The official Chelsea website caught up with Tore Andre Flo, now coaching in our academy, to discuss all things Gus Poyet and Sunderland ahead of our Capital One Cup meeting with the Black Cats tonight.
Flo joined Chelsea from Brann in July 1997, and it was also that summer when Poyet made his move to west London. Both players went on to enjoy great success in a blue shirt, with a medley of memorable memories and medals to reflect upon by the time their Stamford Bridge careers were over.
The first competition the duo triumphed in was the League Cup, in March 1998, and considering Flo also spent a season on Wearside later in his career, there is no doubt he is the ideal man to preview tonight’s game at the Stadium of Light.
Before his transfer to Rangers in 2000, the Norwegian shared a dressing room with Poyet at Stamford Bridge for just over three seasons. He explains the Uruguayan’s swift managerial ascent, culminating in his new position at Sunderland in England’s top flight, comes as no surprise.
‘After the start they had it’s not easy to come in like that but I think if anyone can do it, it is Gus,’ Flo tells the official Chelsea website.
‘I haven’t spoken to him since he got the job so I don’t know how he feels about it, but I do know he deserves it. He’s a good man and a good friend.
‘He always knew how to organise the team. He was a great communicator and he was also very tactically clever. He knew when to step forward and go into the box himself to score goals. He did that a lot, even from midfield. You could always hear it on him that he was tactically clever in team meetings.’
After two seasons in Scotland, Flo moved back south to England, returning to the Premier League to sign for Sunderland. Though his one season in the North-East was by no means a personal or collective success, he recalls his time on Wearside fondly.
‘It was a difficult year for both me and the team. We got relegated so obviously it wasn’t that good, but it’s a great place and apart from the results I enjoyed my time up there,’ Flo says.
‘It’s not the biggest of cities but they have a lot of supporters there and that is one of the reasons why they keep doing so well, because they have a very good crowd who come in big numbers. It’s a really good club.’
The conversation soon returns to Flo’s Chelsea memories, more specifically our Coca-Cola/League Cup campaign in his maiden season at the Bridge. When asked if his appearance in the final – a 2-0 extra-time victory over Middlesbrough – was his first outing at Wembley, our former striker pauses, ponders, and nods.
Flo was introduced in place of Mark Hughes with seven minutes of normal time to play, but as the scores were goalless he still had a chance to play a decisive role in what was an extremely hard-fought cup final.
‘It was a great day and a great memory,’ he reminisces, smiling.
‘I enjoyed it. It was such a fantastic experience to be a part of. I got to play quite a lot of the game, even though I started on the bench, because we played extra-time.
‘I like the League Cup. There was a full house at the final and leading up to it as well. In the earlier rounds, some of the younger players can play at the top level as well so it’s definitely useful.
‘When you get closer to the final you can see all the big teams have their best players out there and it’s important to the supporters as well. It’s still a big thing to win.’