In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s FA Cup win against Everton, Chelsea’s captain (and apparently now their head coach) John Terry had a couple of suggestions for the club’s owner Roman Abramovich. Terry has suggested Franck Ribery and David Villa as the calibre of player that Chelsea should be bringing in – curiously, he didn’t mention any central defenders – and herein lies the problem at Stamford Bridge over the last couple of years or so. It has been one of football’s worst kept secrets over the last couple of years or so that the senior players are running the Chelsea team. They did for Jose Mourinho, they did for Avram Grant, they did for Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink was only there as a short term measure. It remains difficult to escape the conclusion that Chelsea will struggle to overturn Manchester United’s domination of English football until this particular circle has been squared.
What, then, of Carlo Ancelotti? Well, he should have no problem dealing with egos. His Milan team over the last two or three years has given every impression of being made up of players signed for the number of replica shirts they can sell. His defenders can point to three Champions League finals in his eight years at the San Siro, but this masks the fact that his time in charge there hasn’t necessarily been as successful as one might think. In eight years at Milan he won just one Serie A title in his time there and retained a degree of culpability for his team’s capitulation to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final. He also went trophyless in his two years in charge at Juventus, prior to this.
For Ancelotti, it might have been a case of jumping before he was pushed. Milan’s somewhat ridiculous owner Silvio Berlusconi has been less than complimentary about Ancelotti over the last few weeks and months, but it’s important to remember that, at a club the size of Milan, failure isn’t really an option these days. Milan failed to qualify for the Champions League last season and were knocked out of this season’s UEFA Cup by Werder Bremen. Milan have finished some way adrift of Internazionale and also behind Juventus in third place. His case may be strengthened should, as has been rumoured in the press this week, Guus Hiddinck return to Stamford Bridge in an upstairs position if things don’t start too well next season.
Chelsea’s biggest handicap over the last couple of years has been the sense of instability that has engulfed the club. Ancelotti is their fifth manager in two years, and this brings us back to the question of whether the dressing room can be brought into line. Some of the stories flying round at the time that Jose Mourinho was pushed out about what was going on behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge bordered on the absurd, and part of the reason why Chelsea finished the season so strongly was that Hiddink seemed to bind together this peculiar bunch of individuals into a team. One cannot help but wonder whether Roman will be back on the phone to him within a few weeks of the start of next season.