Carlo Ancelotti was honest enough to admit yesterday that he is lucky to still be in a job after overseeing Chelsea's worst run of form for a decade. The Italian's future as Chelsea manager remains in doubt as long as the champions' form is that of a relegation-threatened club rather than a team fighting to defend their Premier League crown.
Chelsea's record of 10 points from their last 10 games demonstrates the extent of the team's collective nervous breakdown over the past two months. In the past, the club's owner, Roman Abramovich, has sacked managers for far less.
Ancelotti was asked if he thought such a record might have earned him the sack in his native Italy, and he replied, with a rueful laugh: "It depends. I think I am safe. I am a lucky man. I don't know. I understand that a lot of coaches are sacked with these results. I can say I am a lucky man."
He cannot rely on luck too much longer. While Abramovich was preoccupied spending £5m on having stars including the Black Eyed Peas perform at a lavish New Year's Eve party at his Caribbean estate in St Bart's, Chelsea were stuttering to a narrow victory over Bolton Wanderers before conceding a late equaliser to Aston Villa in Sunday's 3-3 draw that leaves them fifth in the table.
Abramovich has agreed that the squad needs strengthening during the winter transfer window, with the priorities being a centre-half and a striker. However, the manager needs to prove he has the ability to turn the side's results around quickly.
Ancelotti believes the time to judge him is at the end of the season, and he characteristically used a food analogy to make his point. "When you go to a restaurant, you have to pay the bill when you finish your meal," he said. "It's the same here. We have to pay the bill at the end of the season. At the end, the club can judge my job and everything."
Ancelotti predicted confidently his side will win tonight's game at Wolverhampton Wanderers. "We will not lose. We will win. I'm confident. We are improving and the team is very close to moving on from this difficult moment," he said.
The former Milan coach has certainly earned the right to be given time to correct things, having won the Double in his first season at the club. The players are also still behind him, judging by the way they all ran to the manager to celebrate what they thought was John Terry's winning goal against Aston Villa.
However, having released Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Juliano Belletti last summer and replaced them only with midfielders Ramires and Yossi Benayoun, there is an immediate need to beef up the squad.
Ancelotti refused to be drawn on names yesterday but did admit his requirement is for young players who would not need time to adjust to the Premier League. "It will not be just for this year. We are looking for young players, with experience and possibility also to buy players who don't need time to adapt," he said. Gary Cahill of Bolton Wanderers is one that would seem to fit the bill.
With the club currently in fifth place, there remains a fear that Chelsea could miss out on next season's Champions League, but Ancelotti confidently claimed that would not be the case. He said. "The most important thing is to finish in the top four and play in the Champions League next year. I am not worried because we have the skills and ability to stay in the top four without problems."