Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ancelotti - The Really Special One

After nine games of the 2010 -11 Barclays Premier League Chelsea stand top of the pile, five points ahead of the chasing pack.  That pack of three is made up of Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City. 
Many had predicted that the Old Trafford outfit would be Chelsea’s main competition for this season’s title, however of late events on the field at Manchester United have taken second place to the circus that has been the Wayne Rooney saga. United have suffered on the field this season also, the home game against West Brom being their low point, only one win in five on the road illustrates how much they are struggling to maintain a challenge for the title thus far.
The new money over at Eastlands have flattered to deceive at times this season, the home victory over Chelsea on September 25th indicated that they may be ready to dine at the top table of the Premier League. However a reverse away to Sunderland at the end of August and this weekend’s home drubbing at the hands of Arsenal show they are not quite the finished article yet.
Arsenal, while irresistible so far in Europe appear to have the same old failings in the Premier League. The fact that West Brom plundered The Emirates for three points show they may not be ruthless enough to claim the crown of Premier League Champions.
Granted there is a long way to go in this season’s title race, although Chelsea’s form this season has impressed many, and it must be form that really worries their main challengers. Their performances at Stamford Bridge has been particularly impressive; played five, won five, goals for sixteen, goals against zero. A huge amount of credit for this form must go to their manager of fifteen months, Carlo Ancelotti. Since he arrived Ancelotti he has gone about his job in a quiet, no nonsense manner. In his first season he became only the second non-British manager (the other being Arsene Wenger) to capture the league and cup double. Consistency was something Chelsea were craving in the manager’s office. Since Jose Mourinho departed in September 2007 and Ancelotti arrived in July 2009 three managers occupied the hot seat (not including Ray Wilkins). For all their riches, newly acquired global brand and superstar squad Chelsea did not have a stable regime in the manager’s office.
When Mourinho arrived to much fan fare in June 2004 he unabashedly titled himself ‘The Special One’. No doubt Mourinho’s record as a manager to that point was impressive; two Portuguese league titles, one Portuguese Cup, one UEFA cup and the 2004 Champions League title. Compare that to Ancelotti’s lack of self anointment on his arrival in London, added to that the fact that Ancelloti’s record to that point was at least as good as if not better than Mourinho’s when he took the reins at Chelsea. The Italian had already lead AC Milan to one Italian Cup, one Seire A title, two Champions League and one FIFA World Club title. That unassuming manner has been the hallmark of Ancelotti’s reign at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho’s time at Chelsea was blighted by one omission, the Champions League. It seemed Chelsea could not attain the European crown under the Portuguese supremo and he could not attain it while at Chelsea.  Mourinho captured the Champions League post Chelsea in only two years at Inter Milan, Chelsea meanwhile still have an empty spot on that particular shelf on their trophy cabinet. The stability Ancelotti has provided since he arrived seem to have Chelsea in great shape to win Europe’s top prize this season, that prize their owner Roman Ambramovich reportedly covets so much.
Recent history in the English club game suggests that a top manager does not need to have been a top player, Ferguson, Wenger and the aforementioned Mourinho all provide good examples of this. Surely though when trying to motivate a dressing room it cannot hurt to have seen and done it all yourself.  In this regard Ancelotti has arguably the best record of the current crop of Premier League managers. Alex McLeish, Roberto Mancini, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes to mention a few have had fine careers as players and all collected various domestic honours as well as success on the European Stage (Cup Winners Cup), the recently departed Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill too sparkled as a player, and was part of Brian Cloughs all conquering Nottingham Forest side, collecting two European Cups.
Ancelotti for his part was part of one of the finest sides the European game has seen, a side that included names such as Maldini, Baresi, Tassotti, Costacurta, Donadoni and their trio of Dutch men; Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten. During his time at AC Milan from 1987 to 1992 he won two league titles and two European Cups. Their march to the 1989 title is probably most remembered for their 4-0 annihilation of Steaua Bucharest in the final. However this performance followed on from an equally impressive 5-0 semi final second leg destruction of Real Madrid at the San Siro. A game where Ancelotti himself opened the scoring for the Rossoneri with a glorious strike in the 19th minute.
Ancelotti in his fifteen years as a manager has always had a thoughtful and considered approach to the game. It may be a tired cliché to suggest he is a ‘student of the game’, but this tag surely fits easily on Ancelotti’s shoulders. In 1997, two years after taking charge at his first managerial post at Reggiana, Ancelotti was studying for a Masters course at Coverciano (the Italian Football Federation’s Training Centre outside of Florence).  While studying here Ancelotti penned a thesis ‘The Future of Football: More Dynamism’. It appears that thirteen years later his current charges are reflecting their bosses’ views on the game.


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