Alex Dunn feels Chelsea might rue taking out Ray Wilkins in a style more clinical than a Mafioso hit.
Chelsea's decision to axe Ray Wilkins despite sitting top of the table on the back of winning the league last season surprised many. Alex Dunn feels his role at Stamford Bridge might have been undervalued
As Carlo Ancelotti's trusted consigliere Ray Wilkins will have been used to administering horses' heads in the beds of enemies but last week it was he who got whacked as Chelsea carried out his hit with clinical efficiency.
In Mafioso folklore the role of the consigliere was popularized in 1969 with the publication of Mario Puzo's career defining novel The Godfather
. As a trusted advisor and counsellor to a mafia don the consigliere provides a link between the boss and his subordinates.
At Stamford Bridge it was widely considered Wilkins suited the role perfectly; a popular figure with both players and coaching staff who alongside Ancelotti had helped end Manchester United's monopoly of Premier League titles since Jose Mourinho departed West London in 2007.
The best hits, at least in the movies, are always the least expected and so it proved last week when Wilkins was summoned into the office of chief executive Ron Gourlay and informed his contract would not be renewed. Neither he nor the players saw it coming. There hasn't been a hit as ruthless as this since Tony suffocated nephew and protégé Christopher Moltisanti in the final series of The Sopranos
As a former captain and coach at Chelsea, and widely regarded as one of the nicest men in the game, the club's decision to remove him - with immediate effect - is a PR disaster straight from the Peter Kenyon manual of business management. For a man nicknamed 'the Crab' during his playing days it might have been advisable for the club to have moved him sideways into another role rather than have him swim with the fishes in concrete boots.
While the decision has been shrouded in a veil of silence it is believed Wilkins was deemed surplus to requirements as Ancelotti's competent grasp of English meant a role he also served under Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink was becoming more and more peripheral.
Ancelotti is renowned for being hands on in terms of coaching and thus it is claimed Wilkins was also doing less on the actual training fielding, with the Italian's trusted confidant Bruno Demichelis taking on a more prominent role in team affairs.
In his recently published autobiography Ancelotti praised Wilkins' contribution since he arrived in the capital as being invaluable, even saying how Chelsea 'would have won nothing' without him. Talk about sleeping with one eye open.
Earlier this week he added: "I want to say one thing. Ray was a fantastic assistant coach - I want to say thanks to him because he was a fantastic support last season and this season. He did a fantastic job and helped me and all the team to win the double, so the first thing is to say a lot of thanks to him. He is my friend, I have a fantastic relationship with him and I will have a fantastic relationship with him."
In a newspaper column this morning Mark Bright recalled how in his playing days assistant managers were often referred to as 'The BBC' - bibs, balls and cones - but only egotistical managers and ignorant players fail to understand the role involves much more than perfunctory tasks.
Phil Neal's 'yes boss' catchphrase as assistant to Graham Taylor when England slumped so disastrously in the 1992 European Championship recounted The Office's
Gareth's predilection to miss out 'to the' when referring to himself as assistant regional manager, but it would be wrong to tar the profession with a single brushstroke of a man with less backbone than a colony of ants.
Perhaps the greatest assistant manager of them all was Peter Taylor. It would be an overstatement of gargantuan proportions to claim Wilkins was Taylor to Ancelotti's Clough but to look at their relationship is to understand the mechanics of a partnership in full working order.
Taylor never achieved anything like the same level of success as a manager as he did as an assistant and as for Brian Clough when he went solo...we all know what happened at Leeds United. 44 days and counting.
The best assistants, the best consiglieres, work in the background but are never afraid to come to the foreground when the occasion demands it. Clough once said 'I'm not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back'.
While his words were widely interpreted to have described how Taylor was a man who he trusted implicitly at identifying which players he needed to buy, it was an analogy that worked on many other levels. Taylor's man-management skills were second to none and while Clough ran the dressing room with an iron first, Taylor was the velvet glove within it. An approachable man who the players loved Taylor could smooth Clough's rough edges to make for a happy football club and more importantly, a winning one.
It is here where Chelsea may have lost sight about what Wilkins' role within the set-up really was. He may not have been needed to help interpret his manager's vision on the training field anymore or even needed to do much coaching, but he was a confidant to more than just Ancelotti.
Petr Cech has claimed Wilkins' departure had absolutely nothing to do with Chelsea's shock home defeat to Sunderland but captain John Terry's programme notes from the same game are both candid and telling.
"Ray's been brilliant since he came in, from day one, not only as a coach but as a man as well. Ray was a great person to have around the football club. He would pick you up when you were down."
Wilkins has neither the charisma nor power that Taylor held at a football club while working alongside Clough but what he did have was respect from both those above and below him. And that's not an easy feat to pull off.
In The Godfather
, Robert Duvall's character Tom Hagen is consigliere to Marlon Brando's Don Vito Corleone but when Al Pacino's Michael takes over as head of the family he demotes his father's right hand man, moving him to Las Vegas, saying 'things are going to get rough, and I need a wartime consigliere'. By The Godfather Part II
he has been reinstated after Michael realises it's a case of better the devil you know when it comes to positions of trust.
On Sunday, alone in the dugout with only his thoughts for company, Ancelotti might just have wished for an Englishman to fill the most Italian of roles.
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