"Butch" is back at the Bridge. Ray Wilkins has made a surprise return to top-flight coaching after yesterday being named as Steve Clarke's successor at Chelsea. The appointment of the 52-year-old raised a few eyebrows, although his role will not, as has been claimed, amount to being No 2 to the manager, Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The Brazilian works closely with two long-time associates – Darlan Schneider (the fitness trainer and Scolari's nephew) and Flavio "Murtosa" Teixeira, even though neither are listed as having official positions on the Chelsea website. Scolari has no intention of lessening their influence. There may also be a clue to Wilkins' role in the title he has been given. Whereas Clarke was the first-team coach last season, Wilkins will be assistant first-team coach – the title Clarke was given after Scolari's arrival.
However, Scolari also recognises the importance of having a British coach as part of his set-up – not least because, although he speaks good English, it helps to have someone else around – and has backed the idea of that appointment, again, being a former Chelsea player. That was also the case when the club hired Jose Mourinho, who brought a five-strong back-room staff from Portugal, raising concerns within the club that the supporters would not have someone they could relate to on the staff. Mourinho was persuaded to promote Clarke and when he departed the Scot had a greater say under Avram Grant. His role was reduced under Scolari which is one of the major reasons why Clarke wanted to accept Gianfranco Zola's offer to join the Italian at West Ham United where he has been promised he will be second in command.
Although Clarke was not crucial to Scolari's plans, the manager recognised that he was an important "link", as he put it, to the players not least because of his strong attachment to Chelsea. Scolari had tried to keep Clarke by promising a greater say in first-team matters but the coach felt it was time to move on.
Wilkins' association with the club began 35 years ago when he signed for them as a schoolboy and he went on to become, aged just 18, their youngest-ever captain, playing for six years from 1973 before joining Manchester United – Chelsea's next opponents – on Sunday.
He won 83 caps for England as a midfielder and, after playing for a variety of clubs, started his management career with Queen's Park Rangers before a season at Fulham and then returned to Chelsea to work with Gianluca Vialli from 1998-2000, then following the Italian to Watford. More recently Wilkins coached the England Under-21s, under Peter Taylor, and has been a media pundit.
Wilkins has also forged strong links with Chelsea. He is often see at the club's academy and training ground and captains the Chelsea Old Boys team in charity matches as well as being a trustee of the Chelsea Past Players' Trust. Although such things may not be regarded as important factors when it comes to coaching a Premier League club, they have helped Wilkins develop his contacts at Chelsea. At the same time, the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, has embraced the club's heritage and former players, inviting back many who felt estranged under the former chairman Ken Bates.
Another example of this has been the Russian billionaire's friendship with a former manager Bobby Campbell, who is now regarded as a member of the inner circle at Chelsea that offers advice to Abramovich. It is known that Campbell, who was in charge from 1988-91, was not a great supporter of Mourinho or his style of football and it may be that he, along with others in the hierarchy such as Abramovich's friend and adviser Eugene Schvidler, has been instrumental in the appointment of Wilkins.
The Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien has undergone knee surgery in Lyons to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament. The Ghanaian was injured during a World Cup qualifier against Libya on 5 September. He is expected to be out of action for up to six months.
Butch and the Bridge: Wilkins in brief
Raymond Colin Wilkins
Born: 14 September 1956, Hillingdon
Height: 5ft 8in
Nicknames: Butch and The Crab
1973-1979: Chelsea 179 apps; 30 goals
1979-1984: Manchester United 160; 7
1984-1987: Milan 73; 2
1987: Paris St-Germain 13; 0
1987-1989: Rangers 70; 2
1989-1994: Queen's Park Rangers 155; 8
1994: C Palace 1; 0
1994-1996: Queen's Park Rangers 21; 0
1996: Wycombe 1; 0
1996-1997: Hibs 16; 0
1997: Millwall 3; 0
1997: Leyton Orient 3; 0
England (1976-1986) 84 caps; 3 goals
1998-2000: Chelsea (coach)
2001-02: Watford (assistant manager)
2004-07: England Under-21 (assistant manager)
2008: Chelsea (assistant first-team coach)