Ancelotti gives contradictory verdict on the Cole gun saga

Chelsea manager fails to convince as a disciplinarian but refutes claims that players are out of control
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The role of disciplinarian is not one that sits comfortably with Carlo Ancelotti. As Chelsea manager, he is forced to become the hard taskmaster every now and then whenever his players step out of line, but it is not something he does with any great conviction.

Ancelotti would have much preferred yesterday to be discussing the tactical ins and outs of tonight's Premier League contest with Manchester United, instead of the latest indiscretion by one of his highly paid players. However, given the nature of life at Chelsea it is only a matter of time before someone drops the club in the mire again and he has to instil a sense of order and – to the best of his ability – lay down the law.

Ancelotti's default mode when put on the spot is to arch his left eyebrow and look thoughtful; not to read the riot act. He was out fighting fires yesterday, following the weekend's revelations that Ashley Cole had accidentally fired an air gun and shot a young student on work placement at the club's training ground in Cobham, Surrey.

Cole is reported to have fired at Tom Cowan, 21, by mistake from a distance of just five feet, thinking the .22 rifle was not loaded. Mr Cowan, who is a sports science student at Loughborough University, was struck in the side by the pellet and was treated by the club's doctors. Surrey Police have contacted the club as they investigate if any criminal offence has been committed.

The joke doing the rounds at the club's training ground yesterday was that Mr Cowan was unlucky it hadn't been Fernando Torres with his finger on the trigger, as the £50m striker would surely have missed. It is no laughing matter for Chelsea, however, who stand accused of failing to exert discipline over their star-studded dressing room.

It led to an uncomfortable press conference for Ancelotti yesterday, who ended up giving out mixed messages. The manager said the club took what had happened very seriously, and said he had spoken to Cole about the incident, for which the player has been fined. But with the next breath he also paid tribute to Cole for being "one of the best professionals I've met in my career" and described the shooting as "not a good thing to do".

Ancelotti said: "If things happen in the training ground, mistakes, then I have to take action. To read that Cobham is out of control though is totally wrong. I've been a manager for 20 years and one of the most important things is discipline. To have that you have to observe the rules. One player, Ashley, made a mistake.

"When he said sorry he was really disappointed. What do we have to do now? Kill him? No. We have to support him. It would be very different if he had not said sorry. We are not happy because he stepped over the line, but we have to support him. We are really disappointed for the guy who was involved and was a victim of this. But things are not out of control.

"I am angry, obviously. I'm not happy. But now I have to explain this is not a good thing to do. I maintain the same idea about him [Cole]: he's a good player but a good man, also. For this reason, that he's a good man, we have to be fair. I hope to be fair with my players. I want to have a good relationship with them, but this does not mean there is no discipline here. We have rules."

It was a confused and contradictory performance by the manager, designed to appease owner Roman Abramovich, who has in the past personally intervened when players have overstepped the mark, but at the same time not alienate himself from the dressing room. Sources close to Cole have claimed that the incident has been blown out of proportion, and Ancelotti had to be mindful of not over-reacting. He made it clear that Cole would play tonight when Chelsea host league leaders Manchester United.

The news of the shooting – which occurred on 20 February but only became known on Sunday – deflected attention from the importance of tonight's game for Chelsea, who are currently languishing in fifth place. Ancelotti confessed he is uncertain which combination of formation and personnel to use, undecided whether to try to dominate possession with a 4-3-3 system, or play 4-4-2 and hit United on the counter-attack. Either way, Torres is sure to start despite failing to score in his three appearances following his British record transfer. He is likely to be partnered by Nicolas Anelka, with Didier Drogba again left on the bench.

Ancelotti said: "Obviously for a striker it's important to score. But, above all in the last game, he [Torres] played very well. He had four opportunities to score and was denied by the goalkeeper and he moved very well for the team. He'd have preferred to score, but he will.

"Anelka can show his quality when he has space and, at home, it's more difficult for him to find the space. It depends on the behaviour of the team during the game. Against United, we won't have a lot of space but, if we can move well at the right time, we can find the space to counter-attack them. He can show his quality."