Carlo Ancelotti has not won anything yet, but tonight he can crack open a bottle of decent red wine and raise a glass at having passed something of a minor landmark. He has lasted longer in the job of Chelsea manager than Luiz Felipe Scolari did.
One year ago today, Roman Abramovich arrived at Chelsea's £20m training ground in Cobham to tell Scolari: "It isn't working." And with that the World Cup-winning coach known as Big Phil was packing his bags to try his luck in Uzbekistan.
Twelve months on and Ancelotti can congratulate himself on having survived longer than the famed Brazilian. But he has done much more than just survive. Under his leadership Chelsea enjoy a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League, have progressed without hiccup to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and are heavy favourites to retain the FA Cup. Something clearly is working.
Ancelotti is succeeding with much the same bunch of players that had systematically failed under Scolari; they failed to win enough games, and they failed to give the manager their full backing. But first under Guus Hiddink, who safely saw Chelsea through to the end of last season, and now under Ancelotti, a squad that had seemed virtually unmanageable a year ago has become the outstanding team in the land.
The furore that greeted captain John Terry's recent bedroom revelations, and the subsequent decision to strip the Chelsea defender of the England captaincy has done nothing to affect morale. The leaders' 2-0 defeat of Arsenal on Sunday was not the result of a dressing room torn apart by inner doubts and tensions.
Much as his compatriot Fabio Capello has done with taking the same players that underperformed for England during the reign of Steve McClaren, Ancelotti has taken Scolari's players and made them greater than the sum of their parts. In many respects, Ancelotti has picked up where Hiddink left off. Ancelotti's achievement in instilling harmony and focus to the ego-driven Chelsea dressing room should not be underestimated.
Scolari complained after his dismissal he had been undermined by "player power" and accused Petr Cech, Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba of going behind his back and moaning to Abramovich. Ancelotti has a far deeper understanding of the workings of a modern dressing room, having spent eight years at Milan, and accepts the balance of power has swung away from managers in the past decade. His handling of the Terry situation last week was clear evidence of this. He stood by his player, and expected the same in return. In contrast Scolari was happy to blame players publicly for mistakes, creating a culture of scapegoats, a culture of which he ended up falling victim.
This approach has enabled Ancelotti to bring out the best in the likes of Drogba, who was dropped by Scolari but has scored 22 goals so far this season. Florent Malouda, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho have also undergone something of a renaissance.
Chelsea's performance in their victory over Arsenal on Sunday demonstrated the maturity of the team. They have played better in other games recently, notably the 7-2 thrashing of Sunderland, but against Arsenal they were content to rein in their creative side in order to attain a win that not only returned them to the top of the table but also consigned their London neighbours to the role of also-rans.
A year ago, player power proved to be the downfall of Scolari. Now, the same player power appears to be driving Chelsea and their coach Ancelotti towards the Premier League title.Reuse content