Chelsea are already preparing the way for Carlo Ancelotti to take over as manager by making assurances to the current assistant first-team coach, Ray Wilkins, that he will be required next season to act as a bridge between the Italian and his players. Wilkins is fluent in Italian from his time as a player at Milan in the 1980s and performed a similar role for Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink this season.
Retaining Wilkins' services is regarded as an important part of introducing Ancelotti to life at Stamford Bridge, should the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, close the deal to sign Milan's 49-year-old coach. The parting of the ways between Ancelotti and Milan, whom he has served for eight years as a coach, appeared to draw closer yesterday when he was publicly criticised by Silvio Berlusconi, the club's owner and the Italian Prime Minister.
That Chelsea are already thinking about the next season and how best to smooth Ancelotti's arrival suggests that they are confident of landing the preferred target of Abramovich, despite recent hints from the Italian that he may be reconsidering. His most recent pronouncements on the subject, that he "would be doing this job for some time" have been put in context by Berlusconi's latest outburst.
Wilkins has been regarded as a success at the club and connected well with a group of players who fell out in spectacular fashion with his predecessor, Henk Ten Cate. The 52-year-old, who was a Chelsea player for six years, is fond of impressing his friends with his fluency in Italian but it has been indicated to him that it will be put to greater use in the future than ordering from the menu in local Italian restaurants.
Ancelotti's own transfer to Milan took place around the time that Wilkins left to play for Paris St-Germain in 1987, although he is well aware of Wilkins' achievements at a club where he is still very well-regarded. Ancelotti is currently considering a three-year contract offer from Chelsea. There are other factors for him to consider at the club, such as the major overhaul of the squad required this summer and the future of chief executive, Peter Kenyon, who is not certain to stay.
Italian newspapers reported yesterday that Milan have put together a three-year deal to keep their coach, who has won two Champions League titles. Having spent this season outside that competition, Milan should qualify for next season's Champions League. They are second in Serie A, seven points behind the leaders Internazionale, who can win the title by winning their next home game against Siena.
However, Berlusconi yesterday blamed Ancelotti for the club's failure to push their city rivals harder in the title race. "It's all Ancelotti's fault because with the players we have we could have easily go head to head with Inter," he said, speaking while on government business in Egypt. "Lots of times this season we have made tactical mistakes.
"We have lots of players who are good with the ball and who can run with the ball, and we should have made more of these players but instead we went the other way. We should have used Ronaldinho more and we should have been more offensive ... and the defence needs to improve. Too often this season we gave away goals in the last few minutes of the match. As I say, if we lose the title then it is all down to Ancelotti."
Carlo's way: Ancelotti's trophies
As a player:
Roma: Coppa Italia 1980, 81, 84, 86; Serie A 1983.
Milan: Serie A 1988, 92; European Cup 1989, 90.
As a manager:
Milan: Coppa Italia 2003; European Cup 2003, 07; Serie A 2004; Club World Cup 2007.