These days it is commonplace to watch Chelsea play in Europe, as we will next week when the Blues meet Malmo. It has not always been the case, though, and the latest in our Classics series revisits the club’s status on the continent 20 years ago through an interview Eddie Newton gave in April 1999.
Chelsea were the Cup Winners’ Cup and Super Cup holders, but still relatively inexperienced abroad, appearing in just our third European venture in the best part of a quarter-century. Newton, a dynamic midfielder who came through our youth system and is now back at the Bridge as a loan technical coach, had been involved in all three campaigns when he spoke to the club programme before the visit of Real Mallorca in the first leg of our latest Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final.
In an extract from the interview, he discussed the pressure of playing for Chelsea, Scandinavian opposition, and the marginal gains that can make a difference, subjects that seem just as relevant this month with the Malmo tie and plenty of other big games ahead…
Eddie Newton has never made any secret of the fact he enjoys the test of European football, and he is looking forward to his third semi-final with Chelsea.
‘Everyone in Europe is taking notice of Chelsea because of what we have done in this competition and that’s good for the players,’ he says.
‘It’s a different style and that helps you to be become a better player. We grew up a lot four years ago [Dennis Wise and Newton are pictured top celebrating the victory over Austria Memphis during the 94/95 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign] but that was slightly different because we weren’t expected to do well, so there was less pressure on us. Now the expectations are so much higher all the way around. With the squad we’ve got now they have to be.
‘We’ve won four trophies in two years so everyone expects us to win more. We’re expected to win everything. As professionals we have to take that on board and deal with that pressure.’
After the Scandinavians of Helsingborg, FC Copenhagen and Valerenga, Mallorca will provide a different test for Eddie and his colleagues. It’s this aspect of European football that the midfielder enjoys most.
‘They’ll be a very different prospect but I’m sure we will be prepared. It’s not like it was 15, 20 years ago when you knew absolutely nothing about the teams you were playing. You have to adapt on the day and that’s difficult. Nowadays you know much more and it’s a question of preparing rather than adapting.
‘We’ve all seen Mallorca on the Spanish football on television and we’ve even got someone in our team who played league football against them last season [Albert Ferrer]. That’s what football is like these days.
‘We’ll watch a few videos and have a chat about them, their strengths and weaknesses. When we go away we’ll practice in their stadium with the balls they use at home. It’s little things like that that count.
‘But the important thing is to try to impose our style of play on them and not worry too much about them. That’s how we’ve managed to do so well in Europe recently.’
Eddie is also looking to the future. With the Cup Winners’ Cup being incorporated into the UEFA Cup from next season, he is hoping there will be a higher standard of opposition to encounter. Even so, he does not agree we were the holders of a devalued trophy.
‘No disrespect to Valerenga because they gave everything they’ve got, but they aren’t the sort of team you expect to reach a European quarter-final. It will be a lot harder next year whichever competition we’re in, but that’s got to be good for the club and the players. We all want to test ourselves against the best and that’s what European football should be all about.
‘I don’t think we got enough credit last season for beating the teams we did, and it’s going to be very difficult again this year. Mallorca must be a very good team to be in the top six in Spain.
‘It worries me a little that a lot of people are saying they expect us to win comfortably and cruise through, because it just won’t be like that. It will be an interesting game because both teams like to play football. We have to be at the top of our game to have a chance.’
We weren’t quite, drawing 1-1 at the Bridge before losing by a single goal in the Balearics, ending our defence of the Cup Winners’ Cup. The following campaign, after Newton had moved on to pastures new, we competed in the Champions League for the first time in our history, using the experience gained in the previous years to impressively reach the last eight, beating European giants like Barcelona, Marseille and Galatasaray along the way.