José Mourinho will be the eighth Chelsea manager Lollichon has worked with – and the Frenchman has interesting takes on those who have gone before
Christophe Lollichon has been here before. Chelsea returned to pre-season training at Cobham on Monday and the goalkeeping coach, a rare constant in the backroom staff over six years of frequent managerial upheaval, has a new boss in José Mourinho to impress. Introduction and adaptation have long since become his default summer settings. "I saw the front page of l'Equipe, just before Paris St-Germain appointed Laurent Blanc, and they had pictures of five candidates," he said. "And I have worked with three of them here. It is crazy, really."
The trio pictured were André Villas-Boas, Guus Hiddink and Rafael Benítez, each of whom spent brief spells at Stamford Bridge that did not extend to an entire campaign. Lollichon joined only in late 2007 but has also worked under Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Di Matteo, with the two seasons under Ancelotti the longest spent with any one manager. Now there is Mourinho, the returning champion who has been accompanied back to London by his compatriot Silvino Louro, titled assistant first-team coach but a figure who has specialised through his career working with goalkeepers.
An intriguing division of duties awaits, though the Frenchman who has been retained on the coaching staff can only spy the positives at Mourinho's reappointment. There was a brief telephone exchange before Lollichon departed for his summer holiday, words of reassurance that his long-standing working relationship with Petr Cech – forged at Rennes more than a decade ago – will be extended, with his role apparently to be "exactly the same", and now he can seek to understand better the man at the helm. "I'd arrived six weeks after José left six years ago," said Lollichon. "I met him when we played Internazionale [in the Champions League in 2010] and we had good conversations, with him and Petr, but that is all. But his message has been very positive.
"He's happy to work with me, and that is good. I am happy, too, because he's such an important coach and a massive man. It's very exciting to have another experience like this. Always with the keepers it is the same function, no change: I have carte blanche. I try to explain my methodology, because Petr and the other keepers like it. The coach and managers say: 'OK, keep going.' Silvino is coming in, yes, but I think he's more of an assistant to José, not to the keepers. He and José are very close, so I can understand that. It will be like Benítez with Xavi Valero, or to what another guy did when he came in. I do not want to speak about that, though."
That was a reference to his fractious relationship with Scolari, the Brazilian who arrived in 2008 with his own goalkeeping coach, Carlos Pracidelli, in tow and ended up departing in the second week of February the following year. The former Portugal manager is the only one of the seven under whom Lollichon has served who did not provoke a positive reaction in the Frenchman, a reflection of how marginalised he became in that period.
"No comment" was as far as it went. He is more forthcoming on the others. "Benítez was strong and a very good influence in what was a very difficult season. To manage and control the situation with the fans every time going raw, raw, raw, was fantastic. Benítez stayed very calm. A few managers might have said: 'OK, at the end of the season, I will leave, so …' But this guy stayed after training with three or four players to explain details for 10 or 15 minutes a lot of times a week, with the young players or Frank Lampard and David Luiz, all the time with details and things became more consistent.
"Every manager has his own manners and his own particular way to work. Carlo Ancelotti was a fantastic man, happy to see the people around him happy, and he's a good tactician. He is realising a dream by managing Real Madrid. Rafa Benítez is a good tactician, very solid guy, very solid guy. Avram Grant is another man … " That prompted whoops of laughter, a reaction Lollichon had expected.
"No, I was sure you'd be that way. Avram Grant, for me, is a very, very interesting man. A good man. He needs with him a good staff and, remember, at that time we had Steve Clarke – who was very important – and [Henk] Ten Cate, who was special and very intelligent. Ten Cate is special but, tactically, he's very interesting. It was a good combination, a good combination. My first months in Chelsea were fantastic. I liked working with him.
"There was Guus Hiddink, a big, experienced manager. He had the capacity to manage a very top team. After one week with us, he understood everything about the team. Everything. He was very calm, very precise. It's difficult to say anything else about his achievements: he gets the very top results. He is like a fox, very shrewd.
"Roberto Di Matteo started as an assistant [manager] but the last two months and 10 days before the Champions League final, it was fantastic. We did very well, working well with Steve Holland, Roberto Di Matteo, Chris Jones, Eddie Newton. That was very difficult, the end of that season. We played to try and finish in the top four places and [to win] the Champions League. We won that trophy under Roberto because he understands the club very well. Very well. And he knew what he had to do. Sometimes the players need more freedom. For me, for those last two months, it was the perfect combination to win the Champions League.
"But to finish a season and start another one is very different, and don't forget Di Matteo is a very young manager, a very young coach, and Chelsea are a big club. It's not easy. Look at André Villas-Boas, a young coach at a big club, and that wasn't easy for him. The problem for André was [a lack of] time. Look at the difference between Villas-Boas now at Tottenham and Villas-Boas at Chelsea.
"With an important club now, he better understands English football. Tottenham and Chelsea are different clubs, but if André started now at Chelsea he would not be the same coach he was with us then. Better. Different. Don't forget it was a period of transition at Chelsea: there were [the] Petr, [Didier] Drogba, Lampard, John Terry generation, and some new players. It's not easy with that transition. When he came in he had to control this [older] generation and he had to help new players settle in. Sometimes, that's not easy. To do it, you need time."
Mourinho anticipates that luxury, having preached the need for continuity and stability despite the London club continuing to win trophies through 10 managerial changes in nine years. Cech's career at the club spans that period, with his alliance with Lollichon as strong as ever. The pair spent time this summer at the Czech's academy in Prague putting youngsters through their paces. Theirs is a close working relationship which will be extended. In the short term, Lollichon must ease into life under head coach No8.