Chelsea return tonight to the Pod Dubnom Stadium where Roman Abramovich's Russian revolution began seven and a bit years ago. Back in 2003 Claudio Ranieri's hastily compiled team completed a 2-0 victory over MSK Zilina in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier, a game in Slovakia which marked the dawning of the club's Roman empire.
At the time it seemed Abramovich's funding of Chelsea would build a dynasty to dominate England, and possibly Europe, for many years. If that was the ambition, and it appeared to be the case with the likes of Peter Kenyon predicting they would "turn the world blue", then they have fallen short.
Undoubtedly they are one of the strongest teams in Europe, with three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Carling Cups to show for the £700m the Russian oligarch has pumped into the club, not forgetting the six different managers he has employed.
Yet the biggest prize of all, the Champions League, still eludes Chelsea, despite their having reached five semi-finals and one final in the seven-year period since the Russian billionaire took up residency at Stamford Bridge.
Abramovich still props up the club by writing off their operating losses, which were £66m in 2008 and £44m in 2009, but he has not spent the kind of crazy money he did seven years ago, when in just over one month he blew £111m on 10 new players. Now he leaves the silly spending to Manchester City.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti was at pains to point out yesterday that Abramovich is still as committed to the club as ever, despite not shelling out as much of his own money. "He has a lot of passion for this club. He feels that this is his club, 100 per cent," Ancelotti said.
In the place of expensive new signings, Ancelotti must blood some of his promising youngsters, such as the striker Daniel Sturridge who comes into the starting line-up tonight in place of Didier Drogba, banned for two games after his red card against Internazionale last season.
Ancelotti said: "We want to involve more young players compared to last season. These players are now more ready to play in the first team. Gaël Kakuta played on Saturday, and [against MSK Zilina] we will play Daniel Sturridge from the beginning. We want to use the young players so they play more games."
Enticing the very best out of Sturridge will require much of the man-management skills with which Ancelotti has built his reputation. The 21-year-old was criticised within the club last season for believing his own hype but the Italian believes he has learned a valuable lesson. "He has improved a lot in the past year," Ancelotti said. "He improved his character, his professional behaviour. I am happy. He has matured. He is a fantastic striker. I hope that he will start to play fantastic. I have never seen a striker as quick as he is."
Ancelotti has rested Ashley Cole and has left Frank Lampard to continue recuperating from surgery, demonstrating his desire to rotate his players throughout the season to ensure they are fresh for the key games in the spring. Last season Chelsea lost out to Internazionale in March at the last-16 stage.
"Rotation is good, to give all the players motivation and to avoid injury," Ancelotti said, sounding like his tinkering predecessor Ranieri. "I don't know if the players are happy or not. This season it is the right way to maintain them, to keep them without injury. We have to show our quality, and arrive at the right time in the Champions League fully fit. This is the key."
Ancelotti is convinced this team will end Abramovich's seven-year itch and win the Champions League, having lost the 2008 final on penalties to Manchester United following John Terry's slip.
"If you have the time to wait, the passion to wait, the revenge arrives, always," he said. "I am sure these players will have their revenge. I don't know if I will be here for it, but these players will have their revenge, they will win the Champions League. I am sure of it. They could win the Champions League with the penalty kick of John Terry. That would be good."Reuse content