The groundstaff were out with their pitchforks prodding the Stamford Bridge turf back into life when the most important figure in the drama made his low-key entrance. Roman Abramovich had just witnessed his seventh year of failure in the Champions League and his face told its own story.
His forehead creased and his lips pursed, he looked resigned to his fate as he walked across the grass from the West Stand before heading down the tunnel to deliver a few consoling words to the disconsolate players in the Chelsea dressing room, a speech the Russian has had to make in each of the seven seasons since he bought the club in 2003. Perhaps he was even ruing his decision to sack Jose Mourinho two and a bit years ago.
As Mourinho had pointed out with excruciating accuracy before the game, Chelsea have only won one FA Cup in the two seasons since his departure, after having won seven trophies in three years under him. Abramovich's decision to sack Mourinho in September 2007 has never looked more ill-judged than last night.
Carlo Ancelotti was brought in last summer charged with changing Chelsea's record of failure in the competition, a run that has seen four losing semi-finals, to Liverpool twice (once on penalties), to Barcelona last season and to Monaco, to go alongside the painful defeat in a shoot-out to Manchester United in the 2008 final in Moscow. He can now add defeats in both legs to Jose Mourinho's Internazionale.
From Ancelotti's demeanour it would have been impossible to detect just what a crucial game this was for him. Abramovich has spent more than £700m on the club since buying it in 2003, but has never been able to sip vodka from the most important trophy in club football.
Ancelotti's pre-match contention that his Chelsea side have more style was made to look little more than hollow boasting by Mourinho's tactically disciplined team. Wesley Sneijder was the game's most creative force, Samuel Eto'o terrorised the left side of the Chelsea defence, Lucio kept Didier Drogba on the tightest of leashes, and Thiago Motta did the dirty work in front of the back four.
Ancelotti was on his feet throughout the match, hands in pockets, chewing gum, showing all the emotion of a man waiting to hail a taxi in the Fulham Road. However as the match began to slip away from Chelsea, he continued with his stoic demeanour, while just yards away Mourinho was cajoling his side with yells of exhortation and direction. In contrast Ancelotti seemed powerless to prevent Inter gaining a greater grip on the game. Abramovich is said to want a team in his own image. He has got it in a manager who is undemonstrative and unemotional.
Even when referee Wolfgang Stark waved away home shouts for a penalty when Walter Samuel clearly wrestled Didier Drogba to the ground before a corner, sparking howls of protest from the Chelsea team, it was assistant Ray Wilkins rather than Ancelotti who lost his cool and berated the German fourth official.
The portly Italian has yet to capture the imagination of the regulars in the Shed the way Mourinho used to. The point was proved to him in the moments before kick-off, when the supporters at both ends of the ground chanted "Jose Mourinho", eliciting a wave from the man now in charge of Internazionale.
Ancelotti's name has never been sung at Stamford Bridge. Eight months in the job, most of which have been spent on top of the Premier League, and he has yet to hear his name put to music. Not, you suspect, that Ancelotti is bothered. Chances are that he has not even noticed.
It is no disgrace for Chelsea to go out of Europe to the champions of Italy. But to lose both ties, particularly against Mourinho, is the first major blot on Ancelotti's copybook. As the clock ticked down the Inter fans taunted the former Milan manager Ancelotti by singing "Bye-bye, Carletto'", knowing just how trigger- happy Abramovich has been in the past. Chelsea's Russian owner is used to tasting European failure but this defeat to the man he sacked in 2007 will have been particularly galling.Reuse content