There is something flattering about being brought in for a specific purpose. To do the job that nobody else has been able to do. Michael became the Godfather because Sonny could never be a real Don. Nobody other than Petruchio could hope to woo Katherina. And when Roman Abramovich brought in his own Italian specialist the message was clear. Carlo Ancelotti was to deliver the Champions League to Stamford Bridge because nobody else could. The Special One tried and failed despite his success with Porto and later Inter Milan, Avram Grant missed out by the width of a post and Guus Hiddink was deprived by Guardiola’s all-conquering 2009 Barcelona team and the right boot of Andres Iniesta. Yet after last night’s defeat at home to Manchester United his Chelsea side is on the brink of going out before the semi-finals for the second year running. A Chelsea side that has made it to the semi-finals since 2007 under three different managers prior to Ancelotti’s arrival. Failure to beat Manchester United next week could be the nail in the coffin for the Italian tactician.
Ancelotti was chosen as the replacement for Hiddink because, despite only winning one Scudetto he guided Milan to three Champions League finals winning two. In 2003 penalties decided the worst Champions League final in years against Juventus and in 2007 his Milan side exacted revenge against Benitez’s Liverpool after the amazing 2005 defeat. His record in the competition is remarkable by any standards. Even more useful to Chelsea was his ability to coax winning performances out of aging stars, something Chelsea have in embarrassing abundance.
When it comes to the Champions League Chelsea are becoming the anti-Real Madrid. Both crave the trophy with all their soul. Madrid crave La Decima, the tenth European Cup that will cement them as the biggest club on the continent, Chelsea thirst for their first. The difference is that European triumph is the raison d’être of Madrid; the entire club is predicated on pre-eminence but Chelsea’s craving for European glory stems from one man. While Madrid have the swagger and arrogance that nine wins brings, Europe has become Roman Abramovich’s Moby Dick. No London club has ever won Europe’s biggest prize and Chelsea will need to overturn history to do it this time because Manchester United have never lost a European tie after winning the first leg away. The league leaders have conceded a grand total of two goals all season and are unbeaten at Old Trafford since the visit of Chelsea last year.
Chelsea’s travails in the league this year have been well documented. The November/December collapse followed by the arrival of a misfiring Torres has seen the champions fall way off the pace set by Ferguson’s team. But all these issues will be instantly forgotten if Ancelotti masterminds a way past United and a victory in Wembley in May. However, the Italian faces an uphill battle and it is hard to see Abramovich tolerating two years of relatively poor performances. Last year the Blues went out to the eventual champions and Chelsea won the domestic double but after investing a further £70m in the team the Russian oligarch will be expecting results. Ancelotti was brought in as a specialist. A specialist who gets worse results than the guys before is someone who is very expendable.