In the seventies, Tommy Docherty released a book titled ‘I gave them the Cup, they gave me the sack’, referring to the end of his time in charge of Manchester United. Keep an eye on your local bookstore, because Gianluca Vialli could well feel entitled to pen a similar tome.
Yes, the Italian’s reward for a season of commendable Champions League progress - a top five Premiership finish and an FA Cup triumph - was five League games at the beginning of the new campaign, one win, one defeat and three draws.
Chelsea has long retained the ability to surprise — the dismissal of Ruud Gullit and appointment of Vialli being one example. But between them they assembled perhaps the most formidable Stamford Bridge outfit of modern times. In the late eighties and early nineties, the west London ground could charitably be described as a crumbling wreck, in marginally worse shape than the team.
It would have been impossible to even speculate that the likes of Zola, Desailly, Deschamps and Weah would be strutting their stuff at the venue not too far down the track.
It was much adored former Spur Glenn Hoddle who first gave fans license to think the unthinkable during his spell in charge from 1993 to 1996. Hoddle’s persuasion of Gullit to swap Serie A for SW6 set in motion a player import business that is still showing no signs of abating. Exceptional foreign players have exceptional foreign contacts and Gullit proved to have the Pied Piper effect, especially when he succeeded Hoddle.
The Bridge was gradually transformed from ramshackle terraces to shiny seats, hotels, swanky apartments and fish restaurants. More importantly, the fare on the pitch was just as palatable as the cuisine in the eating houses.
Gullit presided over a FA Cup triumph in 1997 but was deemed to be past his sell by date in February of the following year. Amid a media feeding frenzy he was replaced by Vialli in an acrimonious episode of claim and counter claim.
It was Vialli who really converted the investment into silverware and continued to attract friends in high places to the club. Five pots entered the Chelsea cabinet during the reign of the affable Italian.
It was after the latest of their cup exploits that the cracks began to show in the Vialli regime. Heading into a Wembley Cup final against Aston Villa, the popular press brimming with stories of discontent. The foreign legion was on the point of splintering and a new crop would be assembled for the next campaign. The stars, it was said, could not hack it playing against teams in the lower reaches of the Premiership and were far more at home in the San Siro or Nou Camp.
The predicted break-up never really happened. Didier Deschamps departed along with Chris Sutton, but goods in included Mario Stanic, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen. It was a big outlay that didn’t pay instant dividends. Vialli payed.
In came Claudio Ranieri, another Italian, and it is to early to judge whether he is the man to guide Chelsea to the promised land of the Premiership title. An early exit from the UEFA Cup at the hands of St Gallen did not bode well but, in fairness, Ranieri has yet to wave the chequebook in the manner of his predecessors.
Spurs have not won in 22 games against Chelsea — so it’s time for another change at the Bridge.