Carlo Ancelotti shoots himself in the foot with tortured bid to defend shamed Ashley Cole

01 March 2011 09:50
Football took a wrong turn in a moral maze on Monday. With the FA's leniency towards Wayne Rooney. With Chelsea's apparent leniency towards Ashley Cole.

It looked as though the English game is adopting a policy of zero intolerance towards two of its finest players, allowing them to participate in the showpiece match at Stamford Bridge this evening and sending exactly the kind of message that invites yet more criticism.

The punishment for smashing an opponent in the face with an elbow off the ball? The same as offside. The punishment for bringing a gun into training and accidentally shooting a kid on work experience? 'We're not going to tell you.'

Eyebrow-raising: Carlo Ancelotti defended Ashley Cole at a press conference on Monday

Cole will probably be fined around 250,000. Chelsea have said the appropriate action will be taken following an investigation into the incident and Carlo Ancelotti did at least express his 'anger' on Monday. Cole, he accepted, had broken a code of conduct, even if that code probably needs redrafting to include a 'no firearms' rule.

But there were moments during Ancelotti's press conference at seriously uncomfortable, and not just because of the Chelsea's manager's perfectly innocent response to the question of whether there were 'any injuries'. 'No new ones; just Alex and Benayoun,' replied the Italian, obviously overlooking the poor lad currently having a few days off from his year-long work placement while his minor gun-shot wound heals.

The real problem arose when Ancelotti dared describe Cole as an excellent professional and a good man; one of the best he has ever encountered.

How, he was asked, could he say that about a player who brings a gun into the training ground and smuggles a girl into the team hotel during a pre-season tour, one who then lies to club officials about the girl when he discovers he has been rumbled by a journalist.

Let-off: Wayne Rooney pleads his innocence after elbowing James McCarthy (left)

'To say he's a professional, I judge the players on the training pitch,' said Ancelotti. 'I can say, without problem, that he's one of the best professionals I've met. Outside, he made a mistake last week. Two years ago, he made a mistake. This is true. But when I talk about professionals, I'm talking about things on the training pitch.'

It was a car crash of an answer, even if nobody would dispute his view of Cole once he crosses that white line. He is a brilliant trainer, and the one Chelsea player - even the only England player - who would squeeze into a world XI.

But what Ancelotti was essentially saying was that a measure of a player's professionalism does not extend beyond the confines of a football pitch. That it matters not if their off-the-field behaviour harms the image of their club. Perhaps even the image of the game they are supposed to represent. The kind of behaviour that invites yet more accusations of arrogance and puts even more distance between the millionaire footballers and their supporters.

A good man like Ancelotti can't seriously believe that. Not when he has come from a dressing room that included players like Paolo Maldini and Kaka; not when he was such a professional as a European Cup-winning player at Milan.

Forgiven: Ancelotti watches on as Ashley Cole trains at Cobham on Monday

Chelsea now look as though they will tolerate the kind of nonsense that gives the club a bad name. It's OK to park in a disabled parking spot if you then put your body on the line on a Tuesday night. And we'll still pick you if you bring a gun into training and end up accidentally shooting someone.

In any other profession the culprit would be sacked. If, however, you're the best left back in the world you get to keep your job. Although had he shot Fernando Torres rather than Tom Cowan, who knows what would have happened. 'We can only talk about the reality,' said Ancelotti before trying to absolve himself of responsibility by saying he 'didn't want to control the players outside the training ground - that wouldn't be fair'.

Blunder: Ashley Cole accidentally shot a work experience student at Chelsea's training ground

The reality of the situation yesterday was that of a coach - and Ancelotti is probably more a coach than a manager - who is growing rather tired of talking about controversy rather than football and who was wounded by the accusation that things are 'out of control' down at Cobham.

Ancelotti took it as a slight on his ability to manage and adopted something of a siege mentality as a result. But he needed more guidance from those above him, the same guys who have already undermined him this season by dismissing Ray Wilkins (strangely enough, Wilkins happened to drop into the training ground on Monday morning).

Supported by an owner who is supposed to care passionately about the image of his football club - Roman Abramovich was said to be most upset when Jose Mourinho was being branded 'an enemy of football' - Ancelotti should have gone into Monday's press conference knowing he had everyone's blessing to bury Cole. He should have been able to disclose the size of the fine and possibly even suspend him for a couple of games, so sending out the message that their players have to adhere to the same kind of rules as the rest of us. He should have also had the club's support in ordering Cole to issue a public apology.

'The players have no power,' declared Ancelotti, but it did not look that way. It looked like Chelsea were afraid of how Cole, or his representatives, might react. It looked as though they feared doing anything that could encourage Mourinho to try to lure Cole to Madrid.

Ancelotti must now prepare his side for a mouth-watering clash with Man United with the Cole furore having over the club

Last season, in response to a series of scandals that made the front pages, Ron Gourlay, the club's chief executive, was asked by Abramovich to remind the players of their responsibility to the football club that pays them so handsomely. And quite right too.

But where was the consistency on Monday? Where was the admission that some of Chelsea's players, while possessing obvious qualities, still need to seriously grow up rather than behave in a way that prompts a police investigation?

Because they haven't grown up, Ancelotti found himself adopting a dangerous moral stance on Monday. All he actually wanted to do was talk about Fernando Torres and his fine record against Manchester United, and in particular his record against Nemanja Vidic. He wanted to focus on winning a game that might not derail United's title bid but could seriously enhance Chelsea's chances of securing that all-important Champions League place.

On Monday he had no chance because the focus had shifted from the football and on to what is really at stake. The image of the game.

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 Explore more:People: Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Kaka, Roman Abramovich, Fernando Torres, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti Places: Madrid, Milan, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail