Jim White

It’s all in the draw

Jim White

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Even from a distance of several thousand miles, the Champions League holds sway. In California, Ruud Gullit, manager of the LA Galaxy and Feel Football Champion has been watching the tournament pan out with fascination. Last week, he watched the semi-finals, convinced that there is a pattern to them, which has been firming up over the past few years.
"I think the best four teams left were there anyway, so that was good," he says. "But for me, what was very obvious was that it says again how much of an importance it is if you play first away and then at home, because Liverpool in the previous matches they played always away and then at home and they managed to win it. Now they are the other way around and they didn't - so that says something."

It is an interesting analysis, borne out by a glance at the statistics: all six semis in the past three seasons have been won by the team playing at home in the second leg. Gullit believes that is why his former club Chelsea, who were playing in their fourth semi, have this year finally made it all the way to the competition's conclusion.
"[In the past] they played first at home and then away. That is why. Otherwise they would be in the final before now."
The reasons for the Premier League domination of Europe have been well exercised these past few weeks, but whatever its cause, Gullit does not see it ending in a hurry.

"At the moment, no," he says when asked if France, Germany, Spain and Italy's have serious chance of breaking the monopoly. "I think they are dominating simply because the English clubs combine speed, technique and tactics with each other, and especially the speed. In the past, the English teams played more on speed and heart, so the technical clubs could anticipate that. Now the English clubs can combine that speed of play with technique and technical vision - that's a very powerful combination."

Which is certainly how Chelsea have made it to the latter stages of the competition: the compelling mix of power, speed and skill. Gullit has watched his old club's development with pride, but does not take any credit for it. He may have kick started the modern Chelsea era when he joined the club ten years ago and helped them to their first trophy in 27 years - the FA Cup - but that, he says, was a very long time ago.

"Every area is different," he says of the current set-up. "I was happy with the success I had with Chelsea at that moment, and what happens now is the success of their own. It is Jose Mourinho's hand but really it is Avram Grant's hand - he does what he has to do. Everyone tries to make the best out of it. Of course, Jose had a good team in his hands, and the only thing is what can Grant do with it - and until now he has done very, very well with it."

Before their engagement in Moscow, Chelsea and Manchester United have the small matter of the English Premier League to decide this weekend. If United win at Wigan, the title is theirs. Any slip, however, and Chelsea could pounce.
"I think that if Manchester United win the Premier League then Chelsea will win the Champions League," reckons Gullit, "for the simple fact that they will be out for revenge, that's the simple thing. And also I think that Chelsea has not got the Premier League in their own hands, they rely on what Man United will do, and Man United will win this game, they will win it. I don't think they will lose it, so they will win it and then I see Chelsea taking revenge."

So that's how the great Ruud Gullit sees things. Do you agree with him? One trophy each? Or will one of the English giants snaffle both trophies? Plus, is he right about the semis? Is it all a matter of the luck of the draw?

And while you ponder that, there's something I'd like to ask you. I am interviewing Feel Football Champion Patrick Vieira on Monday at a Ford Feel Football event in London. Is there anything you would like me to ask him? Give me your questions and I will ask him any good ones you come up with.

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