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Apr 22, 2011

Ancelotti can go with head held high

ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.

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Despite the persistent speculation about his role at Chelsea, and who might replace him at Stamford Bridge, Carlo Ancelotti has shown his fellow managers how to behave when your future is the subject of public scrutiny. I think he has handled it all very well, and if he does leave this summer then he will do so with dignity and pride. Of course, there is still a small chance he will do so with another Premier League winner's medal in his collection.

It would be the perfect way to bow out, if indeed Roman Abramovich does dispose of another manager. Ahead of Saturday's game against West Ham, Chelsea are six points behind Manchester United and while they do have a chance of catching them, it is a long shot. Sir Alex Ferguson's side have got to go to both Chelsea and Arsenal, and when you look at those two fixtures you cannot help but conclude that Ancelotti's side may yet have a say. If you had asked them two weeks ago the title would have looked a distant dream, but it is closer now. Stranger things have happened in football.

Still, though, the talk about Ancelotti continues. Speculation is created by the media and the Italian has been round the block a few times, so that will not faze him. He has remained very calm and nothing seems to bother him. He has told the press, "if I'm here, I'm here, if I go, I go". Ancelotti is not a manager who starts giving the press easy headlines - he has patiently answered the repeated questions put to him by the media and has resisted the temptation to lash out. You cannot lose your composure, or indeed do what Jose Mourinho has done and stay silent at a press conference.

In truth, the only people who know if he will be there next season are probably Abramovich and Ancelotti himself. You know as a manager when a chairman is supporting you and you know when he is not supporting you. You know when you have been included in things that are for the future of the club, and not included. Ancelotti is a bright guy and he will be aware of exactly where he stands at Stamford Bridge. To outside observers, though, it remains a mystery. Chelsea is one of those clubs where nothing would surprise you. Perhaps he will stay there for five years, perhaps he will leave next week, but I think there is still an assumption that Ancelotti will depart at the end of the season. That is no surprise given what has happened at Chelsea in the recent past.

Stamford Bridge is the kind of place where you could win the league, win a cup, and still get shown the door. It is Abramovich's club and when you have an owner like him, these things can happen, more so now than ever. This is modern day football. Managers can do good jobs and get moved on, and the owners don't give reasons as they are not used to being held accountable. Abramovich has barely said a word in eight years at Chelsea.

If Ancelotti's time at Stamford Bridge does come to a close then he will walk into another job, potentially at his beloved Roma, as his CV has only been enhanced by his time at Chelsea. I would give him ten out of ten for the impact he has had since coming over from Italy. You can't ask more than that. Winning the Double in his first season was an outstanding achievement but at a club like Chelsea it is what you do this season this counts.

There is little doubt that this season has been disappointing, as Chelsea were so dominant when winning the title last season and also in the early part of this campaign. They scored goals for fun and looked as though they were going to cruise to the title, but then the wheels fell off.

Chelsea's current problem is that big clubs have to have two things: immediate success and a long-term vision; they have to co-exist at the same time. The transition from one team to another has to be smooth, and Manchester United have been the masters of this having done it three or four times under Sir Alex Ferguson.

At present, with players such as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry being the wrong side of 30, it looks as though Chelsea are still grappling with the challenge. A period of transition has to come, but it remains to be seen whether Ancelotti will be the man asked to oversee it. I know if I was Roman Abramovich, I would make sure he was.

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