On the front row at yesterday's presentation of Chelsea's new manager Carlo Ancelotti sat the club's chief executive Peter Kenyon; the director Eugene Tenenbaum; the chief scout Frank Arnesen and a collection of executives and assorted hangers-on.
They shook hands with Ancelotti afterwards and laughed suitably loudly when he cracked his first joke in faltering English. "I don't know if John Terry will be the captain next season," Ancelotti said before he punctured the gasps by adding: "Of course, I am joking."
But for all the approving nods and murmured appreciation you could not ignore the fact that no one from the Chelsea hierarchy – not Kenyon nor the chairman Bruce Buck – actually sat next to Ancelotti at the top table. Instead the Italian fronted up with just a solitary press officer for company, his first experience of what a lonely job managing Chelsea can be.
Not many clubs appoint a new manager and then send him out to face the world without anyone from the board by his side, but then there are not many clubs like Chelsea. The Italian coach is their fifth manager in the space of two years and, like a serial divorcee, the likes of Kenyon and Buck have probably decided that it is prudent to bide their time before they embrace this particular relationship.
Ancelotti's tenuous grasp of English was an easy way for the club to fudge the issue of Terry's future which was the subject that dominated their new manager's first day in the job. That probably explained the absence of Kenyon from Ancelotti's side. It was evidently deemed more prudent to let Ancelotti er and um his way through.
The former Milan manager seems a likeable character but then so was Luiz Felipe Scolari and he only lasted eight months at Chelsea. Ancelotti made it clear that he wanted Terry to stay, although he admitted that he last spoke to the England captain before Manchester City had begun their bid to sign the player. He laid it on thick that Terry was a "symbol" of Chelsea but was unspecific about whether the club would be prepared to match City's £150,000-plus pay offer.
The current Terry saga is typical of those mini-crises that affect Chelsea on a regular basis so Ancelotti may as well get used to it. Naturally the one person whose opinions really do matter at Chelsea – Roman Abramovich – was not in attendance so it was left to Ancelotti to explain what is required of him by the Russian.
"Roman and I have the same objectives," he said. "To do very well this season and to win. I would like to have a team that plays well, plays good football, creative football, and naturally that win. It's important to win but also to be a team with good characteristics, to play well and with organisation."
Ancelotti made the impromptu announcement that the club had completed the signing of the Russian Yuri Zhirkov from CSKA Moscow, a left-sided player who cost around £17m, to add to their free signings Daniel Sturridge and Ross Turnbull. It is not exactly a collection of players to rival Real Madrid's recent acquisitions but Ancelotti was confident. "The market close on 31 August," he said. "We have time."
His grasp of English will be a problem when he addresses his full squad for the first time on Thursday; it is at about the same level as Fabio Capello's English when he arrived 18 months ago although he refused to speak it in his first press conference. Ancelotti admitted in his autobiography that he occasionally lies in interviews to get out of trouble but at the moment his English is enough to spread confusion among journalists.
However, scraps of his philosophy did become clear. He conceded that Chelsea need a "fantasy player" to rejuvenate them – "We are looking," he said. "To give the team an identity they need a clear idea of the game. We would like to play in the same way in other stadiums as we do at Stamford Bridge. To have an identity. That is the idea."
In the meantime all that he has to do is win back the Premier League and Chelsea's first Champions League – all with an ageing squad and an owner who is that bit more frugal with his funds. "I think there is a possibility to win the Champions League," he said. "It is difficult because it depends on many factors, but I think Chelsea have more possibilities than other teams."
Ancelotti had the confidence of a man who seemed to know that Abramovich would pay up for at least one big name: be it Franck Ribéry, Xabi Alonso or Alexandre Pato. From then on, he said, it would be a case of getting the team right. "It's down to great work from the players: unselfish, strong character," he said. "It's not a problem of quality." And if it all goes wrong there is one golden rule for Chelsea managers: you're on your own.
The 'to do' list: Ancelotti's tasks
* Get an answer on John Terry's future
* And Ashley Cole's as well – he has still not signed a new contract
* Where does Yuri Zhirkov fit in on the left side? So is Florent Malouda out?
* Are youngsters Jeffrey Bruma and Michael Mancienne worth a regular place in the senior squad?
* Get an Italian assistant in – or at least someone loyal to watch your backReuse content