PAST, PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE
The number of former Chelsea first team players working in our Academy has increased recently with Tore Andre Flo and Jon Harley taking on coaching roles, and Jody Morris aiding Under-21 manager Dermot Drummy and his assistant Andy Myers in their preparation this season. With Eddie Newton also a technical coach in the Academy there is plenty of representation from a successful period in the club's history, and this week the official Chelsea website catches up with Flo, Harley and Morris, starting today with the Norwegian discussing his past, his present and his future…
Tore Andre Flo made a habit of scoring both vital and memorable goals during his three-year spell at Chelsea, and the former Norway striker is now passing on the experience he picked up during a lengthy playing career to youngsters at the club.
Flo joined the Chelsea Academy last season and now works principally with our Under-14 side at Cobham. Understandably, he also lends his own striking expertise to all our forwards trying to find their way in the game, right the way up to our Under-21 squad. Along with his more direct involvement with our young players on a day-to-day basis, Flo also analyses the performances of some of our players currently out on loan, reporting back to Academy manager Neil Bath with his findings.
Having reluctantly hung up his boots for good in 2012, Flo admits that the move into coaching wasn't a long-time aspiration but rather a natural development.
'It's something that grew into me later in my career, towards the end. I enjoyed doing a bit so I started by trying it really, just to see if it was something for me. I really like it.'
Flo played for Chelsea between 1997 and 2000, and an extraordinary number of his teammates from that time have gone into management. Steve Clarke, Mark Hughes and Gus Poyet are all managing in the Barclays Premier League, with Gianfranco Zola trying to guide Watford into England's top division. Didier Deschamps is now the France manager, Dan Petrescu is in charge of Dinamo Moscow while Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has recently taken the reins at Royal Antwerp in Belgium. Dennis Wise, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Roberto Di Matteo have all managed as well, the latter memorably leading the Blues to Champions League glory last year.
Flo came out of retirement to play under Di Matteo at MK Dons, recalling his time there fondly, and pointed to the Italian's subsequent success at Stamford Bridge as proof of the unpredictable nature of football.
'It was very good at MK Dons, if a little bit strange at first. I got used to that though because I was at Chelsea when Gianluca Vialli was here and he went on to become my manager as well. It's a bit strange in the beginning but as long as they're doing a good job then that's good with me, and he did.
'I was really happy for Robbie (when Chelsea won the Champions League). It just goes to show things can happen quickly in the world of football. One day you retire and you wonder what life is going to bring you, and then you go into the coaching world and suddenly you've won almost the biggest thing you can do as a coach. That was absolutely great.'
In the summer of 1997 Flo signed for the Blues from Brann, in Norway, for the bargain fee of £300,000. He admits joining a dressing room full of internationals, and world-class strikers, wasn't easy.
'It was a bit nervy at the beginning, to be honest. I was playing with and competing with players who were big superstars so obviously I was nervous for a while. But then you realise it's just nice people. They were really nice, it was such a good group at that time,' Flo stresses.
'The atmosphere in the dressing room was probably the best I ever played with. It was a very good, intelligent group of players at that time. All of them were professional people; they really wanted to do things the correct way. When that nervousness passed then you just learn from them instead. I think we all learned from each other.'
No interview with Tore Andre Flo could be complete without bringing up his hat-trick against Tottenham in late 1997, and the striker remembers that while the goals were crucial for him personally, he didn't appreciate, at the time, quite how significant they might be historically. Flo seems proud when told his name is still sung at White Hart Lane every year in recognition of his efforts back on that cold December day almost 16 years ago.
'It was kind of a breakthrough I guess. For me it was just another match. I had no idea that game meant so much to the supporters.
'It was just fantastic. I didn't realise about the rivalry, but back then those were the two games that were really big.'
That 6-1 win against Spurs was just one highlight of an excellent first season at the club for Flo, during which he scored 15 goals and picked up the Coca-Cola Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup. We fell just short of lifting the league title the following year, when Flo racked up another 13 goals, but did earn a place in the Champions League for the 1999/2000 campaign.
Our debut season in the competition was simply unforgettable, in no small part due to Flo's potency in front of goal. The club's Twitter account ran a quiz last week asking who had scored the most goals for Chelsea in a single Champions League campaign. When posed the same question, he's shocked to discover the answer.
'That was me then? Wow! Really?! I didn't know that. Drogba hasn't scored more than that?' he asks, almost disbelievingly, when told his eight goals during our maiden run in Europe's best competition have not been bettered since.
'We could have - we should have, actually - gone further than we did, that was the quarter-final that we went to.
'We knew that we had a great team but obviously to go and win it in our first season would have been a bit crazy. I think if we kept our head a bit more calm we could have beaten Barcelona. Over the two matches we were better than them. We were a bit unlucky towards the end over there.
'I think those goals against Barcelona were the most important goals for me because it was in the quarter-final of the Champions League and it was against such a big team. That was pretty special.
'In truth all my time here at Chelsea was just a great time,' Flo adds. 'I will always look back on that as the best time of my football career.'
For now, though, Flo only has eyes for the here and now, though he says he does harbour hopes of following the path trodden by many of his former teammates.
'There's a great mixture of new, talented coaches, older, experienced coaches and players that have played professionally. Everyone is learning from each other here, and that can only be good for everybody. I think Neil Bath has found the right mixture of it all at the Academy.
'I would like to be a coach or a manager one day, but for the moment I am really happy to be here. I can't think of any other place in the world where you can learn more than here at Chelsea.'
By Rupert Cane.