Chelsea: Why We Should Keep Carlo And Carry On
If Chelsea’s aim for 2011 was to finally win the Champions’ League, then this season could not have gone any better for the club so far. The season itself could have gone much better, of course, and winning world football’s biggest club competition would not completely make up for Chelsea’s faltering domestic campaign. Yet, in terms of winning the Champions’ League, the Blues are almost ideally placed.
Firstly, with all due respect to FC Copenhagen, Chelsea have a straightforward tie in the last sixteen. Yes, if they play as badly as they have done in certain games this season, they could suffer another humiliating cup exit, but Chelsea should be able to get past the Danish champions without hitting top gear. That gives Carlo Ancelotti’s team until April 5th, when the quarter-finals begin, to start looking like a top team again. The three Premier League matches that they have directly before, after and in between the two quarter-final legs are away to Stoke City, at home to Wigan and away to West Brom, which should allow certain key players to be rested, as the club is freed from the burden of the title race.
Clearly Chelsea cannot neglect their Premier League matches, as they need to ensure they finish in the top four. However, a team in the race for Champions’ League qualification can afford to drop more points than a side battling for the title, which means each of Chelsea’s league matches will carry less importance than those of their main Champions’ League rivals. Not being in a title race at the business end of the season may also help the Chelsea players psychologically as it allows the group to focus entirely on the Champions’ League without intense pressure domestically. In the 08/09 season, Chelsea were also virtually out of the title race by this point in the season but managed to have a fantastic run in Europe. They would have reached the final but for the terrible refereeing of Tom Henning Ovrebo, and the lack of pressure in the league seemed to improve their results domestically. The same could happen this season but hopefully without the bad officiating.
Most significantly, though, Chelsea are blessed with players of the calibre required to win the Champions’ League and with a manager who has won the competition four times (twice as a manager). Anyone who doubts the team’s ability to recapture the scintillating form that saw them tear sides apart earlier in the season should be reminded that it was last displayed less than three weeks ago against Sunderland. In that match, Chelsea easily equalled the brilliance they showed at the beginning of the season and should have scored more than four goals. In the three matches since then, Chelsea have been knocked out of the FA Cup and have surrendered any slim chance they had of winning the league. Both of these things are fantastic for their chances of winning the Champions’ League.
It could be argued that the Sunderland game and the 4-0 win against Bolton that preceded it were just one-off good performances. Yet, to win the Champions’ League that is all Chelsea need: seven one-off good performances. Five if you believe they can scrape past Copenhagen. No one will know this better than Carlo Ancelotti. On both occasions the Italian won the prestigious competition with AC Milan as a manager, his side failed to mount a serious challenge for the Serie A title, finishing 3rd in 2003 and 4th in 2007. In the latter, Milan faced Celtic in the last sixteen and failed to score in 180 minutes of football. They looked distinctly unimpressive and needed an extra time winner to scrape through into the quarter-finals. At that stage, few would have seen them as the tournament’s eventual winners.
Ancelotti clearly has experience of counteracting a frustrating league campaign with European success. He has done it twice. When reminiscing on Milan’s 2003 campaign in his autobiography, Ancelotti stated that the league campaign passed his side by that year and when the knockout stages of the Champions’ League began, they put all their attentions into winning that competition. Chances are that the current Chelsea side will be doing the same. No one remembers Milan’s league campaigns of 2003 and 2007. They only remember the Italian giants lifting that huge trophy. If Ancelotti can repeat the trick with Chelsea, the rest of this troubled season will become a distant memory.
If he fails in his quest for the fifth European title of an illustrious career, chances are he will not last as manager beyond the summer. Since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, the Blues have had four seasons where they have failed to win the Premier League trophy. On three of these occasions, they started the next campaign with a new manager. Only José Mourinho, in 2007, started a new season as Chelsea manager having failed to deliver the title the season before. He left the club when that season was barely a month old.
Yet, while that may be the inevitable decision of the Chelsea hierarchy if this season is trophyless, it does not make it the correct one. Ancelotti represents Abramovich’s best chance of having a long-term manager. The Italian accepts his role is to coach the side and allows others to handle the transfers, he never causes any controversy and he has proven he can win trophies. He is the blueprint for Abramovich’s ideal manager. If Ancelotti is replaced in the summer, it will effectively show that Chelsea will never have a long-term manager under the Russian’s ownership.
If managers were rewarded the same respect from owners and fans that players are, there would be no debate about Ancelotti’s capabilities for the Chelsea job. In his first season managing in a foreign country where he was still coming to grips with the language, the ex-Milan coach won the Premier League and the FA Cup, completing Chelsea’s first ever double, and saw his side score 103 goals in the league. If any football player had signed for a club and had such an incredible first season, it would take more than a dodgy few months for questions to be raised about his future.
Ancelotti, though, is well aware of the pressures of football management. Throughout his autobiography, he constantly used the analogy of a ‘wobbly bench’ to describe the feeling of coming close to the sack. On most occasions that his bench started to shake, he was able to respond emphatically. There would certainly be no better way to respond to this current wobble than by delivering Chelsea’s first ever Champions’ League trophy.
Is Ancelotti still the right man for Chelsea? Can Chelsea win the Champions’ League? Have your say below.
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