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Players escape censure in latest Chelsea blame game

Slag the players, praise the opposition or blame the officials. They are the standard responses by most fans to seeing their team suffer defeat after a run of positive results. At Chelsea, it's slightly different. It seems no matter what happens they have only one reaction, and that's to doubt the ability of the manager. It's been that way for a while now.

When they were knocked out of last season's Champions League at Stamford Bridge, questions were asked as to whether the club had made any progress since Jose Mourinho's departure.

That Mourinho was in charge of the Inter side which had just beaten them made the question an obvious one, but it struck me at the time how little discussion there was on the performance of the players. It was as if it was taken for granted the players had what it took to go all the way in the competition. That they fell short yet again was immediately put down to the failings of the man in charge.

Carlo Ancelotti survived the scrutiny which followed and went on to win the double a few months later. I'm not sure whether that proves the players were indeed good enough all along or that his input made all the difference. However, the manner in which he has been spoken about during Chelsea's recent run of poor results would suggest that nobody thought it was down to him at all. It appears anything Chelsea did well was all down to the input of recently-departed coach Ray Wilkins.

Wilkins was a coach at Millwall for a few years during my time there. He is a bloke you instantly warm to and, given his playing career, one you immediately respect too. No matter what methods he introduced, if examples of how they had succeeded in the past included names such as Paolo Maldini or Franco Baresi, we did as we were instructed straight away. His ability to communicate his ideas clearly was obvious from the start, and the longer he was there, the more we thought of him.

That said, I'm surprised to hear some of what has been said recently about the pivotal role he apparently had at Chelsea, and the devastating effect his departure has had on the team. The 1-0 win at home to Bolton on Wednesday was their first victory in the Premier League in seven attempts since Wilkins left on November 11. Listening to some, you would be forgiven for wondering why he isn't in line to replace Fabio Capello.

It is difficult to imagine him falling out with anyone when you see him work as a pundit on television, but his relationship with the management at Millwall was very strained at times.

The view from the dressing room of Wilkins wasn't always the same as what can be seen from the sitting room. There were sometimes doubts as to whether his true allegiance was with those on the training ground or with the suits in the boardroom. At one point, himself and the manager were barely on speaking terms as a result.

He returned to Chelsea in September 2008 following coach Steve Clarke's decision to follow Gianfranco Zola to West Ham. Then manager Phil Scolari needed an assistant with knowledge of the Premier League who could communicate effectively with the players in a way he could not. When Guus Hiddink briefly replaced Scolari, he accepted the staff he was given because of the short-term nature of his role.

When Ancelotti arrived, Wilkins was still at the club and his grasp of Italian was no doubt an asset. The longer Ancelotti remained, though, his influence diminished over time. Despite reports to the contrary since he left, he was not the man the Italian looked to the most for assistance. That role fell to coach Paul Clement.

As far as I'm concerned, his dismissal merely coincided with their slump in form rather than being the central cause of it. The players were reportedly shocked, but that is a natural reaction to a decision no one saw coming.

Ancelotti was said to have been against it, but reportedly did nothing to prevent it. In any case, Wilkins' contract was due to expire prior to the end of this season. It is wrong to attribute so many poor results to the departure of a coach, but once again the Chelsea players have avoided the levels of scrutiny to which any of their rivals are subjected. It is perhaps a little lazy to attribute the slump to Wilkins' departure -- and dare I suggest gratifying for the English press to credit Chelsea's success to one of their own -- but it is wide of the mark.

A win this afternoon over Aston Villa would consign talk of a slump to the past. Given the inconsistencies and relative mediocrity of some of those challenging for this season's title, they know they are only a few decent results away from being talked up once again as favourites to retain their title. Wilkins won't even get a mention then.


Sunday Indo Sport