Following the 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison Park, Chelsea announced today that they would be parting ways with now-former manager Carlo Ancelotti. They now go into the offseason with no manager and serious questions about the squad - clearly they have a lot of work to do to get ready for the 2011/12 season.
The reaction to the Ancelotti firing seems to be overwhelmingly negative. Fans are calling for Roman Abramovich to leave; the media is universally slating the Blues for the decision. Perhaps I'm old-fashioned or something, but I find superficial analysis to be deeply, deeply insulting to the reader, and I don't think it's too much to ask to have a more balanced account than 'Carlo Ancelotti is dignified, therefore Chelsea are evil'. So, here goes...
Why Carlo Should Have Stayed/Why He Should Have Gone
It's easy to hate Chelsea, if you happen to be a neutral. They were never particularly likeable in the first place, and when Roman Abramovich came around things got worse. Chelsea spent their way to the title, had a thoroughly unlikeable manager in Jose Mourinho (if you're not a disciple of his), and played highly efficient, brutal football. Yes, they won, but that only made them easier to hate. They were, for a while, the epitome of the ruthlessness of modern football.
That's no longer the case under Ancelotti. After dumping Mourinho and going through Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, and Guus Hiddink, Chelsea bloomed into a brilliant attacking team in the first year of Ancelotti's reign. They won the double while scoring a faintly ludicrous number of goals. They were a fun, attacking team with a dignified, respectable manager. Suddenly there was rather a lot less hate aimed towards the Blues.
Chelsea, of course, don't really care whether or not they're liked by neutrals. The goal is (or at least, should be) to win both in the short and long terms. But at the same time it's better to have a manager who's well respected rather than not - and Ancelotti was extremely well liked.
There's been significant focus on the shabby treatment of Ancelotti by the club this season. After all, he did win the league and FA Cup double in his first year with the Blues and came very close to being in the running for a second title in year two despite a massive injury/form crisis, yet within weeks of Chelsea's series of poor results in November/December began being linked with a move away.
Leaving aside the irony of the media slating Chelsea for the media asking Ancelotti difficult questions most of the season, the culture of "you're getting sacked" was indeed an embarrassing one, especially for a manager so successful as Carlo has been over the course of his career. Chelsea's reputation for going through managers extraordinarily quickly isn't exactly going to be enhanced by this.
But at the end of the day, that's fluff. The droning of a massively incompetent press corps should be of absolutely zero concern to Abramovich and the board, and they should be making their decisions on the basis of football and business. Mostly football (one would hope).
So what are they losing in Carlo? He's won numerous honours in his career, including two with Chelsea, and he's an excellent motivator. He's renowned for getting the best out of aging players, too, something that the Blues may well need with a squad in danger of becoming geriatric. He did preside over a thoroughly poor season, but laying all the blame for that on the manager is rather stupid - he's hardly responsible for Didier Drogba contracting malaria, after all, and he's certainly not responsible for the Fernando Torres fiasco or the Ray Wilkins firing.
He's also under contract for next season, making this an expensive option. Chelsea will now be on the hook for the salary of two managers next season, and while I'm 100% confident that they can absorb the financial hit, it's indicative of a certain amount of wastefulness that leads to things like spending £50M on Fernando Torres.
Finally, we have to have a quick word about stability - there's a reasonable argument to be made that unless the club is set up with a long term solution at manager everything else will just be patchwork. We can certainly take a look at the good work done by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and see that there's something to it. The two teams with the longest tenured managers are both highly successful and with their own identities. It would be in Chelsea's best interests for them to develop a long-term plan and find a manager whose beliefs dovetail with that plan, then keep him around for several years.
Of course, Carlo Ancelotti was never that person, as more or less everyone pointed out when he was hired. He's never been particularly good at league play, but he has won a surprising number of Champions League trophies, and that's what he was brought in for. In many ways, despite being an incredibly likable manager, Carlo represents what has been wrong with the club in general - an unhealthy obsession with European glory. Worse, he failed to deliver.
Most outlets are reporting this as 'Chelsea sack Carlo Ancelotti 12 months after winning Double', but while accurate, that's also a thoroughly misleading statement. Ancelotti's average of 78.5 points in a season is lower than the lowest points tally achieved in any other season during Abramovich's time as Chelsea owner. Once you start actually looking at the Blues' performance, the Double isn't nearly so impressive.
'Carlo Ancelotti fired after leading Chelsea to second place' is similarly misleading - yes, they are indeed in second place, but they also stand at 71 points, nine behind leaders Manchester United and twelve behind their lowest finish since 2003, having lost nine games this season. They failed to progress past the first round of the Carling Cup and also were knocked out of the FA cup in the fourth round at home to Everton. That's a poor season, no matter how you slice it.
You can of course make the argument that Ancelotti is not responsible for the team's horrible performance this year. He's the manager, not a player, after all. However, if you try to take that tack and then mention that a Carlo-managed team won the Double in 09/10, I may have to kill you. Inconsistency is worse than being wrong.
There are a couple of tactical and strategic issues with Carlo which make him seemingly unsuited to managing this team in the long run as well. Many on this site have complained that Ancelotti doesn't seem to do much tactical tinkering in-game, which I'm not entirely sure is fair, but it's clear that he's been out-thought by opposing managers far too often.
Chelsea vs. Inter Milan in 2010 was a standout, as was the home game against Liverpool where the Blues were wiped out by an entirely predictable 3-6-1. Those are only a couple of examples, but I don't think any Chelsea fans go into a match thinking we'll out think the opposition. Tactics simply aren't Ancelotti's strong suit, although I do feel compelled to mention the fact that he was willing to play around with the shape from time to time (I actually liked the idea of the 4-3-2-1 against Manchester United at Old Trafford, even if it didn't end up working out).
I mentioned earlier that the club's best bet is to find someone who fits with the long-term vision of the side, and it's been clear to us for a while that Ancelotti was a stop-gap attempt to find Champions League glory with this squad. That obviously hasn't worked out, and Chelsea now need to go into a transitional phase. There are a number of exciting prospects coming up, a number of interesting (young) players to be bought, and all in all, the squad needs to move away from the veterans and towards the next generation.
That is something Ancelotti simply cannot give you. Daniel Sturridge is clearly Premier League ready - just look at his antics with Bolton - and was never played at Chelsea despite a major crisis at striker. The reserves weren't blooded in the meaningless last fixture of the season (seriously, the Everton match was a complete farce). Josh McEachran barely got a look in while Frank Lampard's legs were busy being pronounced clinically dead and Michael Essien's career arc lurched terrifyingly downwards.
Chelsea's goal should be to supplement its youth players with up and coming stars from elsewhere, acquired for a lot of money. David Luiz and Ramires are already on the roster, and more will be arriving this summer, but that strategy will only work if you employ a manager used to working in youth players into the first team. Ancelotti has failed in this task, and failed spectacularly.
At the end of the day, Chelsea had every right to fire Ancelotti, and accusations of ruthlessness and classlessness are simply random bullshit being spawned by the media, who will stick up like dogs for anyone with a smile and a funny anecdote. Whether it was a sensible thing to do is another question, and I think that comes down to their choice of replacement.
If the next Chelsea manager is brought in with a long term goal in mind, a project to build the next (self-sustainingish) Blue dynasty, if you will, then losing even a well-regarded stopgap in Ancelotti is simply a necessary step in that process. However, it's entirely possible that the next boss is simply sat down and told to win now, at all costs, in which case go ahead and fling those accusations of lunacy around like there's no tomorrow.
At the end of the day, though, we'll just have to wait and see.