Chelsea’s men in the shadows: Steve Holland and Gianluca Vialli

Every Chelsea fan, or really every fan of the sport, should watch Ted Lasso. That’s not a paid endorsement it is just certifiable fact. Ted Lasso’s an American football coach that becomes a Premier League manager. He’s not the brains of the staff; that would be his assistant Coach Beard. Beard is the one learning the game and dealing with the minute tactical details of the game and training. Every coach in the world needs a Coach Beard. Unless they are Coach Beard, then they need a Ted Lasso. If none of that makes sense, just go watch the show and thank me later.

England and Italy are in the Euro 2020 final. It takes a village, and behind the scenes are two important Chelsea figures: Steve Holland and Gianluca Vialli. Both have important history with the club and, from the shadows, they have helped their sides reach the final in unique ways.

Holland is the Coach Beard in this scenario. No offense to Gareth Southgate, but he very much comes across as a man manager. He gets what makes people tick and while he surely has tactical ideas, he relies heavily on Holland as an equal partner in developing them. Holland’s tactical eye is keen and well developed after being the assistant for so many different Chelsea managers.

The effect of having an assistant like Holland is clear and was clearly missed in Antonio Conte’s second season. Not only did Chelsea’s set pieces disappear as England’s improved, but it just felt like a sense of continuity was lost. England now has that with Holland and it’s hard to separate England from using 3-5-2 last World Cup and Chelsea using 3-4-3 the last season Holland was at the club.

Vialli’s role is harder to describe, but he’s more of the Ted Lasso to Roberto Mancini’s Coach Beard. On paper, he’s called the “delegation chief” which is basically the person there to make sure players, staff, and management are all pointed in the same direction. He’s the man manager that finds out what everyone needs, what makes them tick, and what makes them come alive. Given Italy missed the last World Cup in a somewhat embarrassing fashion and now look almost like a club team, it’s clear that whatever Vialli’s done has worked.

None of that should come as a surprise to those that know their Chelsea history. It takes a special sort of player to become a player manager. It requires the ability to juggle the hard decisions with the simple fact of former friends are now subordinates. Vialli oversaw one of Chelsea’s most successful periods before Roman Abramovich and though management was not his desired path ultimately, he showed he was excellent at the exact task Italy has him for now.

National teams are finely balanced things. Sure, quality of players and tactics are important, but there are so many little things that can be the difference between winning it all and crashing out in the group stage. In Holland, Southgate has the perfect foil and partner. In Vialli, Mancini has his perfect foil and partner.

It should be no mistake that these two teams ended up in the final. It’s also no mistake that Chelsea is so involved on both the player side and the management side. Chelsea develops not just players that pop up all over, but coaches and staff too. Regardless of who you’re backing in the final, blue fingerprints will be present.