Carlo Ancelotti finished his career at Chelsea in disappointing and embarrassing fashion. Ousted by the venomous fervor that is Roman Abramovich's enduring quest for European glory, he was only the latest victim of the Russian oligarch's ax.
In the eyes of the Chelsea fans he had become the Hester Prynne of Stamford Bridge, forced to bear the burden of failure and banished to a jobless life as no club wishes to touch the impure soul of a man corrupted by the greed a team that has never achieved what it sets out to do so.
Untimely injuries, a sudden lack of ingenuity, and rapidly aging stars. These are the faults which fell on the Italian's shoulders. These are why he will forever be bear a "blue" letter on the hollowed grounds of the west London club.
Of Abramovich's seven managers, only Jose Mourinho has ever replicated the success he had at Chelsea with another club. All the others have found themselves withering away on lower sides and questioning whether they were in fact deserving of the job in the first place.
But an interesting thing happens when you become the manager of Chelsea. Truly it is a phenomenon of sports. One of those things that an explanation only further confuses the myth. Like Satchel Paige's intentional loading of the bases in the 1942 Negro World Series to face Josh Gibson in a winner-take-all at-bat. It can't be explained because it is so deeply rooted in the psychology of the man and his humanity.
That thing is doubt. To manage Chelsea is to manage your own doubt. To question your every move. To wonder if the choice is right, if the players are ready, and if the fans (and owner) approve.
Anceloitt managed his doubt well in his first season. Well enough to earn him the double, the first time for the club, and the best season in club history.
The following season the bravado with which he commanded the men in blue seemed to only further intensify. They opened with a five-game win streak. Ancelotti called it "playstation football."
Then came November 14. It was a poor day for footballing. The bogged down and muddy field was evidence of a heavy morning dew. Sunderland were in town. They had made the trip down from the north with a bit of high spirits. They had been playing well and were sitting comfortably in the middle of the table. But Chelsea were expected to dispatch them with relative ease.
A droll opening 45 minutes produced nothing. Then just before the half, the visitors Nedum Onuoha slalomed through Chelsea midfield, then the defense, and slid the ball coolly around Cech's outstretched arm. 1-0 Sunderland.
A few minutes into the second half, 2-0 Sunderland. Finally at the death, like a knife from the gods of the game through the heart of Stamford Bridge, young Man U loan-out Danny Welbeck made it 3-0 Sunderland. Final.
The loss hurt the club and the fans. It cut Chelsea's lead at the top down to just two points and for the first time all season showed they are capable of bad play. But this was not the low point in the day. That would come after the game. After the seats had been cleared, after the lights were shut off, in the bowels of the stadiums press room.
His postgame interview was two minutes of rambling, second guessing and avoidance of the hard questions. There in that very instant, Carlo Ancelotti succumbed to doubt and was doomed to fail. Chelsea would go on a six-game winless streak that they would never be able to recover from.
As quickly as the cold had come to the northern shores and the countryside and cities alike were blanketed in rice white crystals of frost, "playstaion football" was gone forever.
By early January, Chelsea had been all but mathematically eliminated from the league. So the Czar in the sky box decided to focus all his efforts (i.e. funds) toward his siren song, the Champions League. He opened his gold chest and pulled out £50 million and threw it in the face of Liverpool, hoping to distract them long enough to steal what he thought was the answer to the team's woes. But for Ancelotti it created three piece an puzzle he would never be able to solve.
The reason why it is difficult to manage world-class athletes lies in decision making. Make the right choice, it is often the players who receive the glory. Make the wrong one and the burden of blame falls on you.
Ancelotti now had three of the best strikers in all of the league, but only room for two. Does he play the best? Can he afford to sit £50 million on the bench? Can he bench the boss' symbolic son? Does he honor veterans? He had no answer for the questions so this was what he decided to do:
Drogba/Torres: This did not work.
Anelka/Torres: Worked, but not as well as with Drogba.
Drogba/Anelka: Worked at times, but left £50 million on the bench and upset the boss.
Subs would come in for the other and have impacts, whether it be for better or worse, but nothing pleased all parties. Each time he made a sub, each time he changed the lineup, and each time his decision was wrong, it created more and more doubt in the mind of the coach.
In hindsight the move to buy Torres is not as favorable as it seemed. As of right now all it did was add chaos to a man in doubt.
Chaos, in the biblical sense, is the space between hell and the ordered material world which Satan traversed to reach the garden of Eden. Satan had no doubts about his aim. It is the reason he is the hero of his epic journey.
Ancelotti is human and doubt is in his nature. This is why man resides on the ordered world and chaos lies beneath. The addition of Torres lowered Ancelotti beneath the dirt and into the void of chaos.
He would never reemerge.
It is now mid-August. The 2011/12 Premier League season is on the brink on being born. On a warm summer afternoon in Stoke, Chelsea are ready to kick off their season. Out from the Chelsea dugout emerges a young man. Dressed in a dapper suit with a trend setting skinny tie, his ivory white teeth gleam in the sun as his grin encourages his players with hope.
Andre Villas-Boas is in his first competitive game in charge of Chelsea. All week leading up to this game the same puzzle that Ancelotti had months ago still remains unsolved. He had been hounded by reporters and the media of who will start up top, Drogba or Torres. Villas-Boas kept tight-lipped on the situation until game time.
To no ones huge Surprise Torres got the start. His play had moments of excitement and the the new managers arrival seem to spark a confidence he lacked all season. But it was not enough. No goals in 89 minutes of play gave Chelsea a 0-0 draw.
The question of whether it was the right choice to play Torres inevitably came up. But Villas-Boas stood strong in the face of his criticism. He regarded the play of his forward with the utmost respect stating:
"Every time a player doesn't score, people ask questions about him. I know he is a £50 million striker but people's focus is purely on the individual and not the performance of the team. You know the importance the collective has for me. I'm not going to lose time over this. Things will happen naturally."
To show even more posture, he would start Torres the following week, again leaving Drogba on the bench. In only 60 minutes of play, Torres showed even less in the way of progress, making hardly any threat offensively and no shots on goal. To make matters worse, the team seem to come alive a bit more when his replacement, Drogba entered the game.
Chelsea plays Norwich this Saturday at home. Who will start up top for the men in blue? I am sure it will be Torres. Perhaps Villas-Boas is not getting the most out of the Spaniard that he expects. Everyone assumes he has more to offer in the way of goals. Let's not forget form dips and rises, but class is forever. So why does Villas-Boas' very short reign still feel so much better than Ancelotti's?
The practice of staying with Torres is Villas-Boas' way of refusing doubt. His decisions, no matter how much they may be questioned remain proper and right in the only place that matters, his mind. It is not in arrogance that he refuses to budge on the matter of striker, as would be the case for his "mentor" Jose Mourniho. It is an astute awareness that to instill confidence in his team he must first have it himself.
There is plenty of time for doubt to enter psychosis of Villas-Boas. But for now let's enjoy the bright-eyed twinkle of a man with confidence.
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