Carlo Ancelotti may win the Premier League title on Sunday, and be out of a job on Monday...
ShareCarlo Ancelotti refuses to be overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all. On the Sunday he could complete the greatest comeback since Manchester United hauled in Newcastle in 1996 and put Chelsea is pole position to win the league title for only the fifth time in the club's 106-year-history. On the Monday he could be sacked. Not this Monday, granted, but in two weeks' time Ancelotti will prepare for a meeting with the club's senior executives, most likely Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Ron Gourlay, and will be told his fate. Facing the sack: Ancelotti could guide Chelsea to the Premier League title and still be forced out of Stamford Bridge No matter that he may have won the league title by then, Ancelotti accepts that he could be dismissed. 'In Italy it has happened,' he says, smiling wryly. 'We will see after the end of the season, maybe the week after. That is what the club has said. At the end of the season we have to speak about the future.' For now, Ancelotti has a more immediate concern: 'Now the problem is not whether I stay or if the club change managers. It is to win.' To win at Old Trafford today, which will take Chelsea to the top of the table after having been 15 points behind at the beginning of March, would mean that victories against Newcastle and Everton would almost certainly secure another Premier League title. Keeping his head: Ancelotti is looking to Drogba (above) to hit the target again at Old Trafford It is the most unlikely renaissance given how dysfunctional Chelsea's season has been and how consistently Ancelotti's authority has been undermined. Even now it is understood that Guus Hiddink, Ancelotti's predecessor, is being lined up as sporting director at the club, although it is not yet resolved whether he will be able to extricate himself from his contract with Turkey's national team. Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, coaches with whom Hiddink maintains close relations, would be the most likely candidates to work under him. Despite the incessant speculation about his future, with Pep Guardiola being the previous most-favoured candidate until the Barcelona coach signed a new contract in the New Year, Ancelotti has forged a unity of purpose among the players at a club characterised by factions. Head-to-head: United are set to host Chelsea, with the winners favourites to lift the Premier League trophy For the Italian is the master of motivation amid adversity. Last season, on the verge of the sack and chastised by club owner Roman Abramovich following the Champions League exit to Inter Milan, Ancelotti called a team meeting, reverted to 4-3-3 and challenged his team to win their remaining 11 games and the Premier League and FA Cup Double. They won nine, including a victory at Old Trafford that tipped the title race in their favour, and they then achieved a cup triumph. This season has the potential to be a carbon copy. Following defeat in the Champions League quarter-final against Manchester United, Ancelotti was once more called in by Abramovich and the owner's aide, Eugene Tenenbaum, and again he was held culpable for the defeat. The gist of what was said in that meeting was that the team assembled by the owner had been ruined and that Ancelotti was responsible. Last time out: United dumped Chelsea out of this season's Champions League at the quarter-final stage Ancelotti later gathered his players and is said to have relayed to them the fact that he was being blamed for their downfall. A message was delivered: if the team believed that to be true, the manager would accept it; if not, they must fight to the end of the season to prove their true ability. After going 1-0 down to West Bromwich Albion after 17 minutes in the game immediately after the Champions League exit, Ancelotti's appeal to the team's pride looked ill-judged; yet they went on to win that 3-1 and three more convincing victories makes it seem as though the team have, in fact, chosen to fight. It is all the more remarkable given that the dressing room is not necessarily united on Ancelotti's future. Some players have been aghast at how the manager has been treated and are extremely supportive; others have been dismayed by what they regard as Ancelotti's inability to stand up to the directors and now they remain indifferent as to his fate. Watching from the stands: Abramovich could wield the axe on Ancelotti at the end of the season However, the former faction has prevailed in recent weeks, with the team clearly still willing to perform for this manager. Ancelotti acknowledges that the defeat by United in Europe was a key turning point for his team. 'Until we were involved in the Champions League, we were focused on the Premier League and the Champions League game by game,' said Ancelotti. 'When we went out of the Champions League, it was different. I said to the players to consider this moment, the game after the Champions League defeat, as a great opportunity to show character and personality. 'I think a lot of people thought Chelsea would go down in the Premier League after that. I said to the players: "Focus there. This is a great opportunity". Obviously, we were not happy with the defeats, but the games against West Bromwich and after were an opportunity to show the character this team have.' To be Frank: Although Chelsea lost at Old Trafford in the Champions League, they are the last team to have won at United's home Ancelotti has had to absorb grievous blows this season, both professionally and personally. When Ray Wilkins was dismissed as his assistant in November and replaced by Michael Emenalo, whose sole qualification appeared to be a healthy relationship with Abramovich, it sent the message that the board cared little about their manager's wishes, which in itself unsettled performances. This all came just over a month after the death of Ancelotti's father. Professionally, it was a dreadful period, the dismissal of Wilkins provoking a run of just one win in nine Premier League games, and Ancelotti concedes that, at that time, he witnessed the confidence draining from his players even during training sessions. 'When you do something and you're not able to do your best or reach the results, you obviously lose confidence,' he said. 'You can see it very clearly in training. When the moment is not good, you can do more simple training sessions and you are not able to do anything. 'When the moment is good you can do also very difficult sessions with very difficult exercises and reach it easily. 'I didn't lose sleep [at that time]. I was able to live. Obviously, I was not happy. What I felt, I said to you. I don't have a problem explaining my emotion. I have had a lot of difficult periods in my career, and I will have a lot again. 'But I always maintained confidence in these players. They are serious and professional, and they feel this club and this shirt. It's not difficult to manage them and maintain their focus.' So he claims, but it appears that it is principally Ancelotti's charisma that has empowered a group of players to rediscover their better selves and rescued a car-crash of a season. Whatever awaits Ancelotti, he can certainly be proud of the manner in which he and his players have stayed the course. Rio Ferdinand: Fear of failure drives us on at Manchester UnitedUnited legacy will serve us well for the title, says Gary NevilleWho will win the title? Top bosses give their verdicts We'll crush Chelsea with our skill, so don't try any rough stuff, says NaniRampant Rooney could make it hairy for lucky LuizHoward Webb is good news for Fergie, especially at Old Trafford Explore more:People: Bruce Buck, Frank Rijkaard, Roman Abramovich, Carlo Ancelotti Places: Newcastle, Barcelona, Italy, Turkey
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