Fenno on Sport

 
 

In his first and possibly last sporting column, Paul Fennessy assesses the respective credentials of Messrs Ancelotti and O’Driscoll

As I write this column, Chelsea sit one point clear at the summit of the Premiership table with a game in hand. Their comfortable demolition of a toothless, injury-plagued Sunderland side was confirmation of a relatively successful first six months in charge for Carlo Ancelotti.

Premier League history has shown that teams in Chelsea’s position at this stage, more often than not, have subsequently gone on to attain ultimate glory. Whether Ancelotti possesses the attributes to ensure his side achieves this coveted feat, though, obviously remains to be seen.

At a glance, the Italian’s managerial record is more than impressive. Having also achieved success as a player (his list of accomplishments includes two Scudettos, two European Cups and 26 Italian caps), Ancelotti represents an anomaly in the form of having the benefit of a successful playing career to look back upon. The majority of his contemporaries – such as Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger – cannot legitimately make such a claim.

Ancelotti undoubtedly deserves a certain amount of praise for the accolades he helped AC Milan acquire whilst manager there. His honours encompass a Scudetto in 2004, a Coppa Italia in 2003 and two Champions League wins in 2003 and 2007, making him one of only six people to have won the European Cup as both a player and a manager.

However, for all the praise that is consistently heaped upon Ancelotti, certain questions in relation to his managerial style bear scrutiny. His reputable period in charge of the Serie A side was, upon closer inspection, undermined by a series of incidences in which Ancelotti appeared all too willing to be overruled by his colleagues – namely, their chairman Silvio Berlusconi and general manager Adriano Galliani.

Perhaps the most pertinent example of Ancelotti’s questionable influence on proceedings during his Milanese tenure was a stark confession he made at a press conference signalling Kaka’s arrival at the club. The Italian made the startling admission that he had barely even heard of Kaka, and that Galliani was entirely responsible for securing the Brazilian’s signature.

Some commentators have argued that this system of management – in which coaches have little control over a club’s transfer dealings – constitutes a feasible, or even an entirely necessary practice in modern day football.

Nevertheless, I cannot imagine the truly great managers – the Alex Fergusons, the Jock Steins, the Brian Cloughs – compliantly relinquishing partial control of an element of a football club that is so intrinsic to its best interests.

An undue level of player power has undone Chelsea in the past. Avram Grant was, at times, reputedly reduced to a near inconsequential figure at the behest of some of Chelsea’s more egotistical superstars. Following his sacking, Luiz Felipe Scolari admitted to finding players similarly indefatigable in their efforts to exert a significant influence in areas such as team selection. This rather democratic approach to running a football club unsurprisingly failed on both occasions.

Therefore, if Ancelotti hopes to deliver Chelsea that elusive Premier League title and ensure his reputation as a manager of renown, he must amplify his dogmatic tendencies and ignore player pressure.

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A large number of Irish sporting aficionados consider Padraig Harrington as the greatest athlete this nation has ever produced. I beg to differ: although the Dubliner has an endless list of admirable successes to his name, I would hesitate to call him a master of his profession. Namely, he could never accurately be labelled as the world’s greatest golfer.

Brian O’Driscoll would get my vote as our greatest sportsperson. His recent acquisition of World Rugby magazine’s player of the decade accolade speaks volumes for the scope of his achievements and his emergence as the talisman of Irish rugby. Furthermore, his dazzling rescue act during Leinster’s 27-10 win over Brive last Saturday reminded rugby fans that his peerless brilliance has yet to wane.

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