Ancelotti's future up in the air
The thing about Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is that very few people have heard him speak. Fewer still have heard him speak in a language they understand. And when Abramovich does speak, it's never in public or to the media. As for the people he employs to actually run Chelsea -- primarily club Chairman Bruce Buck and Chief Executive Ron Gourlay -- they talk very little and say even less.
And so you can attribute pretty much anything you like to Abramovich. Roman likes chocolate. Roman enjoys cold showers. Roman wants to buy the Eiffel Tower. Roman wants to sign Lady Gaga. Anything is possible. Anything is plausible. Because Roman won't tell you otherwise. And official denials from club spokesfolks are not taken seriously.
On the other hand, there's a small galaxy of people who rotate around Abramovich -- advisers, agents, self-described "friends," friends of self-described "friends" -- who will readily tell you what the Russian magnate wants or thinks. And people buy into it, because, well, journalistically, it's a story you can't really check, since Abramovich doesn't talk to the media. And, because we know so little about him (apart from the yachts and the divorce) it all seems credible. Furthermore, he does things which to most people's eyes are somewhat out there. Spending £50 million ($80M) on an out-of- form Fernando Torres in an age of Financial Fair Play Regulations, when he already has four decent strikers on his books, makes the implausible attributed to him plausible.
Which brings us to Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti's future. The widespread rumor is that, because Chelsea will end the season trophyless, the former Milan boss will be elsewhere next year. Some outlets even reported that Abramovich himself personally gave that very same ultimatum to Ancelotti before the clash with Manchester United. (Some motivational tool, eh?)
Let's make one thing clear, straight off the bat. If you're going to sack Ancelotti you don't do it because he did not win the Champions League this year. You don't judge a manager solely on results on the pitch. Results on the pitch only matter to the degree that they reflect the body of work done every day in training and the resources at a manager's disposal. And, even then, it's a distorted reflection. If that penalty on Ramires in the first leg against United had been given (and converted) and if Javier Hernandez's goal had been disallowed, Chelsea might have gone on to win on penalties.
It would not change the fact that the performance over two legs was not good and that United, nevertheless deserved to go through.
Too often we think about results as a way to "reward" or "punish" managers. But that's just a piece of a puzzle. A manager gets lucky and wins a trophy despite playing badly, not developing a team identity, not progressing the play on the pitch, etc. and we somehow think he should be "rewarded" by keeping his job. Why?
And the reverse is true as well. A manager does the best he can with the resources he has, the team is improving, the future looks bright but he fails to grab silverware -- whether by misfortune or happenstance -- and we call for his sacking. Logical? No.
You can make up your own mind whether Chelsea's play under Ancelotti and its likely performances next season warrant him keeping his job.
Because, truth be told, that matters more than the fact he won the Double last season or the fact that, statistically, the past two years' results in the Champions' League have been the worst in the Abramovich era.
But consider the other factors as well. Financial Fair Play is on its way and Chelsea has huge losses, an aging squad and a high wage bill. Which suggests one of two things: either Abramovich plans on ignoring the Champions League and spending his way to multiple Premier League titles (unlikely) or spending will necessarily be limited over the next few seasons.
And limited spending means the Chelsea job will likely be unattractive to the kind of veteran A-list candidates who might otherwise be interested: Louis Van Gaal, Marcello Lippi, Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho ... any former Champions' League winning manager you care to name really. These guys want to make their mark on a club by molding it in their image and bringing in players who are better than the ones already there -- and that costs money. Money which Chelsea -- if it is to observe Financial Fair Play Regulations -- will find hard to come by.
The alternative, of course, is to find a cheaper option, a promising up-and-comer who will jump at the chance to manage a big club and won't make too many demands. Marco Van Basten maybe, or Owen Coyle, Thomas Tuchel and Andres Villas Boas, somebody of that ilk. The problem with that logic is that you're rolling the dice. You could unearth a gem who successfully makes the leap, works on a relative shoestring and delivers glory. Or you could get a guy who is totally overwhelmed and out of his element, struggles to get his message across to a veteran squad and, because he has limited experience, makes the kind of basic blunders that cost dear.
The point is that Chelsea has somewhat painted itself into a corner. The Blues are at a crossroads between great expense and great uncertainty. And the margin of error, in both instances, is minimal, while the worst-case outcome could be catastrophic: either noncompliance with Financial Fair Play (which would mean no Champions League soccer and a massive financial hit) or failure to qualify for the Champions League (which, of course, involves an equally big financial loss).
Of course, there's a guy who knows these players inside out. A guy who has already won the Champions' League twice and who, over the past decade, has proved he can get the best out of an aging squad filled with big names. A guy who is universally liked and is used to getting "advice" from above. A guy who acts like a gentleman, who doesn't cry to the media or plant stories or harangue referees. A guy who is popular with the majority of fans. A guy who has already won the Premier League and FA Cup. A guy who did not bat an eyelid (at most he provided a raised eyebrow) when an unsolicited Fernando Torres landed on his doorstep. A guy who has shown he can play entertaining, attacking soccer. A guy who is already under contract (until June 2012) and, therefore, won't cost the club an extra penny. That guy, of course, would be Ancelotti.
Will Abramovich keep him around? Not according to the aforementioned galaxy of wise heads who orbit around him. But maybe a more telling hint might be the fact that, apart from some obvious self-promotion, no manager has been linked to the Chelsea job. And if there's one thing Chelsea's recent past shows, the team's not very good at keeping its managerial hunts quiet. Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, Abramovich will do the logical thing and retain Ancelotti.