Failure to sign Rooney 'hurts' Abramovich
IT STILL hurts Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich that in the summer of 2004 he was persuaded, primarily by the then chief executive Peter Kenyon, that Wayne Rooney was temperamentally flawed and, therefore, Chelsea should not bid for him.
It was probably already a done deal that Rooney would quit Everton for Manchester United -- although Abramovich was said to be annoyed when he then saw the teenager plunder a hat-trick on his Champions League debut against Fenerbahce.
Much of the build-up to today's monumental meeting between United and Chelsea at Old Trafford has centred on Rooney's absence but Carlo Ancelotti yesterday offered a different perspective on the champions during the past eight months.
"This season, I think, United play differently in respect of the past," the Chelsea manager said. "Last year, they had Cristiano Ronaldo as a striker and they play differently now and have improved a lot."
Improved a lot? That was a bold statement. Few regard the departure of Ronaldo as an enhancement to this United squad although, as when Ruud van Nistelrooy was sold to Real Madrid, allowing the Portuguese to flourish, there has been a liberation for certain players: primarily, but not only, Rooney.
"This year, Rooney did a fantastic job with the wingers," Ancelotti said, praising Ryan Giggs, Nani and Antonio Valencia. "A lot of matches were tactically very good. Against Milan, tactically they played very well. They don't give a lot of chances to concede. They are very compact as a team and prefer to defend well and counter. They're able to do this because the wingers are very fast," he said.
What Ancelotti likes about United, above all, is that they have an "identity", which is what he has obsessively stated he wants to create at Chelsea. That takes time, a commodity that Abramovich has not permitted previous coaches. Despite all the denials, if Ancelotti does not -- at the very least -- run United to the wire in the league and win the FA Cup then the pressure will grow.
It makes it all the more admirable that, in the face of this command to win, Ancelotti has stuck to an attacking approach -- although that is also something that Abramovich has insisted upon. Chelsea have scored more, 82 times in the league already this season in 32 matches, and conceded more than ever before in the Abramovich era. It is not, perhaps, what you might expect from a coach schooled in catenaccio.
"In Italy the team that won Serie A was not the team that scored most but the one that conceded fewest," Ancelotti said. "But here we are in England. Scoring goals is important. If you want to win you have to score.
"We want to play our football. Our football is to attack and keep control of the game. It's the most difficult game to do this. United want to do the same because they are at home. This is a fight and I think that will decide the match."
So is he atypical to his homeland? "I don't consider myself an attacking coach," Ancelotti said. "I am Italian and the fortune of Italian football is defensive. I like defence. I like balance. I am a balanced coach. I do like to hurt the opposition.
"My aim is to attack and play football but first is balance. I don't like to concede goals or counter-attacks. The easiest way to score is on the counter. If you attack badly, you can concede to counter-attacks."
Today Ancelotti will have to get that balance right. Although he would settle for a draw, a victory would strike a deep psychological blow to United and wrestle the advantage. And so Ancelotti will start with Didier Drogba and probably Nicolas Anelka, despite racking up 12 goals in the past two league games with only one or other of the strikers playing.
"They give quality, strength, and experience," Ancelotti said while conceding they have not necessarily clicked in tandem in recent games.
"I will try to put out the team with the best players, with more quality. Drogba and Anelka have more quality and I think they did very well together."
Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda have also been impressive, with the former gaining special praise from Ancelotti -- "a very dangerous midfielder" -- who has surprised the Italian with his "timing".
Timing is everything and so to today's game. It could not be more ideally set, Rooney's injury apart, and what will be Ancelotti's message to his team? "I have experience of this game," he said in reference to his CV for the big occasions. "You have to do your best to show your quality, put it on the pitch and show personality and courage. I hope to see this."
And so, even without Rooney, does the rest of the world. (© Daily Telegraph, London)