Chelsea have moved quickly to replace departing assistant first-team coach Steve Clarke by handing former player Ray Wilkins the position. The 52-year-old will work alongside Luiz Felipe Scolari and his first task will be helping the team prepare for this weekend’s game against Manchester United.
It is, of course, not the first time that Wilkins has had a coaching role at Stamford Bridge. He was part of Gianluca Vialli’s backroom staff for two years between 1998 and 2000. Then there is his playing history at the club – he made 198 appearances for Chelsea in the 1970’s – meaning that it was presumably an easy decision for Wilkins to get back involved.
So, is it a good appointment on Chelsea’s part? Well, despite the fact that Wilkins hasn’t been involved in club football since October 2006 when he left a consultancy position at Millwall, I think it is a very wise move from Scolari and co. They have appointed a man who has vast football knowledge and plenty of coaching experience. For the players, Wilkins – who became the Chelsea captain at 18 years of age – will be someone they can truly respect. He is a likeable character and can act as the perfect go-between for Scolari and the players.
Like I have mentioned, Chelsea’s first fixture with Wilkins as their coach is against Manchester United. For Wilkins, this will seem rather ironic considering he used to play for the Red Devils after joining them from Chelsea in 1979. He will certainly see it as the perfect opportunity to get off to a good start in his new role – three points against Alex Ferguson’s men would see Chelsea remain at the top of the Premier League table.
Is this likely to happen though? Can Chelsea extend their lead over United to nine points at this early stage? Well, a look at the football odds will tell you that they are favourites to do so. A combination of home advantage and their contrasting starts to the season mean that Scolari’s men are expected to deliver the goods on Saturday.
Before placing your football bets for this weekend though, don’t rule out a Manchester United victory. They may have had a stuttering start to the new campaign, but it will only take one excellent result to get them back to playing the football they produced last season. That’s my opinion anyway. It would be very typical of Manchester United if this victory came at Stamford Bridge against their biggest rivals for the Premier League title.
One factor that suggests United could upset Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season is the return of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger returned from injury in the Champions League during midweek and has an outside chance of starting at Stamford Bridge. That would be a real boost for Ferguson as would the return of Dimitar Berbatov who missed the 0-0 draw against Villarreal with a knee injury. Should Ferguson have the former Tottenham striker at his disposal as well as Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, he will certainly expect his team to test Chelsea’s defence.
It’s a case of wait and see for now though as a Ray Wilkins influenced Chelsea get ready to face a Manchester United team that is well overdue a good performance. Who are you backing?
Thomas Rooney – Professional Sports Writer