Carlo Ancelotti's sacking as Chelsea manager Sunday was groundbreaking for reasons that won't find their way into the official record book.
It took less than an hour after the final game of the English Premier League season for Ancelotti to be kicked out by his club's billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, in a move that set a new high in terms of speed and a new low for sheer lack of class.
Ancelotti is a good man with a storied soccer pedigree, and was much admired by fellow players and Chelsea fans. He deserved better than the pitied fate that befell him: He was informed of his axing while sitting on the team bus following a 1-0 final-day defeat at Everton.
His crime was failing to upstage Manchester United this season, missing out on the EPL title to the Red Devils and losing to them in the quarterfinal of the Champions League. For Abramovich, the well-heeled Russian who has used Chelsea as his personal plaything for eight years, it was not good enough.
Abramovich signs the checks, and it is his prerogative to hire and fire as he wishes. However, his treatment of Ancelotti, who has spent two decades managing at the elite level with poise and intelligence and has never conducted himself with anything other than class and professionalism, is a stain on the sport.
"I am not on holiday, and I don't know how long my holiday will be," said Ancelotti in his final press conference immediately after the game, unaware that he would be fired moments later. "We haven't arranged any meeting, but I think in the next week, now the season is finished, the club can address my job and they will make a decision."
Such an orderly procedure would have been suitable and shown some dignity on the part of Chelsea. Instead there was a curt statement full of corporate speak.
"This season's performances have fallen short of expectations and the club feels this is the right time to make a change ahead of next season's preparations," it read. "Chelsea's long-term football ambitions and objectives remain unchanged, and we will be concentrating all our efforts on finding a new manager."
It is difficult to see why such an immediate and humiliating course of action was taken instead. Is Ambramovich so embittered that he wished to embarrass Ancelotti in a final twisted gesture?
The events surrounding Chelsea came at the end of a dramatic day at the bottom end of the table, with Birmingham and Blackpool the unlucky teams relegated to the Championship League. Blackpool briefly gave itself hope of survival by taking the lead at Manchester United before falling 4-2, while Birmingham came unstuck at Tottenham. Wigan was the big winner on the day, clawing its way out of trouble thanks to Hugo Rodallega's late winner at Stoke City.
Birmingham may fire boss Alex McLeish this week, but if the axe falls, it will likely be done in a dignified and time-sensitive manner. It may not ease McLeish's pain any, but it would show respect, something Abramovich seems unable to comprehend.
Abramovich is the real one to blame, not Ancelotti or any of the previous managers he has summarily fired, or the players whose salaries he bankrolls. The Russian's big problem is that he thinks he knows too much. He sits in an ivory tower, not making himself accessible to the media, and by association, his club's fans. But when things start to look a bit shaky he gets involved.
Earlier this season he got rid of Ray Wilkins, the popular assistant manager, without consulting Ancelotti. Then in January it was at his behest that Chelsea went after Fernando Torres, eventually spending $79.5 million to buy a player who took months to settle in and disrupted the flow of the team.
It is hard to tell a billionaire what to do, and it is unlikely that Abramovich has anyone around him brave or trusted enough to convince him to adopt a different approach.
If so, Abramovich might be told he can help Chelsea best by signing the checks and staying out of the way. And that he can help soccer, too, by learning some class.
- Roman Abramovich
- Carlo Ancelotti
- Manchester United
- English Premier League