Interview

Classic past interview: The great Ray Wilkins on Chelsea midfield stars including Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele

REMEMBERING RAY

On the first anniversary of Ray Wilkins’ premature passing, we remember one of our greatest players with the video above and by revisiting a classic interview the official Chelsea website conducted with him over 10 years ago...

It was the spring of 2008 and at the time Wilkins was a TV pundit. Chelsea was the club where he had made his name some three decades earlier. He followed that up as a coach here in the late 1990s and it would not be long until he was back at the Bridge. In September of 2008 Wilkins was named Luiz Felipe Scolari’s assistant (pictured top), and he would subsequently aid Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti in the same capacity.

In this interview, first published in March 2008, Wilkins assessed our Champions League prospects that season from the quarter-finals onwards, making some fine predictions along the way, and he also gave his verdict on Chelsea’s star midfielders of the era who were filling his position....
 

During his own playing days, Ray Wilkins was a Chelsea youth product with a fine array of passing, who went on to make 84 appearances for England in a career that also took in Manchester United, Paris St-Germain, AC Milan and our west London neighbours QPR. He made his debut as a 17-year-old and, by the time he was 18, he was Chelsea's youngest-ever captain showing a maturity beyond his years.

Now, he works as a Champions League expert for Sky, and it was on that subject that he began. Having seen plenty of European action this season, he believes we have what it takes to go all the way to Moscow.

'The quarter-finals have panned out great as far as Chelsea are concerned, with Fenerbahce away first, you would have to say with the quality Chelsea have that over the two legs they would go through,' he says.

'Then of course the important part of the semi-final, whether it is against Arsenal or Liverpool, is that the second leg is at Stamford Bridge, which is a real bonus. When they've gone out to Liverpool on both occasions, it's been at Anfield in the second leg. Now that's reversed, I would fancy Chelsea to beat Arsenal and Liverpool in a second leg at Chelsea, so from that aspect I am very hopeful that they'll get through.'

Wilkins also believes our opposition in the final, should we make it, is likely to be another of his former clubs.

'Man United, again for them it has panned out great, they play Roma at Old Trafford in the second leg. The Olympic stadium isn't the most intimidating place, but it's very different at Old Trafford on a European night, and if it's the semi-final, I'm not too concerned at them having to beat Barcelona over two games, as I think Barca will beat Schalke, again because of the second leg at Old Trafford. I am sure they would go through at home.'

So with an all English Chelsea Manchester United final, who does 'Butch' think would come out on top?

'I have a thing about Chelsea that they are the only team that can keep a clean sheet against Manchester United, because defensively they are so strong. If you consider Chelsea haven't conceded a Champions League goal in six games, that's phenomenal stuff when you are playing against the best.

'So they are doing great, and they have kept clean sheets against Manchester United as well, so I see no reason why it can't be a Chelsea victory.'

Unfortunately, we may have to wait until May 21 to find out if he is correct, but it is certainly a thought many Blues fans have already entertained.

Another thought that Wilkins has considered is how he would suit the modern game, and whether he could adapt to the style of Chelsea in 2008. He explains that given the company in the centre of the park, he would have little difficulty.

'No problem, I honestly believe when you are playing with players of real quality and you are on the same wavelength then you'll get by with no problem at all.

'I think I would have done Claude's role, that was more my role, one I really enjoyed doing as well, and when you think he's got the likes of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard in front of him, that's pretty formidable stuff.

'It's not bad is it? He gives a master class sometimes when I watch him play, he is always available for the second pass, I just love watching Claude play, I am a great admirer of his. To have a role named after you is the epitome, and you only have to look at the way Real Madrid have collapsed as a world force since Claude has left and the accolades given out by Zinedine Zidane - he is just a super player.'

It isn't just Makelele that impresses our former assistant manager. He is taken with the goalscoring exploits of Frank Lampard, and believes his talents are almost unique, particularly suited to Chelsea's way of playing.

'Frank is on his way to scoring 20 league goals again, which from a midfield point of view is unbelievable. People are talking about him leaving, but I don't think there's any way on God's earth Chelsea would allow him.

'You would have to scour the earth to find another, there is him and there is Steven Gerrard who can score like that. We didn't score as many in my day, more often than not we played 4-4-2, and Frank I don't think would score 20 in a 4-4-2.

'In a 4-3-3, when he breaks into the box he is breaking with just one centre-forward, so there is more space for him to get into. He thinks like a forward and scores like one. You have him on one side, and Ballack will always score a goal. With his height he will always chip in. I think Essien is tailor-made, when Claude calls it a day, to fill his role and will be phenomenal in that position.'


It needed penalties to separate us and Man United in the 2008 Champions League final, and even though we ended on the losing side, Wilkins would get to see his beloved Blues win the biggest trophy of all when we defeated Bayern Munich four years later.

Makelele's time at Chelsea would come to an end after defeat in Moscow, but 'Butch' would get to work with Lampard, Ballack and Essien by the end of 2008, passing on his extensive knowledge of the game he loved to three of the best midfielders of their generation...

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