Sam Wallace: Abramovich should give Ancelotti the time he needs to build on solid foundations
Even if Chelsea's season ends with only qualification for the Champions League, Ancelotti has earned another shot at it
In one corner of the magnificent Chelsea training ground in Surrey, a big house is being built. The rumours are that it will be used by owner Roman Abramovich when he is not in his place in Marylebone or his estate in Sussex or on one of his yachts – or anywhere else business takes him.
Whatever mystery surrounds Abramovich, there is a sense of permanence about that house which suggests he has no plans to abandon his Chelsea project – cost estimated now at close to £1bn. It is not, after all, like he needs another home. It makes you wonder how different life would be at that club if the position of the manager at Chelsea was as solid as the proverbial bricks and mortar.
Carlo Ancelotti approaches tomorrow's Champions League quarter-final second leg at Old Trafford with a long-term survival rating only fractionally higher than that of an asthmatic moth. Fail against United, the consensus runs, and Ancelotti is gone in the summer. The evidence? The four managers – excluding caretaker Guus Hiddink – who have already been escorted off the premises since Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
Every manager who has failed to win the league at Chelsea has been sacked at the end of the season, with the exception of Jose Mourinho, who was sacked the following September. Ancelotti's side are 11 points behind United with one game in hand. His one chance at redemption this season was the Champions League but Wednesday's 1-0 home defeat means his options are running out fast.
No one can be certain of Abramovich's next move. His greatest talent is for his own inscrutability. His second is for making bold decisions without blinking. But here is a simple plea: if it turns out Chelsea are eliminated by United tomorrow, they should not sack Ancelotti. If the season ends with only qualification for the Champions League next season – and that looks increasingly secure – then he has earned the right to another shot at it.
At a club as demanding as Chelsea it must be hard to accept that, by the end of this week in mid-April, there could be nothing to play for. And, difficult though that must be to explain to a Russian billionaire who is not involved at the club on a day-to-day basis, it does not necessarily mean the manager needs to be changed.
Quite apart from Ancelotti's qualities, where is the high-profile, high-calibre replacement who, like the Italian, can point to previous successes in the Champions League? If the only candidate you can think of is Mourinho, then the answer is: there isn't one.
In Arsène Wenger's first full season at Arsenal, 1997-1998, he too won the League and Cup Double. His was a team built mostly from the remnants of the successful George Graham era, plus Dennis Bergkamp and a few judicious signings of Wenger's own. Then, after 1998, Wenger had to endure United winning three consecutive league titles, as well as the treble in 1999, before he won his next title with a very different team in 2002.
In many respects, it feels the same way with Ancelotti. He took the best of Mourinho's side and won the Double last season. But that team is reaching its natural end and it will take a few years to rebuild. With considerably more credit in the bank, Sir Alex Ferguson did the same at United between 2001 and 2007. It helped that he won one title during that period in 2003, but it was not until 2007 that he had comprehensively rebuilt from six years earlier.
Unfortunately, time does not seem to be a commodity which Ancelotti can draw upon. Yet, beyond the isolated disappointment of this season, Chelsea are not a club in crisis. There is more to them than the question of when Fernando Torres will score his first goal. The problem is that, as long as the only thing that matters is winning the Champions League – and everyone is judged accordingly – it can seem that way.
They have spent millions on their academy, not all of it with obvious results, but Chelsea under-18s beat their United counterparts 3-2 yesterday in the semi-final first leg of the FA Youth Cup, which Chelsea won last season. It may just be that after years of trying, the club's academy is starting to yield some results. Only time will tell.
Equally, the two goals for Daniel Sturridge, on loan at Bolton Wanderers, against West Ham on Saturday mean that the Chelsea striker has now scored six goals since his first game on 2 February. You could point out that is more than the combined total of Torres, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba in the same period. But, equally, it could suggest that this young man has finally grasped what is required of him.
Yes, Abramovich has ploughed enough money in to expect results immediately. But football rarely behaves according to that kind of logic, to the extent that it is hard not to think that he was spoilt by the success of those two league titles in his first three seasons. He only needs to look at Manchester City's slower progress, after the same kind of massive investment, to see that.
It will be eight years this summer since Abramovich bought Chelsea. They are an established part of the European elite to the extent that even their generous owner supports tighter rules on financial fair play. They have league titles and FA Cups and, although no European Cup yet, they no longer have to fret about their status. They can afford to be patient.
FA so determined to put boot into Rooney's mouth
The Football Association's extraordinary decision to charge Wayne Rooney for his naughty language in front of the camera is preposterous for lots of reasons – not least because of the hostile atmosphere in which his remarks were made. But what is so incredible is that the charge was only made because referee Lee Mason said that, had he seen the incident at the time, he would have sent Rooney off.
Sir Alex Ferguson is right when he says that Mason must have been leant on to offer that up in his report. It is simply just not credible that, in the course of a match, a referee would have dismissed Rooney or anyone else for that offence. The FA owed Rooney a suspension after the elbow on James McCarthy and, sadly for them, they decided that this was their moment.
Art of the penalty taken to new level
If you have not seen the clip on YouTube by now then you need to search for Joonas Jokinen's penalty for his youth team FC Baar, of Switzerland. There is still part of me that – given his name – thinks it might be an April Fool's wind-up, but no one has proved that it is anything but genuine.
Jokinen, who is Finnish, scores with a penalty against opposition FC Sempach but in the same action performs a Nani-style somersault, using the momentum he has generated by striking the ball. It will only be a matter of time before we see it over here. In fact, as a precaution, Nani should not be allowed to take a penalty under any circumstances. Even if he scores, the FA will probably charge him with something.
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