Ancelotti's Big Challenge

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There's no hiding from it now: the Premiership they won were nice but what Chelsea really want now is the Champions League. In truth, that has been well known for quite a while yet if any confirmation was needed it came with the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as manager. For, despite winning an Italian league title, Ancelotti's biggest achievements at AC Milan were the two continental triumphs that he achieved over Juventus and Liverpool.

Despite that success, however, there seems to be a fair bit of scepticism about his abilities. Perhaps not from Chelsea fans - although I wouldn't exclude everyone - but certainly from a good portion of fans from rival clubs. There the feeling seems to be of relief that Hiddink didn't stay on.

Ancelotti, it seems, has been tainted by Milan's failures in recent years. They didn't make it to the Champions League last year whilst this season they were dumped out of the UEFA Cup that everyone (at least in Italy) had assumed they would .win.

If that's the case then it is a grossly unfair assesment of his abilities. The truth is that he was lumbered with an ageing squad - thirty-five year old Pippo Inzaghi and forty-one year old Paulo Maldini were still regulars last season - and an opinionated owner who wasn't interested in spending any money to rebuild the team. Making matters worse for Ancelotti, he had very little say in which players were bought.

So it was that last year they signed the error prone Philipe Senderos who was presented to Ancellotti as the solution for a defence. And, with a side crying for back-up in the centre of midfield, he was given the marque signings of Ronaldinho and David Beckham. At least, Beckham added something to the team and arguably it was his arrival that kick-started Milan's season in January. The truth is that the side overachieved in nailing a spot in the Champions League.

At Chelsea, he won't have such issues as he will have both the money to spend and a say in how it is used. Then again, that could be his biggest challenge given how unused he is to being in charge of such matters. It will certainly be interesting to see who he brings in although it wouldn't be that surprising if a couple of his Milan players were to follow him.

More so because he was an extremely popular man with his squad. Always eager to shield his players, whom he never criticised in public, he even put a brave face when Silvio Berlusconi chose to criticise his tactics during a chat with journalists. A talent, that of handling a rather meddlesome owner, that might come in handy at Chelsea.

Yet what Chelsea will be banking on is Ancelotti's tactical knowledge: that is his strenght, something that is far too often overlooked. It was Ancelotti, for instance, who had the intuition of withdrawing Andrea Pirlo making him the most effective playmaker in Europe. And it was Ancelotti who built the wonderful Milan side of 2005, a team that could play beautiful attractive football. Sadly, and this seems to be a repetitive trait for Ancelotti, all that was forgotten when they lost the final to Liverpool.

Indeed, the view of Ancelotti in Italy is that he is a good man. Too good, in fact, to win. A label that was assigned to him when he was at Juventus where and which he has never been able to really shake off since.

At Chelsea, he has cut those links with the past and will be looking to re-invent himself. He will never be the outspoken and brash manager that Jose Mourinho was, but, if he manages to win the Champions League for them, then nobody will really mind.

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