Blues into the Hornet’s nest

As Chelsea prepare to take on Watford, we look back at some of the former Blues players who went on to sit in the Vicarage Road dugout.

Since the turn of the century alone there have been four ex-Chelsea men who have headed to Hertfordshire after their playing career ended, but the link goes way back to the 1950s in one instance.

With the Hornets travelling to south-west London on Saturday, we recall the careers of those who trod what has now become a familiar path from the Stamford Bridge pitch to the Vicarage Road hot seat.

Johnny Paton

Played for Chelsea: 1946-47

Managed Watford: 1955-56

A left-winger who began his career with Celtic during the Second World War, Paton was loaned to the Blues in 1946 and went on to score three goals for the club in 23 appearances, although it was his link with star centre-forward Tommy Lawton which caught the eye. He spent three seasons playing for Watford and succeeded fellow Stamford Bridge old boy Len Goulden as manager in his final year. Sadly, he was relieved of his duties for health reasons only 15 Division Three South matches into his reign. Before he passed away in 2015, Paton was the last surviving pre-Ted Drake era player.

 

Colin Lee

Played for Chelsea: 1980-87

Managed Watford: 1990

Lee racked up 223 appearances for Chelsea, mainly during our prolonged stay in Division Two, and found the back of the net 41 times – a figure which surely would have been greater had he not made the unusual move from striker to right-back. There was still the odd game at centre-forward, though, and he scored twice in the Blues’ 5-4 win over Manchester City in the 1986 Full Members Cup final. Three years later he was appointed youth coach at Watford before graduating to the manager’s job for a short-lived tenure in 1990.

 

Gianluca Vialli

Played for Chelsea: 1996-99

Managed Watford: 2001-02

His spell as player-manager of Chelsea, when he went from being a much-loved member of our squad to the adored tactician who led us to five trophies, was curtailed prematurely in the autumn of 2000 – but our loss didn’t prove to be Watford’s gain. Having led a star-studded Blues squad to what was then our most successful period, he took the reins at Vicarage Road for a brief stint which saw them struggle in the lower reaches of Division One rather than challenging for promotion.

 

Ray Lewington

Played for Chelsea: 1975-79

Managed Watford: 2002-05

Long before he became Roy Hodgson’s right-hand man, most famously as part of his backroom set-up for England,  Lewington started his career at Chelsea in the latter half of the 1970s, turning out for the Blues on 92 occasions before making the transition from player to coach with Fulham. He advanced to reserve-team manager at Watford under Vialli and stepped up to take charge of the first team when the Italian was sacked in 2002. It was a successful stint as he guided the club to two mid-table finishes and two cup semi-finals, most notably a 2-1 loss to Southampton in the 2003 FA Cup.

 

Gianfranco Zola

Played for Chelsea: 1996-2003

Managed Watford: 2012-13

Zola is not only a Chelsea legend, he’s also one of the most beloved players in the history of English football. The little magician played 312 times for the Blues, scoring 80 goals and helping the side win six honours including the 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup, when he netted the winner. If luck had been on his side then he could have ended up as a hero to the Watford faithful after his appointment as manager in 2012; the Hornets just missed out on automatic promotion from the Championship and then lost the subsequent play-off final at the end of his only full season in charge.

 

Slavisa Jokanovic

Played for Chelsea: 2000-02

Managed Watford: 2014-15

The Serbian midfielder spent two years with the Blues in the early-2000s as he attempted to fill the considerable void left by Roberto Di Matteo’s career-ending broken leg. Although the fans didn’t take to him as he struggled to adjust to the pace of the Premier League, Jokanovic rarely shirked a challenge in his 53 appearances, nearly half of which were off the bench. He has since trotted the globe in a varied managerial career, and he is currently in charge of Fulham after going one better than his former team-mate Zola by leading Watford into the Premier League.