… That Glenn Hoddle taught the team to play.
OK, maybe not quite true and probably not the best adaptation of a Beatles lyric ever made, however you get the point. That’s right folks, it’s 20 years this month since Glenn Hoddle left newly promoted Swindon to take over at Chelsea for the 1993-94 season. Replacing interim manager (where have we heard that before?) David Webb, Hoddle came with a reputation as one of the most gifted players of his generation who had got his Swindon team playing attractive, flowing football – something that had been a rarity for a few seasons at Stamford Bridge. Taking over a moderately gifted squad, it was obvious that while the team had potential, an injection of quality was needed to really take the team forwards.
Things started promisingly enough in the the Makita tournament in a sound thrashing of Spurs at White Hart Lane in pre-season to capture the coveted(?) trophy. Despite a slow start in the league with a 1-2 defeat at home to an emerging Blackburn Rovers side who would go on to push Manchester United for the title that season, it was obvious a pattern had been established where the football was easier on the eye with more thought given to the play. This was obvious in an excellent display at home to league champions United with a 1-0 win courtesy of Gavin Peacock, followed by victory against Liverpool at home two weeks later. Then, as often happened, the rot set in. The team went on a truly appalling run of form where games at home to Norwich, Oldham and Arsenal were lost without a goal being scored, alongside a thorough thrashing at Leeds. A pattern was set that would by Christmas, see Chelsea second from bottom following a 3-1 defeat at Southampton with a dressing room that was split and a captain–manager relationship that never really healed. In true Chelsea fashion, a 1-0 win was secured the following day (I know – two games in two days!) against Newcastle followed by a win against bottom side Swindon (the team’s first away win of the season). While the side remained firmly stuck in the bottom half of the league for the rest of the season, relegation was never really on the agenda after that Christmas, with a 1-0 win at Old Trafford an unexpected highlight. I’ve already documented details of the cup run that year that took Chelsea to Wembley and European football, but what next?
In truth, seasons 1994-95 and 1995-96 followed similar patterns. While there was a general improvement in the play and the team in personnel (witness Ruud Gullit and Mark Hughes signing in 1995 – a sight I still cannot get my head around nearly 20 years on) while the side were able to fashion gutsy displays and produce some memorable football (the quarter-final second leg in the Cup Winners’ Cup against Club Bruges in the rain in 1995 being a highlight of mine) they were also capable of some truly awful matches and runs that undermined performances and gave doubts as to Hoddle’s wider man management and tactical abilities. The 1994-95 season saw them go on an awful run at home where they didn’t win a league game for almost six months, while I remember the following season being one where they took the lead in almost every game they played before managing to throw it away in the final 30 minutes of the match – witness the 1996 FA Cup semi-final against United as an example.
Was Hoddle a success? Based on league performances, he took over a side that had finished 11th and left for the England job with a side that had finished 11th. Barring the odd real game of quality where the side showed flashes of potential (beating Middlesborough 5-0 at home), they could also play some appalling stuff (losing 0-3 at home to Leeds in his second season stands out as a match one would like to forget). In the cups, while maintaining a then Chelsea tradition of not winning anything, at least we had played in a final and made it through to a European semi-final (bowing out to eventual winners Real Zaragoza) and another semi in the FA Cup. Under Hoddle, the club’s image was changed and supporters had a genuine taste of what success might look like in the future. Although the trajectory was a gradual rise, when Hoddle left, I never got the impression his leaving was mourned extensively by the fans (other than a complete refusal to have George Graham as manager) – there weren’t many protests about Hoddle leaving for the England job. It’s interesting to note that since the England job, Hoddle’s abilities as a manger have shown him perform in the same vein as when he was Chelsea’s manager, his stewardship of Southampton and Spurs not exactly glorious successes. Mind you – he’s the last English manager of Chelsea and remains the last permanent one not to get the sack by the club – what do I know?