Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United not only likely ended Chelsea’s one-year reign as Premier League champions but also set the wheels in motion for the departure of Carlo Ancelotti as manager. The approaching disappearance of the Premier League crown attained in Ancelotti’s first season in English football caps an unsatisfactory year for the Blues and speculation surrounding the Italian’s position at Stamford Bridge continues to heighten, with his sacking expected imminently come the season’s end in a fortnight.
Ancelotti’s downfall is ultimately down to failure to lift the trophy so craved by Chelsea’s wealthy billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, for whom another season without the Champions League will likely not be accepted. Considering the available candidates for the position of Chelsea manager few are more qualified than their current boss, with two Champions League titles already on his CV from eight years at Milan prior to moving to London. Even compared to his long-serving British-based counterparts, Ancelotti’s Champions League record is more favourable than Arsene Wenger – one final appearance in 14 years as Arsenal boss, and equal to Sir Alex Ferguson’s success in Europe’s premier competition who has two wins and one runners-up medal to his name before reaching this years’ final, having overcome the Blues at the quarter-final stage. Step forward next season an as yet unknown candidate at Stamford Bridge who, presumably, given the lack of patience shown with former managers, will face the chop if in two years they have not lifted the European Cup.
Despite his failure to lead his side to European glory, talk of Ancelotti’s dismissal appears unfair. Injuries to first-team regulars left Ancelotti with increasingly minimal options and he was crucially denied the ability to play talismanic midfielder Frank Lampard for over four months due to injury between August and December, by far the longest period of inactivity for the England star in his 10-year Chelsea career, posing a problem faced by no other previous Chelsea manager for that length of time.
During Lampard’s absence, the Chelsea board took the unusual step of sacking Ray Wilkins in November. Assistant to Ancelotti, Wilkins was a figure of respect at the club given his experience and knowledge, well-loved by players and fans alike, and a vital cog in Ancelotti’s back-room staff. Now seemingly alone in the dugout, with the increasingly anonymous replacement Michael Emenalo cutting a far more distant figure than Wilkins, whose role offering advice and guidance was always evident, Ancelotti had to steer his team through the club’s worst run in 15 years as they struggled in the months after Wilkins’ departure, plummeting to fifth place as recently as February, with the possibility of missing out on Champions League qualification altogether a very real worry.
Considering the domestic revival displayed by his side, taking 25 points from an available 27 to rally back into the title race prior to Sunday’s loss at Old Trafford, it would appear clear that Chelsea players are still behind their Italian manager. Yet it seems Ancelotti will be forced out on the back of consecutive failures in Europe and a trophy-less season, despite everything that went against him this year and appearing well equipped to lead Chelsea into the future if just given time and patience. Unfortunately, these pleasantries may not be afforded to Ancelotti, as they so rarely have been to past Blues managers in the wake of similar disappointments in years gone by.