Friday, 12 November 2010

Bolt from the Blue

Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days: Ray enjoying a joke with Ancelotti and Terry

Yesterday evening, Chelsea Football Club announced the shock departure of Ray Wilkins as their assistant manager.

Ray was one minute putting the ground-work in at their Surrey training base in a reserve-team game with Bayern Munich, and the next being told his services were no longer required.

Senior members of the backroom staff are rightly stunned by the decision to part company with such a popular character and this is a travesty not just for Chelsea, but for the football community.

In an age where loyalty is seemingly on the wane in the game, Ray was a breath of fresh air at a club that defines everything bad about the modern game: 1. foreign ownership and 2. debts only manageable by securing ludicrous loans and qualifying for the Champions League season-in season-out.

Ray has been associated with his boyhood club on and off for 37 years and, despite Chelsea’s flirtation with countless foreign managers, he has provided a solid English pillar.

Leader of the pack: A youthful Wilkins was handed the captaincy at just 18
He made 179 appearances for Chelsea, joining them as an apprentice in 1973, and filled in as caretaker manager twice, before assuming his role as assistant manager in 2009.

To sever ties with him is saddening, while the timing sickening.

Why wait 12 games into a season before rendering his services redundant? Surly it would have been preferable for an amicable parting of the ways in the summer.

The press have come to the conclusion there must have been a falling out with the manager, Carlo Ancelotti.

Such a scenario would make sense. In his latest book, The Beautiful Game of an Ordinary Genius released in August, Ancelotti was full of praise for his assistant.

“One of the reasons I fit into the locker room was thanks to the fundamental role played by Ray Wilkins, my number two and my friend,” it reads.

“It's one thing to translate words – plenty of people can do that – but translating feelings is the gift of only a select few.

“Ray is one of those select few, always present, noble in spirit, a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins.

“Without him, we couldn't have won a thing.”

The book also states what a great bloke John Terry is.

The fact Ray is held in such high esteem by the same man who was part of consultation process to oust him is telling; so I wouldn’t get too ahead of yourself John.

So all points to a very bitter, and recent falling out.

But I believe in an all-too-sinister alternative.

Today the game is run as a business; a cut-throat industry ran as meticulously off it as on it.

If an owner pours billions into a club and is dissatisfied with even the most minute of irritants, the axe is wielded, with timing and the individual concerned barely taken into consideration.

Quite how Ray fell victim to Roman Abramovich's regime is left open to speculation.

But from the outside looking in, the way this ‘blue-blood’ has been treated is despicable, and both Ancelotti and Abramovich should hang their heads in shame at this apparent coups d'état.

Anyone who has met Ray will tell you how likeable he is and, from a football fan’s perspective, he is a rare gem.

Ray spotted collecting his Barclays Merit Award for services to CFC
He is not of the Mick McCarthy or Ian Holloway school of comedy, nor part of the cryptic crew of Messrs Cantona, Ferguson or Benítez.

But his charm offensive is unique and likeable.

His tone of voice and charisma in discussing a John Terry elbow or a Didier Drogba dive is as eloquent as if he were giving a treatise on a Monet, or a Mozart violin concerto, all while sitting back to a glass of burgundy.

Quite what his views on French impressionist painting and Classical music is anyone’s guess.

But his passion for Chelsea is insatiable and was evident not least when he acted as a judge in Sky One’s Football Icon, a nationwide talent search for the next Frank Lampard.

Ray had no obligation to get involved in such a charade, but never-the-less offered four-decades worth of experience to these kids as if they were his own.

Perhaps this paternal instinct, evident when he skippered a youthful Chelsea team to promotion in 1977 and his work under two managers for the England Under-21s, is wasted on prima donnas such as Drogba and better suited to a youth set-up.

There is no doubting should he pursue this career path next there will be no shortage of admirers.

But the way he has been treated this week by Chelsea is despicable, and should be a wake-up call for football – loyalty is not something that can be bought, nor taken for granted.

With Chelsea looking down on the Football League, flying high in Europe and with an FA Cup to defend, don’t be surprised if Karma makes a timely appearance when the pots are handed out in May.

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