Grant. Scolari. Hiddink.
Since the acrimonious departure of Chelsea’s revered and beloved Jose Mourinho, who gave the club its first taste of sustained glory, a revolving door of big-name managers have cast a dark cloud over Stamford Bridge. This is not to say said coaches came and went without accomplishment.
Scolari aside (who was an utter failure and an abhorrent appointment from the onset), Chelsea have tasted success since that fateful 20th of September, 2007. Grant took Mourinho’s team to the final of the European Cup, a place even The Special One himself could not bring Chelsea. Hiddink restored zest and confidence to an embattled club under Scolari, taking the Blues to the Champions League semifinals, and winning the FA Cup last May.
But despite such a modicum of success, a sense of anxiety and angst had been creeping into the Stamford Bridge faithful since the shock exit of their Portuguese hero. A dark cloud seemed to hang over Chelsea fans, for it is not easy to watch the most talented manager in world football, at such a young age no less, leave right as his legacy was beginning to unfold.
Mourinho’s aura seemingly loomed throughout west London. In the sole interest of hyperbole, did the football gods play a part in John Terry’s infamous penalty shootout slip on that wet, dreary night in Moscow? Did they intervene again in the form of Tom Henning Ovrebo and Andres Iniesta’s right boot in West London last May?
As ridiculous as such notions appear to a rational observer, any sports fan will tell you the notions that sport fanatics hang on to are rarely rational. At times, they are borderline absurd.
In today’s modern age, with million-dollar sheiks and athletes tweeting their heart’s content, patience has gone by the wayside. Four years has seemed an eternity for a league title, and just as Chelsea seemed to be coasting to reclaiming the EPL title, February struck: Terry’s scandalous lifestyle exposed, a loss to Everton, Ashley Cole breaks his foot, a draw to Hull, an embarrassing loss to Manchester City.
Then (as if straight from a Hollywood script) came the man himself to further the damage. The hoodoo of Mourinho re-visited Stamford Bridge in the flesh, and sucked the soul out of Chelsea FC: elimated from the Champions League by March. The man who had left men crying in their pints with his stunning departure did it again in excruciating fashion.
The season seemed lost. That cutthroat and ironclad winning mentality had seemingly vanished under Ancelotti.
But hidden from the cameras and the pundit analysis, including my own premature indignation, was a calmness around the Bridge. A sense of ease instilled by the crafty Italian that Roman Abramovich had coveted for two summers before getting his man.
In Ancelotti, Chelsea found an anti-Mourinho, whose brash, arrogant style gives players a cockiness they require to up their games to the very best. Mourinho’s startling braggadocio can rub many the wrong way, but no one can doubt its effectiveness. Mourinho is a winner, but he is the type that wins and then lets you know about it.
Ancelotti is the antithesis. Like Mourinho, Ancelotti is the same born winner, just look at his trophy case littered with success as both a player (of which Mourinho had zero) and coach. But Ancelotti is a different type of winner. He gets along with his business, and never gets too high, and most importantly at the managerial position, never got too low this season when it looked everything was lost. His sense of calm galvanized a group of veterans that looked utterly downtrodden after their elimination at the hands of their former mentor.
After their 3-1 aggregate elimination to Mourinho’s Internazionle, Ancelotti’s troops followed up with a poor 1-1 draw at Blackburn when it looked they had to win. The ship was sinking, and fast. But Chelsea players such as Frank Lampard and John Terry have given full praise to Ancelotti for his business-like calm in the eye of a brewing storm. The team channeled the Italian’s cool and composed demeanor and replaced an anxious, frenzied style of play that had crept in with calm yet ruthless performances that led to a torrid run that saw them crowned champions.
Ancelotti should be given a great deal of credit. As much as the media attempted a Mourinho inquisition during those turbulent months in February and March, Ancelotti never seemed ruffled or bothered. He boasts an inner belief in his abilities, and this muted core of self-confidence has become the new Chelsea. It is not the overt, often times over-the-top, snatch-and-grab confidence of the short-lived Mourinho era, but a new tranquility in self-belief that has taken Chelsea once again to the EPL Promised Land. Ancelotti can even do one better than Mourinho and win the League and FA Cup double, bringing Chelsea their greatest ever season.
While Chelsea will always look to those three-plus incredible years under Mourinho as truly special, a new era under a new incredible manager has begun. And perhaps now, just as after any tumultuous breakup, Chelsea can finally say goodbye to Mourinho, and say they have finally moved on.
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