x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Champions could yet rue Wilkins dismissal

The assistant coach was not the most dynamic but he found his niche at Chelsea and helped plug holes like keeping Essien in good spirits when he was down.

LONDON // When Michael Essien thudded home his second headed goal in Chelsea's 3-1 win at West Ham United at the start of September, the Ghanaian celebrated by making an immediate beeline to the bench.

Essien ran straight into the arms of Ray Wilkins, Chelsea's assistant manager.

The following week Wilkins explained that during Essien's long battle to overcome injury last season he would make sure the Chelsea midfielder did not allow himself to get too downhearted.

Essien's celebration that day at Upton Park was a mark of gratitude and respect to Wilkins, which is shared by most members of the squad.

It was a genuine shock, then, that Wilkins was sacked by the club during half time of a reserve-team match at the club's training ground on Thursday.

The decision taken by the owner Roman Abramovich and acted out by Ron Gourlay, the chief executive, could yet come back to haunt Chelsea.

Wilkins has never been the most dynamic of coaches, but he found his niche at Chelsea.

He helped plug the holes left by Jose Mourinho's departure and that of his No 2 Steve Clarke and was a steady influence during the short reigns of Luiz Felipe Scolari and the caretaker Guus Hiddink.

Wilkins's days as an AC Milan midfielder came in handy in translating for Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea's current manager, and he acted as a buffer between the players and the Italian coach. Last season he helped John Terry through his off-field problems.

However, Wilkins's role on the training ground diminishedand no doubt there are those among the backroom staff who have grown jealous of his wage - a reported £400,000 (Dh2.36 million) a year.

The saga should not stop Chelsea beating Sunderland at home today, but over the remaining campaign, Wilkins's influence could be missed by the players.

sports@thenational.ae

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