The Carlo question – should he stay or should he go?

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The Independent Football

You would have thought winning the FA Cup and the Premier League title in the same season would have bought Carlo Ancelotti time – more than a season, anyway – but we all know that Roman Abramovich would have happily swapped that Double for a single: the Champions League. Now a second failure in Europe has left the Italian in trouble. Add a failed title defence to his CV and he seems to be a dead man walking. Abramovich has been ruthless in the past (ask Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant or Luiz Felipe Scolari). But with Chelsea potless this season surely Abramovich is right? Not necessarily...

Three reasons why Chelsea might sack Ancelotti

1. He has failed to solve Chelsea's problems

Ancelotti has had two months to integrate Fernando Torres into the team, but he has chopped and changed tactics in a hit-and-hope method of making it work to no avail.

In hindsight his decision to start with Torres instead of Didier Drogba at Old Trafford could be the one that haunts him.

On the big nights, Ancelotti is conservative in both his tactics and his substitutions. Needing a goal with nine minutes to go against United, Ancelotti put full-back Paulo Ferreira on to replace Alex, when Yossi Benayoun was available. Chelsea fans have been critical of his cautious substitutions for some time, but Ferreira's introduction in the 81st minute on Tuesday was the most galling.

Ancelotti also did very little when Chelsea's form deserted them at the end of last year. His policy of playing it cool can quickly seem like an inability to take action when it is required.



2. Four defeats in four big European games

Ancelotti's record of twice leading Milan to the Champions League was behind Abramovich's decision to appoint him, but at Chelsea he has failed on the biggest stage. Chelsea lost both legs against Internazionale in last season's knock-out stage and then lost both games against Manchester United again in this year's quarter-finals.

In two seasons under Ancelotti, Chelsea have a record of four defeats in four games as soon as they meet one of the Champions League contenders. Given all the money Abramovich has spent, he clearly expects more. It is tough on Ancelotti to always compare him against Mourinho, but that didn't happen to him in his time at Chelsea.



3. Ancelotti has looked a weak leader this season

Scolari was sacked when he lost the trust of Chelsea's senior players. Ancelotti is still popular with his players, but importantly some respect for him has gone in the past six months. The Italian lost some face with the squad when he did not stand up to Abramovich over the decision to sack his close friend Ray Wilkins last November, which was in contrast to the way Mourinho had fought for his assistant Steve Clarke a few years earlier.

The £50m signing of Torres has also served to undermine his authority, for although the Italian denies it is the case, it looks from the outside that he is picking the Spaniard to curry favour with Abramovich. The players still back Ancelotti but for some it is a case of "better the devil you know".

Three reasons why Chelsea might keep Ancelotti

1. He just needs time

The most compelling argument is that all managers need time to build their own team – even the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger. But once Abramovich took over, the revolving door at Stamford Bridge has not stopped. Since the Russian bought the club in 2003, the average life expectancy of a Chelsea manager is 417 days, and Ancelotti is already way over that, having lasted 651.

The Chelsea team, built by Jose Mourinho seven years ago, is on its last legs, the Double last season the final hurrah of a great side, and an overhaul is overdue. The arrival of Fernando Torres, David Luiz and Ramires in the past year signals a change of direction for Chelsea, and Ancelotti deserves the chance to leave his own imprint on the new side. He built a team at Milan that won the Champions League twice and there is no reason to believe he could not do the same at Chelsea, if he is given the chance. He proved his worth by leading the ageing side to the Double last year, and deserves the space to mould his own team.

2. A lack of alternatives

Jose Mourinho has changed tack recently and is now talking about staying at Real Madrid. In February Pep Guardiola signed a one-year extension to stay at Barcelona until 2012. Ferguson and Wenger are unobtainable. Guus Hiddink is halfway through a delicately poised Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with Turkey.

Many of Abramovich's preferred candidates would be hard to tempt out of their current positions. The Russian's overt courtship of the then England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, in 2004 shows that no manager is considered off limits by Chelsea.

But the Chelsea job is becoming an increasingly harder one to sell to potential candidates, particularly with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules close to being implemented. And at least Ancelotti is used now to coping with the whims of Abramovich and his entourage.

3. There is more to Ancelotti than just results

Abramovich's dream is a Barcelona in blue, and the closest he came to it was towards the end of last season, in which Chelsea scored 142 goals in 58 games. One of the reasons for sacking Mourinho was the lack of attacking football, and at their best under Ancelotti Chelsea have been a joy to watch. This season it has been very different, but Ancelotti has at least proved capable of producing the type of football that Abramovich wants.

Ancelotti has also done much to improve Chelsea's image. On the pitch, the snarling dissent of previous seasons has evaporated, and the outgoing champions top the Fair Play League. Off the pitch, Ancelotti's charm and humour has helped make Chelsea altogether more likeable.

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