Carlo Ancelotti has only just walked through the door at Stamford Bridge, yet, as ever, the spotlight is blaring from the word "go." There is no time for setting in gently at a club like Chelsea, where the intensity of expectation almost blinds new managers when they first arrive.
Last season Luiz Philipe Scolari proved that no amount of past success can guarantee glory when it comes to taking the helm at one of English football’s most heavily scrutinised clubs. Scolari won the World Cup with Brazil and steered Portugal to the final of the European Championships and semi-final of the World Cup, yet he simply could not cope with the daily pressure of managing Chelsea.
The ruthless Roman Abramovich dispatched him within a matter of months. That is the pressure at Chelsea: win football matches immediately or you’re out the door. The owner demands it. The fans demand it. The players demand it. With Chelsea struggling in the early stages of last season, unrest began to float around the dressing room, with Didier Drogba in particular falling out with Scolari and allegedly complaining to Abramovich about him.
When results start to go downhill at a club as big as Chelsea these days, fans often begin to turn on the manager. Chelsea fans seem particularly hard to please. At the beginning of last season, their supporters were praising Scolari and saying the opening day thrashing of Portsmouth was like watching Brazil. After a few months of dodgy results and unconvincing performances, they wanted him out.
Finishing two points behind champions Manchester United in the Premier League and only failing to win the European Cup because John Terry slipped over wasn’t good enough either for previous manager Avram Grant, who still incurred the wrath of the Chelsea faithful. If Terry had stayed on his feet and netted the winning penalty, would Grant still be in charge? Quite possibly. That’s fickle football for you.
That is the challenge Ancelotti faces. The business starts straight away and the Italian needs to work out quickly which players need to be signed to strengthen Chelsea. Russian left-back Yuri Zhirkov has already been acquired from CSKA Moscow, but Chelsea’s weaknesses surely do not lie where Ashley Cole has performed so well in past seasons.
With only the inconsistent Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka available as senior strikers, up front is the area that needs the most focus. If Ancelotti wants to play two strikers and either player is injured, then the only alternatives are Salomon Kalou and the unproven youngsters, Daniel Sturridge, Franco Di Santo, and Scott Sinclair, who are hardly reliable trophy-winning material. With Ricardo Carvalho seemingly keen on a move away from Stamford Bridge, then a new centre-back may be needed, as well.
Once the summer’s transfer activity is over, Ancelotti will have to learn and learn fast—not just the English language, but also how speedy and physical the Premier League is compared to Serie A. The Italian will know that there is a big difference already, but putting the knowledge into practice is where the difficulty lies. Just ask Scolari. This league can drain you mentally and physically.
Ancelotti will need to do better than Scolari in those departments to survive. He has to make sure his English is good enough first, as communication on the training pitch and in the dressing room is vital to get across tactical ideas. Those ideas will need to be adapted to the pace and intensity of the Premier League of course. There were never any Stokes or Boltons in Serie A. These first few months are all about learning.
One thing Ancelotti already knows though is Chelsea’s utter desperation to win the European Cup. After reaching the semi-finals in five of the last six seasons and not winning it once, the likes of Lampard and Terry are still hurting inside.
Ancelotti can be the one to bring them the glory they so desire, though. He has won the European Cup twice with AC Milan, and reached another final, which they famously lost to Liverpool in 2005, so he knows how European football works.
And though the main aim at Chelsea will once again be to lift the Champions League, and though Ancelotti has mainly been brought in to do just that, the Italian cannot lose focus of the Premier League. Scolari lost his way domestically and was out the door, never getting a chance to pursue those continental ambitions.
If Ancelotti adapts more quickly than Scolari, then he should not suffer the same fate. With great European tactical nous, the Italian certainly has plenty of tools in his locker. But facing English opposition is a totally different ball game. As well as challenging on domestic fronts, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal will also battle Chelsea for European honours. Ancelotti must learn to deal with them if he is to go down in history and fulfil Abramovich’s dream