Roman Abramovich has long craved for Chelsea to play the brand of football that would capture the neutrals' hearts. Carlo Ancelotti is the latest manager trusted by the club's owner to deliver it, but this is no easy task. Chelsea, as a general rule, don't do pretty.
If there is a prevalent feeling of deja vu about this move, it is because we've been here before—this time last year, to be exact, when the former Portugal coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, took over at Stamford Bridge. Scolari promised Chelsea would play like Brazil.
Yet, Scolari had tried to fix something that wasn't broken. Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea revelled by becoming all but impossible to defeat. They destroyed first and created later, and they won five trophies because of it. When Avram Grant replaced Mourinho, he did not alter that philosophy and Chelsea ended a post away from winning the Champions League.
Scolari's style proved to be disastrous for Chelsea. He was pedestrian, narrow, and careless, so his results suffered; Key players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba became disillusioned. The Brazilian was eventually sacked after a 0-0 draw at home to Hull in February.
Where his replacement, Guus Hiddink, succeeded was merely by restoring Mourinho's values. This was borne out most of all by Chelsea's Champions League semifinal against Barcelona. Hiddink received much criticism for his ultra-defensive tactics, but to take Pep Guardiola's side on at their own game would have been pure folly. Chelsea may have lost, but the tie highlighted them at their most effective.
Therein lies the dilemma for Ancelotti: be brave and beautiful alike, or solid and triumphant? He has already hinted at the former, telling Abramovich that Chelsea are "too physical and need more quality in the middle of the pitch," something that may not bode well for certain players at the club.
Moreover, he has claimed that Chelsea lack a personality, and, when you consider the rampant egos and divisive nature of the dressing room at Stamford Bridge, these comments will hardly endear him to his new team.
Abramovich, however, backs Ancelotti. But the sort of player required to alter Chelsea's core strengths will not come cheaply. Ancelotti has reportedly identified Xabi Alonso, Franck Ribery, and David Villa as possible signings, yet all three are on Real Madrid's radar. Last year, Abramovich refused to start a bidding war with Manchester City to secure Scolari's top target, Robinho. Such stinginess is not expected this summer.
Like Scolari, Ancelotti may also be hindered by his poor English. The ability to communicate in a multinational dressing room is vital. Here, Scolari struggled; although, he had been bound by the international game for several years.
Contrastingly, Ancelotti can draw upon his experience in Serie A with Milan, though it has been pointed out that he won just one scudetto in eight seasons. Instead, it is his record in the Champions League that commands respect: two victories and one appearance in the final.
An appreciation of skillful souls has meant the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Rui Costa, and Kaka have flourished under Ancelotti, but he will not be gung-ho. The Italian found space for Gennaro Gattuso in his midfield, too, and Milan's defence was the best in the world until advancing years took their toll.
Last summer, Sir Alex Ferguson provocatively declared that Chelsea were too old to win the Premier League. Yet, for Ancelotti, his new team will resemble a group of young tyros compared to the elderly bunch he has left behind at Milan. Just as Arsene Wenger's youthful Arsenal require a few old heads for guidance, young legs can do the running for players nearing the end of their careers.
Ancelotti cannot allow himself to be as casual at Chelsea as he was at Milan, where he opted not to freshen up a side in desperate need of fast legs. Chelsea have too many players around the 30-year mark and too few in their early twenties. That is a situation that the Italian must resolve.
It will not be beyond Ancelotti to succeed at Chelsea, though he must tread carefully when attempting to introduce the fantasy football Abramovich desires. Indeed, if that venture fails, what are the odds of Ancelotti starting the season in charge, and Hiddink finishing it?