More about managers

Could manager Carlo Ancelotti be another Andrei Shevchenko for Chelsea? In other words, the acquisition made by a self-indulgent billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, which turns out to be a major mistake?

“Follow that!” Guus Hiddink might have said to Carlo Ancelotti, were he not a modest man. Winning the FA Cup for Chelsea in some style, arguably cheated by a shocking Norwegian referee out of taking part in the European Cup Final in Rome, the Dutch coach has returned to Moscow trailing clouds of glory; and leaving a legacy which won’t be easy for Ancelotti to follow.

The question arises: could Ancelotti be another Andrei Shevchenko? In other words, the acquisition made by a self-indulgent billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, which turns out to be a major mistake? There can be no doubt that when Chelsea, a couple of seasons ago, paid over £30 million and a huge weekly salary for the Ukrainian international striker, from Milan, he already gave all the signs of being a busted flush. A once great centre-forward whose career was now in twilight and who could never be expected to reproduce the dazzling form he had once showed with Dynamo Kiev and then Milan.

So, alas, it proved. Shevchenko struggled, was eventually loaned back to Milan, where he struggled again. Recently, it became known that to get rid of him, Chelsea had to shell out £7 million. Not quite as easily disbursed by their owner as it would have been before the credit crunch reportedly cost him billions of dollars.

The embarrassing truth is that he — and it was plainly he — bought Shevchenko when his career was plainly in twilight. But at what point is the career of Ancelotti? In an indiscreet recent autobiography, he has revealed that he was meeting (did Milan’s owner Silvio Berlusconi know?) Abramovich in Geneva, and in Paris. One of those meetings taking place as long ago as season 2007/8. So there has been plenty of time for Abramovich and Chelsea to see that for two seasons now, the career of Ancelotti, however many titles he has won in the past, has been in steady decline.

In season 2007/8, Milan could do no better than a hugely embarrassing fifth place in the Campionato, which meant that they couldn’t even compete in the European Champions Cup. They had instead to content themselves with the lesser, much lesser, UEFA Cup, and look what happened there. Milan did manage to qualify for the first knock-out round, from which they were promptly knocked out on away goals by Werder Bremen.

In the just completed season, Milan, by virtue of a 2-0 win away to Fiorentina in their final game, managed to squeeze into third place in the Campionato which means they do at least go straight into the competition proper rather than having to qualify. But they ended embarrassingly far behind their eternal city rivals, Inter, who walked away with the scudetto and it was plain that Chelsea or no Chelsea, Milan were not about to keep Ancelotti on whatever his past achievements for another season. As for his boasting that no one and nobody interferes with his managerial decisions, this seems laughable when his boss has been the megalomaniac President of Italy Berlusconi who plainly interferes when he cares to in anything and everything. Does Ancelotti honestly expect us to believe that he took Shevchenko back from Chelsea of his own free will?

Almost as soon as he was appointed at Stamford Bridge he was shouting the odds about almost every star player you could think of being a target in the transfer market. And whereas Guus Hiddink was able to take over a team which had been floundering under the confused leadership of Big Phil Scolari, so that any newcomer, not merely the impressive Hiddink, could hardly be overshadowed, Ancelotti takes over a team on the crest of a wave. True they may have lost the League to Manchester United, but by comparison with United, so feeble and so poorly aligned in Rome against Barcelona, Chelsea didn’t lose to Barca at home or away. The forceful likes of Chelsea’s major stars, John Terry and Frank Lampard, will doubtless be keeping a beady eye on how Ancelotti will operate.

At Manchester United, Alex Ferguson’s image took a substantial knock in Rome where tactically he got things as wrong as he did in that winning final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona; when only two late substitutions saved his and United’s bacon. He stuck Wayne Rooney wastefully out on the left flank, he kept Carlos Tevez off far too long, he used Cristiano Ronaldo centrally when it would surely have paid to get him running against Barca’s veteran left-back, Sylvinho. Yes, his team did, indeed, as he said, give away “two shoddy goals,” but there was more to it than that.