1967 - 1974
‘I was always very happy there,’ said Dave Sexton in 2005, ‘it was a good place to be. Obviously I knew the players previously and knew there was a good standard there. A lot of good players, a lot of talent.’
Uniquely, for the time, Sexton brought science and philosophy to football: he read French poetry, watched foreign football endlessly and introduced film footage to coaching sessions after returning to the Bridge as Tommy Docherty’s successor in October 1967. He also deployed different systems, such as 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, with Marvin Hinton perfect as a European-style libero.
The result of a good inherited squad, shrewd new buys such as David Webb and John Dempsey, and a modern, analytical approach was the greatest consistency for a decade and a half.
With only marginally less of the attractive swagger but more efficiency and tactical flexibility, the new Blues finished sixth, fifth, then third under Sexton. The latter achievement, in 1969/70, was completely overshadowed when Osgood, Cooke, Harris, Bonetti and company grittily won an epic FA Cup final tussle with Leeds United on a replay that remains the most-watched in football match in the history of British television. Sexton’s tactical nous came even more to the fore as Chelsea overcame Real Madrid to lift the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup the following season.
Having made a massive success of a team full of glamour and big personalities, Sexton soon found he could barely control them. Even before the stunning League Cup final loss to an ageing Stoke City in 1972 the bust-ups with unruly stars were legion. No previous incumbent in his role had been as studious, but that is only part of a manager’s job.
Sexton found their lack of personal discipline hard to fathom and looked for more malleable replacements.
Yet his track record of signings became patchier over the years: the pricy Steve Kember and Chris Garland found it hard to establish themselves in the first team. Another landmark signing, Keith Weller, also shone fitfully and was sold as soon as a good offer came in.
As the financial drain of stadium redevelopment bit into budgets, Sexton eventually sold icons such as Osgood, Hudson and Webb, and the team missed them as much as fans.
By 1973/74 Sexton’s management was in tailspin and a bad start to the following campaign saw him relieved of his duties on 3 October 1974 – truly the end of a most memorable period in the club’s history. Sexton subsequently earned mixed ratings at Loftus Road and Old Trafford, before the England set-up offered the perfect home for his cerebral approach.
When the first Blues boss to lift the FA Cup succumbed to illness in November 2012, aged 82, the club acknowledged him as ‘without doubt one of the greatest managers in Chelsea history.’