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Mar 17, 2009

'Unlucky' Ken's Asian adventure

From London's East End to Stamford Bridge and wearing three lions on the shirt; the well-known paths of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole resembles the journey of Chelsea legend Ken Shellito some four decades earlier.

Shellito, a right full-back, made his England debut in Bobby Moore's first game as captain in Czechoslovakia in 1963 and seemed on course for a place in the 1966 World Cup squad before a serious knee injury.

Forced to retire at the age of just 27, Shellito turned to coaching and would become Chelsea manager in 1977-78 and also a long-time assistant to his former coach Tommy Docherty at several clubs that included Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace.

In the 1980s, his coaching odyssey took him to the United States and then to Asia where he eventually settled in Malaysia. Today, he's a technical analyst at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur, is married to a Malaysian national and has a sprawling home in the remote state of Sabah.

Shellito turns 69 in April and is showing no signs of slowing down, relishing a role that sees him write detailed reports on major AFC matches - club and international - and helping choose the Asian player of the year. He also runs a soccer academy in Sabah's capital city, Kota Kinabalu.

But he stays in touch with his old friends from football, including Jimmy Greaves, Terry Venables, Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks and travels back regularly for Chelsea reunions.

In 2005, Steve Clarke edged him out for the right full-back spot of Chelsea's Centenary XI. But Shellito was still on-hand to present the award to former teammate, Peter Osgood, who died of a heart attack the following year.

At the age of just 14, Shellito was signed by Chelsea on the same day as fellow Cockney, Greaves, just two months his senior. But it was under Docherty in the early 1960s that his game blossomed as the legendary Scottish manager used Shellito and left-sided Eddie McCreadie as ground-breaking ''flying full-backs''.

After studying the attack-minded football of Latin teams, Docherty introduced overlapping defenders into the English game: a concept that today seems commonplace.

In all competitions, Shellito made 285 Chelsea appearances and earned two further England caps against East Germany and Switzerland. He also represented his nation against the Rest of the World XI in 1963, marking the centenary of the Football Association.

He suffered his career-threatening knee injury after an innocuous-looking, non-contact mishap at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Shellito forced his way back into the England squad in 1965 but a relapse ruled him out for the following year's World Cup on home soil, opening the way for Fulham's George Cohen who earned 37 caps between 1964 and 1967 and was vice-captain in the final against West Germany.

''When I run into George these days, he still says: 'Thank you Kenny!' because he got the chance to play in a World Cup and I didn't,'' Shellito laughs.

His time on the sidelines gave him a chance to study the finer points of football in preparation to passing his FA coaching award. He would become youth coach at Chelsea and set up its Academy of Football where rising stars like Ray Wilkins and Clive Walker were discovered. Walker would turn in a man-of-the-match performance when Shellito was Chelsea manager as the Blues upset then-European champions Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup in 1978.

Sitting with Shellito and surrounded by greenery, glass and marble in the luxurious foyer of AFC House in Kuala Lumpur, the man who still speaks with a soft East Ham accent relives part of his 50-year footballing adventure and offers bold opinions about Chelsea and today's professional football.

Q: Ken, how did you end up Malaysia?

A: I got here the long way round. I left England and went to America and then went to Singapore. And from Singapore they brought me up here. This is my home now. I've got permanent residency so this is my permanent home now.

Q: How do you like your technical role with the AFC?

A: My role with the AFC is something I really like doing because at 68 I still enjoy coaching, but I must be realistic. I can't get out there so much. I now sit in front of television and analyse all the games, do reports and look for good players. It's an ideal job for me at my age.

Q: Looking back at your career with England, some say you were unlucky to miss out on the 1966 World Cup squad because of a serious knee injury.

A: Yes they do. I had to retire when I was 27 because of injury and they say that was unlucky. But Chelsea put me through coaching and they gave me a job. I had 25 years at one club so maybe I was lucky, not unlucky. I've got a lovely life here now. I've got a beautiful place in Sabah. So I consider myself a very, very lucky man.

Q: What were those days like when you played for England under a very famous captain, Bobby Moore who skippered the nation when it won the 1966 World Cup?

A: My debut was Bobby's first game as captain in Czechoslovakia. He was a gentleman. I think football's changed since those days. I look back at all my memories and they're all good people. Jimmy Greaves I still speak to. Terry Venables is a very close friend of mine. Gordon Banks and Bobby Charlton, too. I've seen Bobby here a few times when he's come over to Asia. I think it's lovely, you know, to still keep contact with them all.

Q: What do you remember about those Chelsea teams in the Swinging Sixties, with the Kings Road and all the buzz? Why did Chelsea play such a good style of football?

A: We weren't under the pressure the players are under now. We just went out there and played. We were never given tactics to stop the other team playing. But now we pick teams and we have substitutes coming on and off. I don't like that. I don't see players smiling anymore. We used to smile.

I remember Bobby Charlton scoring a great goal against us one day. Terry Venables and I and Bobby Tambling said: 'Great goal, Bobby'. You don't see that anymore. Football's lost that. I think finance has driven it away. I think if a manager saw three players doing that, he'd hit the roof! It just proves a point that the pressure wasn't on us like it is today. We enjoyed playing football and people enjoyed watching us play. Today, there's a lot of hard feeling, I'm afraid.

Q: You were a manager of Chelsea for a couple of seasons in the late '70s. You were also assistant manager to Tommy Docherty at several clubs. What do you think of the way Chelsea is run today?

A: There's been a tremendous amount of change. Jimmy Greaves, who joined the club on the same day as me, said to me: ''Chelsea has lost its heart''. I go back every year for the anniversaries because I love the place. But Jimmy's right. It has lost its heart. John Terry and Frank Lampard, who are also from the East End of London, sign autographs. But I see the others just get in their cars and drive away.

I see young kids going to the football with their favourite player on the back of their shirts. They go and sit there and pay £50 or £60, but their player's not playing. I feel sorry for the kids. In our days, that wouldn't happen. The kid would know way beforehand if his favourite was playing or not. Today you don't know until 15 or 20 minutes before kick-off.

Q: There's been no shortage of coaching changes at Stamford Bridge over the past couple of years. What do you think about Guus Hiddink taking over?

A: I think John Terry and Frank Lampard said it really well in the paper the other day. It's all down to players. How can you blame a coach: ''Oh, he didn't motivate me?'' No-one motivated me. I did that myself. I didn't need a coach to motivate me. If I couldn't motivate myself, I wasn't worth playing. Scolari is a Brazilian-style coach, which doesn't work in England.

We're not flamboyant like the Brazilians. We are more disciplined and more regimental. That was a bad choice. He's a very, very good coach but a bad choice for Chelsea. Hiddink is European so he sees things the European way. Yes, I think he's improving things. But there's some catching Manchester United. I think Man United are the best team that I have seen for many, many years and Sir Alex must be the greatest manager of all time with what he's achieved. No-one will ever emulate what he's done.

Q: How do you predict that this season turn out for Chelsea?

A: I think the Blues will still finish second. I can't see them catching United. They're so well organised. Tommy Docherty once said: ''It's like running a marathon: once you see the finishing line, not many people fail.'' Man United can see the finishing line and they won't let anyone go past them.

•  Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.

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