Ancelotti deserves time to forge Chelsea in his own image -- but he will not get it
Carlo Ancelotti had promised "something special" in a stadium that holds special memories for him but last night Old Trafford felt a little like the burial ground for his career as Chelsea manager.
It would be such a mistake for Roman Abramovich to replace him. A grave error of judgment.
Not just because of what Ancelotti has achieved in his career but, as one well-placed club source indicated last night, there would be no sense in it.
Ancelotti is a coach from the highest tier. Who can do a better job? The problem does not lie with him.
Alex Ferguson paid his own tribute to the "shrewd" Italian and Ancelotti has executed everything that has been asked of him. He deserves time, not the relentless pressure put upon him.
Chief executive Ron Gourlay let the cat out of the bag on that one last month. A review is being made.
Pressure, Ancelotti has declared, is something he thrives upon, and that is undoubtedly true but some of it is irrational and counter-productive.
He deserved better than having to go into last night's Champions League quarter-final fearing that defeat would lead to his departure. And this for a manager who has won this competition four times, twice as a player, twice as a coach, and who won a Premier League and FA Cup double with Chelsea last season.
If he does go, he will not lack work. The blame is not his.
Abramovich was here last night, as inscrutable as ever, flanked by his right-hand man Eugene Tenenbaum, and left before the end of the game. He will mull over what to do next; take soundings from his advisers; weigh up if Ancelotti's time as manager is spent.
Agents, advisers, figures of influence already scent blood and not least because Chelsea have a history of such things.
They don't have a history of winning this competition. Ancelotti does.
Maybe then they should look closer to home, maybe then it is the players, not the manager, who is at fault? Maybe it is the culture of the club. Ancelotti has pedigree.
He won the trophy on this ground back in 2003 with a certain Andrey Shevchenko scoring the decisive penalty in the shoot-out; two years later he became the last coach to beat Manchester United at home in the knockout stages, with goals from Hernan Crespo, on loan from Chelsea, and then last season he beat United in the Premier League here. The last defeat they have suffered at home.
Ferguson had hit the point by stating that winning the European Cup had become Abramovich's "obsession" -- not because the billionaire is desperate to win the trophy but because it is the trophy he has not won.
It has effectively become the Holy Grail and failure to land it has counted against Chelsea managers in the past.
If Ancelotti does believe that he will remain in his job and see out the final year of his three-year contract next season then here was compelling evidence -- if any were needed -- that he deserves that chance.
Last night, Ancelotti stood almost continually throughout on the edge of his technical area dressed, as usual, all in black.
Ancelotti is also trying to create a "new Chelsea'' -- the most influential player last night for him was Ramires, one of his signings, before he was dismissed, while the absence of the ineligible David Luiz was costly.
Fernando Torres was withdrawn at half-time with Didier Drogba replacing him. It was a new low for the Spaniard who has quickly become to Ancelotti what Shevchenko was to Jose Mourinho. It meant Ancelotti went into the final 45 minutes of this tie with the team he had probably wanted to select all along.
There was more bite to Chelsea. Drogba's presence made a difference, unsettling the United defence far more than Torres had done, and he scored.
There was 40 seconds of hope before Ji-Sung Park struck. With 10 men their hands were tied; but then Ancelotti has been in that position for most of this campaign.
"Sacked in the morning," the United supporters sang. That's not true. But at the end of the season it may well be. (© Daily Telegraph, London)