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Ancelotti & Mancini: Squeaky bum time

It’s a tale of two famous English clubs led by two modern Italian stalwarts of the game. There is no question about Chelsea and Manchester City’s ambition. But in their desperate quest for silverware this season stands a team that keeps defying critics time after time. In the coming week, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United can seriously wreck Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini’s season, ensuring it ends in disarray and self-doubt for the two Italian men who promised so much at the beginning. An Italian job gone horribly wrong.

Carlo Ancelotti’s illustrious managerial career requires no mention here. He led Chelsea to a historic Premier League and FA Cup double in his debut season of 2009-10. However, he arrived at Stamford Bridge with one objective: to capture the crown jewel of European club competition, a trophy steeped in Chelsea’s recent history, the UEFA Champions League. Ancelotti knows his work and legacy at Chelsea is incomplete if the European Cup fails to grace the West London club.

Roberto Mancini made a name for himself with Inter Milan, earning three successive Scudetto for the Italian giant before moving to England. He took over the reigns from Mark Hughes in late 2009, knowing fully well what Manchester City’s wealthy owners expected of him. To drop City’s “noisy neighbors” tag and elevate the club to new heights, with domestic and European success. While Ancelotti has delivered some modicum of success to Chelsea fans and Abramovich, Mancini has yet to earn any silverware for Manchester City, despite a side filled with superstars. More than anyone else Mancini knows he has to deliver something this season, least of all a Champions League spot.

Arise the common nemesis! Manchester United holds the key that could unlock the fortunes of both these teams. They play Chelsea in Tuesday’s Champions League quarter final and Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final on Saturday. This five-day span is the most noteworthy this season in English football; United can keep their treble dream alive, Chelsea and Manchester City can give their fans something to cheer about. Or face the aftermath of agonizing defeats that could quickly spiral down to a season gone horribly wrong.

If United get past Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final on Tuesday, Carlo Ancelotti will have to come to terms with a barren Chelsea season without any silverware during his short stint as manager. How that will go down with Abramovich, only time will tell. Chelsea’s hunger and appetite for success will be questioned, and doubts over an aging squad will receive fresh attention. Ancelotti and Chelsea will have their work cut out.

Mancini’s cause is more desperate compared to Ancelotti’s, in my opinion. Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners aren’t big fans of cultivating success over time, relying on fat cheque books to buy it for them instead. But success has eluded them so far and it isn’t going to be easy on Saturday. If Manchester City’s outwitted by United–not for the first time this season, who knows how short a leash Mancini will be on? Will the owners be patient with him–if so, for how long? So much rides on Saturday’s FA Cup semi final result for Manchester City’s manager. For all his big name signings, Mancini’s City remains a far cry from upsetting Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal’s stranglehold over English football.

Of course, there’s every chance that Chelsea and Manchester City will trounce over United in the coming week. But so awful have United been this season that the scribes will only feel vindicated in their prediction of doom for the club from Old Trafford. Nothing more.

The repercussions of defeat for Chelsea and Manchester City will not just stop at acrimonious press coverage. It may have deeper ramifications for Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini than any oracle or football pundit could’ve predicted at the beginning of the season.

Originally published: April 9, 2011