Following on from goals by two of our attacking midfielders against Newcastle yesterday, we have an interview with a player who knew how to find the Tynesiders’ net two decades ago. Gustavo Poyet joined a winning team back in 1997 and the effervescent Uruguayan helped us win the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the FA Cup and especially memorably for him, the UEFA Super Cup.
Here he looks back…
Tell us about how you came to sign for Chelsea?
Chelsea were looking for a player and at Zaragoza we were three player out of contract. Chelsea watched a few games and I have to say that in two of the three games I played very well. One was against Athletic Bilbao away, one against Deportivo La Coruna and from one moment to the next there was an offer on the table that I couldn’t refuse.
What were your immediate impressions of the club?
First I was looking at the players and the manager – Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, Robbie Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola. They were big names so I tried to adapt as soon as possible and really make an impact. Unfortunately I got injured pretty soon but it was a good change for me.
What about Stamford Bridge itself?
I think I was very lucky. I always believe and I keep on believing that the first impression you give to the fans is very important and I had a good start here. I scored away from home in my first game away at Barnsley and I scored at Stamford Bridge against Arsenal and that put a little bit in front of the fans of what I was able to do.
What do you remember about the backing the team received from the fans, both home and away? Any particular games stand out in terms of atmosphere?
It was incredible. I have so many memories. The home support, like for the Vicenza game, I will remember for ever. If you think about it we were out, we lost 1-0 away and we were losing 1-0 at home. We were out so when Mark Hughes scored the third goal, it was incredible and for me it was special as well. I was coming back from a long-term injury so that home support was really electric.
Away from home I have so many memories because I was lucky to score and I was looking for the fans as well for where to celebrate, at the other end, at the top, where you could not see them. I remember in a cup game, I don’t know if it was at Oldham or one of those teams from a lower division but they were singing a song that I learned that day. It was ‘Who ate all the pies?’, a song that was well famous here, and it was to our kitman Aaron Lincoln running across the pitch because he was bringing something on. I was struggling to understand what they were singing because it was at him, it was a special moment. Afterwards the others told me about the pies.
Of all the managers you worked under here, who had the biggest influence on you, your game or your career?
I had not a lot of time with Ruud but it was important the way he was able to manage all the egos, and he started a generation of winners because they won the cup before I arrived and then were winning for four years.
With Gianluca it was intense, Gianluca is Italian and Gianluca was the kind of guy who probably put too much pressure on himself and it was strange to have him as a team-mate, then as a manager and team-mate. It was quite unusual. With Claudio Ranieri it was very different because I was translating for him for a long time so it was a little bit more difficult.
Tell us about some of the most memorable games you were involved in for Chelsea…
I say two. One is Newcastle at Wembley in the semi-final (video below). For me the old Wembley was always special, it was unique and to be able to play there and score in an important game, it was incredible. And the only final I scored in in my life was against Real Madrid, in the Super Cup, so I cannot forget that moment, scoring in a final and being able to win.
Which team-mates were you closest to during your time here? Are you still in touch with them now?
I am still in touch with many but my room-mate was Dan Petrescu so we were very close but nowadays, because of the places where we are living, Robbie Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola, they are the closest, especially Robbie right now is the one I have the closer relationship with.
Were there any opposition teams or players you particularly disliked facing and, if so, why?
I did really enjoy playing against Roy Keane but it was without doubt the toughest. I had so many encounters, so many tackles, so many dangerous tackles that it was always a special game. I had to pay extra attention to those encounters but it was fair. One of things I always said about Roy Keane, at least against me, was it was tough, it was hard, you could get injured, but I think he played fair.
He did get sent off in the Community Shield against you.
That was a bad one and I think I was lucky because my foot somehow got up off the floor because it was a really bad tackle from behind. It was more of a stamp.
What about opposition fans, were their intimidating stadiums to play at?
There were a few places but there was something against Chelsea at Leeds. And it was always a special game for them at Elland Road. I did not go too many times because they were up and down but it was something special in there and the other side of the dressing room, at Elland Road. It was difficult there, when there was a corner you could not hear anything.
How do you look back on your time at Chelsea overall? Is there anything you would change or do differently?
Firstly I made a decision which was a difficult one, to come here. I was very comfortable in Spain, 29 years old, why change now and come to a new club, and I did. And the closer you get to people when you win, you become a supporter. When you win trophies in a club you are a supporter for life.
I think the situation everyone thinks about is when I left but it was very simple because I think it was better for everybody and when I say everybody, I am not only talking about me. It was better for the team and it was better for the club and probably for the manager, Ranieri, because I was not part of the plan and I don’t think you would like Gustavo Poyet there when he is not part of it, he is a special character. So I think it was the right time for everybody, even if it was tough to make the decision.
What are your thoughts on the current Chelsea team and the season so far?
I think it is very good how quickly the team understood part of what Sarri wants, because I am sure there is a lot more to come, and they are putting it into victories. Because that is the toughest thing for a manager, to come, change the philosophy, convince the players, and win games.