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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Roman Abramovich has made his decision. Now let's see if he'll stick with it. The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as his fifth manager in under two years may have been met with a mixed response from the fans, but the identity of the man is less important than the duration of his tenure. Chelsea simply cannot afford any more upheaval.

Stamford Bridge regulars are split over the wisdom of choosing another Premier League rookie with only a partial grasp of the English language. The scars of the short-lived Luiz Felipe Scolari era still sting and many would have preferred to lure Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clarke back, or to take Frank Rijkaard whose track record at Barcelona was far more impressive. Ancelotti, after all, won just a single Scudetto in eight years at AC Milan. However, with the right support network and that rarest of resources, patience, there's no question that he can be a success at Chelsea. He won the Champions League twice, as well as a selection of secondary cup competitions, so there's no doubt that he is a manager of the highest calibre. What concerns me is whether or not anyone will care about that in six months if things do not go according to plan.

It's hard to imagine a better start than the first four months of Scolari's reign. Chelsea played exceptional football, conceding just four goals in their first ten league games and scoring 22. The fans loved it, the press lapped it up and the players seemed to be enjoying themselves far more than they were under Avram Grant. Then, after 10 wins from their first 13 games, Newcastle came to Stamford Bridge and Joe Kinnear's revolutionary flat back six secured a point in spite of non-stop pressure. I remember the post-match press conference very well. It was the first time that the knives came out. It wasn't the last. An unfortunate defeat to Arsenal followed a week later, then a string of home draws. The fans started to twitch. Journalists started trying to trick Scolari into unfortunate quotes. He responded by sending out Ray Wilkins for every conference. That just made them angrier. Chelsea struggled past Southend in an FA Cup replay only to be given a spanking by Manchester United on the Sunday. The fans started to jeer. After that, it was only a matter of time.

Ancelotti will have to deal with all of this, but instead of following a manager as obviously unsuitable as Grant, he'll have to succeed a man as universally admired as Guus Hiddink. Ask any fan or any player who they would rather have in charge next season and they would all plump for the Dutchman. To make matters worse, Hiddink has announced that he will be retaining a link with the club as a 'technical advisor'. The shadow of his success will hang over Ancelotti all season.

But Abramovich must hold his nerve. The instability of the past two years is damaging the club. Another sudden change and Chelsea will be the laughing stock of European football, a plaything for a confused billionaire who obviously doesn't quite get it. Ancelotti needs time and he needs the trust of his employers. He needs to set down foundations and build his own empire. He needs at least the three years of his contract, and then some more, if Chelsea are to ever leave the Mourinho era behind and step up to the next level. Will he get that time? With everything that has happened at that club in the past two years, you'd have to bet against it.