the bridge (I’m reminded of this QPR fan in High School who could never remind me enough about that time they beat us 3-1… in a friendly). Of course, it didn’t happen. What did happen was a 4-0 thrashing, featuring 2 goals from Eidur - oh and that git Tarrico came on and promptly got sent off. He really was crap, wasn’t he?

Well, at least Tottingham had a chance to make amends, even if they weren’t on there way to Wemblee. Of course, it didn’t happen. What did happen was a 4-0 thrashing, featuring a perfect hatrick from Hasselbaink (right foot, head and left foot). Chelsea went on to the FA cup final, Spurs lost the Worthless cup final to a side managed by Graeme Souness (say no more), and requested that they be moved to a league where they would not have to concede an annual six points to the mighty Blues. I send them my best wishes in their quest to reach the Championship. Normal service had truly been resumed.

di%20matteo1.jpg In the build up to the FA cup final in Cardiff, we had two major injury worries. The first was John Terry, and the second Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, both struggling to be fit in time. On the day, Claudio broke the bad news to JT- he would be on the bench. Jimmy meanwhile, would start. It was during this season that Robbie D had confirmed his retirement, which looked like an increasing inevitability.

Claudio Ranieri will always be remembered as a top guy, and he proved it by having Di Matteo lead out the boys for the final. Arsenal had just won the league and they were favourites to complete the double.

At the end of the game, I felt numb - we turned in a strong performance in the final, Marcel was fantastic and in my opinion we were more than a match for them. Unfortunately Jimmy was visibly out of condition and their sharpness told, with long range goals from Ray (jammy) Parlour and Ljungberg completing a 2-0 loss. No one really spoke on the way home. We still had a game left in the league, against villa at home, which we lost. But mentally the fans and the players had finished the season the week before.

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