Wednesday 13 November 2019

Flawed structure makes Ancelotti a hostage to fortune

Richard Sadlier

T here are many reasons why a club is successful over a period of time. Opinions vary about how to achieve it or maintain it, but the man who has more experience of it than any other in the modern game said the following: "I am the most important person at Manchester United. It has to be that way."

It was said amid questions about player-power and the influence of agents. It applied to everyone else too, including those who own the club.

The perception that the manager is in charge is vital for any dressing room, whether it is actually the case or not. Players don't necessarily always know where they stand, but they at least know who they need to impress. They know whose office to approach if there's an issue, and they know that every training session is an opportunity to make their case for inclusion in the starting line-up.

There were people outside the dressing room at Millwall whom we knew were influencing footballing matters in every way. They had the final say on who was to be bought and sold, on team selection, on who was to be released or re-signed, and even on tactical approaches to certain games. Whether this approach was a success or not is beside the point (it wasn't particularly), but it made the manager at the time look like a glorified puppet in the eyes of those of us who knew what was happening. The system totally undermined the manager and his authority. It was designed to pander to the whims and egos of wealthy men unprepared to take on the pressure of the job themselves, due mainly to their obvious lack of ability to do so.

I was told by the manager on one particular Friday that I would be starting the game the next day on the bench. I did not completely agree with the decision, based on how the previous game had gone and how everyone performed for that week in training. But I knew it was not his decision, so realised it would be pointless saying a thing.

The involvement of owners in affairs of the dressing room has always been seen as unnecessary meddling by businessmen exceeding their brief. I can't think of many other businesses in which the owner and chief financier is expected to withdraw from discussions central to its success, but a football club is certainly one of them.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is said to have been the driving force behind the signing of Fernando Torres in January. The size of the transfer fee was singled out by Alex Ferguson last week as the reason Torres had to be selected last Tuesday night at Old Trafford. If this turns out to be the case, Chelsea are again in a situation where it looks as if the manager has yet to gain full control of first-team affairs.

If Abramovich's influence on team selection or transfers is what it is believed to be, then the entire structure is flawed. I don't deny someone who has made the level of investment he has made in Chelsea the right to share his view, but Carlo Ancelotti was hired for his ability to do the job. It would be a bizarre scenario if he were to be fired after not being allowed to do it his own way.

It is difficult to tell at this point how long Ancelotti will remain at the club, which for a manager who led the team to the league and cup double last season is testament to the owner's unrealistic demand for trophies and success on an annual basis. Given the start Chelsea made to this season, it would have been unthinkable back

then to imagine such a scenario would present itself so soon. However, it is worth noting there have been a few significant changes since then. Ray Wilkins was removed as coach of the first team and left the club, Torres arrived for a club record fee in January, and Didier Drogba is no longer the automatic first-choice striker and focal point of every attack. In each of these, Abramovich is said to have played a central role in bringing them about.

It appears Abramovich's involvement has not had the desired effect once again, so he may well feel it is time to replace Ancelotti and make him the scapegoat.

I generally have very little sympathy for Premier League managers that get the sack. In many cases they are paid huge sums of money on the day they leave despite failing to meet the standards expected of them when they took the job. Because of this, I thought Premier League management was up there with the best jobs out there. On second thoughts, being a billionaire club owner who's not accountable to anyone can't be too bad either.

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