1993 to 1996
Glenn Hoddle, a graceful former Spurs and England midfielder, was appointed Chelsea manager on 4 June 1993.At his first training session of pre-season he stood before his squad and performed an impressive keepy-uppy, taking in both feet, knees shoulder and head. If it was intended to impress, it did: David Webb had never done the like. ‘If you don’t master the ball, the ball masters you,’ was one of Hoddle’s mantras from his illuminating time in France.
He arrived saying he aimed to reintroduce ‘a touch of class’ at the club – and succeeded. Massive improvements were immediately demanded in basics such as passing and trapping, and all playing surfaces would be overhauled. He broke up the cliques that had developed over the years and introduced team-building principles as well as dietary rules. More left-field innovations included a reflexologist, soon nicknamed ‘Tootsie.’
There were difficulties during the first transitional season, with Hoddle, leading by example as sweeper in a back three, sometimes the standout player. However gradual, the progress was obvious, and the manager’s key signing, Gavin Peacock, earned home and away wins against Manchester United. Facing the same opponents in May 1994, Peacock hit the bar at 0-0 during Chelsea’s first FA Cup final since 1970. The game would be lost 0-4 but the marker for the future was laid.
The excellent 1994/95 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign, the club’s first European foray for 22 years, was fraught with difficulties for an obviously under-strength squad: UEFA’s short-lived ‘maximum three foreigners’ rule made aliens of non-English Brits such as Steve Clarke and John Spencer, as well as Dmitri Kharine and Erland Johnsen. At the close of that season the board – Ken Bates, Colin Hutchinson, Matthew Harding – were confident enough in the manager and his philosophy to gamble heavily on big name signings, the riches of Europe the new target.
Most stunning was the capture of the Dutch icon, Ruud Gullit. ‘Sometimes out there,’ noted Hoddle after Gullit’s debut, ‘it was like watching an 18-year-old among 12-year-olds.’Stubborn and dogmatic, the manager fought long and hard for football to take precedence over commercial concerns when the Chelsea Village project was being built – the Shed End stand is smaller as a result of his demands for a longer pitch than originally designed.
Despite the fundamental upturn at Chelsea there was little reward in terms of position and the team sometimes looked only as fit as a 37-year-old player-manager could take it in training. He was also suspicious of pace at a time when the game was shifting that way. In May 1996, with his contract running to a close, Hoddle accepted the offer of managing England, a role he had long coveted. He has since managed Tottenham Hotspur, and set-up coaching schools offering talented twentysomethings a way into football. He is rightly regarded as the man whose vision and tenacity laid the foundations for the modern Chelsea Football Club.