The Joe Royle column

I NEED to eat my words and say a big well done to Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri. I have watched him since he came here and could not speak English. He has had the shadow of Sven-Goran Eriksson over him, but he has won us all over with his charm, his broken English, which gets better every week, his winning smile and his team's football.

I NEED to eat my words and say a big well done to Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri. I have watched him since he came here and could not speak English. He has had the shadow of Sven-Goran Eriksson over him, but he has won us all over with his charm, his broken English, which gets better every week, his winning smile and his team's football.

I have only met Claudio once, when Manchester City played at Chelsea, but I would just like to say my own 'well done' to him.

He has handled all the controversy around him with a smile, a shrug and just got on with it.

Those doubters, and I was one of them, about Chelsea's championship chances are having to eat their words and they are there on merit and are going to go very close.


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It was thought getting so many players in and making them play as a team would prove difficult but Claudio is using his own form of squad rotation but still managing to keep players happy.

There do not seem to be too many gripes coming out of Stamford Bridge, which shows he is doing admirably well.

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He has gelled them into two teams and with a fair few English players as well. He has also got Irishman Damien Duff, who has rubber-stamped his position as the best young player in the country with his ability to go past and beat people.

So well done to Claudio, he has handled his position with great dignity.

THE recent spate of bad tackles has raised the hackles among professionals.

We have seen Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole commit terrible two-footed tackles.

I don't believe Youssef Safri meant to break Colin Healy's leg and I take Gary McAllister's word for it that the lad is contrite, but it shows what can happen when players go in off the floor, two-footed and high.

Cole and Gerrard could both have broken legs and unfortunately it is not the first time they have done it.

For me Gerrard is England's best midfielder, one who has to play. I have great admiration for his all-action style and he is the nearest thing we have had to a Bryan Robson, without the goal input. But he has got to find some common-sense in this.

I respect Gerard Houllier's defence of him but realistically just looking at it there may well have been at least a penalty.

I appreciate that weekend was exceptional to see those sort of tackles but we just don't want to see them at all and they are what we want to see punished.

Then when you see Georges Santos sent off last weekend for nothing, it is frustrating when those desperate tackles go unpunished.

I see the headlines like 'Royle rant at refs' and I don't like it because that is not what it is meant to be, especially as I see myself as a referees' friend, but all we are looking for is consistency.

THE debate over the World Player Of The Year reminds us once again that this game is all about opinions.

Ronaldo has won it three times already and then still manages to come third this year which is another fabulous achievement.

But I would have no argument with making Zinedine Zidane the No. 1.

If you are looking for the best player in the world then you are looking for someone who can do everything, and can do things no-one else can do and Zidane falls into that category.

He makes goals, scores goals, beats players, makes people smile and he is a wonderful choice.

Thierry Henry is also a fantastic player who scores goals but his time may come at a later date.

PREDICTING what will happen at Leeds United at the moment is a precarious business.

They have gone from Champions' League to Chumpions in no time at all.

They have lost their players and are in danger of losing their status.

That said, it was a shrewd move to bring Eddie Gray back, who not only knows the club but loves it too. The threat of administration is very real but we can only just 'watch this space' with talk of a Middle East and a Chinese consortium coming in to save the club.

Meanwhile, Eddie has generated a spirit – a siege mentality almost – as showed for them to be pegged back to 2-2 but to go on and beat Fulham.

The whole thing at Leeds shows the danger of clubs trying to hang on to the coat-tails of Manchester United or Arsenal without a Russian sugar-daddy. Leeds gambled everything to join that exclusive platinum group and when they didn't make it everything fell apart around them.

The lessons are looming large for everyone – don't over-buy and don't over-pay.

Simple arithmetic and common-sense is coming back to football.

As told to Derek Davis

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