Ancelotti backs Chelsea old guard
Carlo Ancelotti insists his Chelsea players are not past their sell-by-date and are as hungry as ever to win silverware.
Opinion is divided over the reasons behind the Blues' worst run in the Premier League for almost 15 years, from which they have only just emerged. Some blame the shock sacking of assistant manager Ray Wilkins, while others point to the loss of key players to injury, which in turn is linked to the club's decision to offload a number of experienced squad members last summer.
But there are also those who have questioned whether the stars that remain at Stamford Bridge are still willing and able to compete for the big prizes. Manager Ancelotti is adamant they are on both counts, rubbishing suggestions his current first-choice XI is over the hill.
He said: "Do you know what is the oldest team in the world? Inter Milan - 29.6 years average. Another question: who was the winner of the Champions League last year? We are not the oldest because the oldest is Inter." The Italian is also certain his double winners remain as motivated as ever to win trophies. "I think so because when you win, the next desire after the victory is to win again," he said. "This was in my mind and in their mind."
Nevertheless, with key men like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba the wrong side of 30, there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when Chelsea will need to consider life without them. Ancelotti believes there are ready-made replacements at Stamford Bridge in the shape of Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires, Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge.
"If you mention Terry, Lampard and Drogba, I would like to continue to have this kind of player," Ancelotti said. "We can mention Ivanovic, we can mention Ramires, we can mention Sturridge, we can mention McEachran. They are our young players, they are improving and growing in this club."
Injuries to Terry, Drogba and Lampard co-incided with Chelsea's miserable run of one league win in nine and they could be without the latter tomorrow when they travel to Bolton Wanderers as he battles to overcome a calf injury. Ancelotti is acutely aware of the importance of Lampard to the Blues' cause, in both the short and long-term.
"We were without him for three months and we knew it was very important to have him," he said of the England midfielder, who missed most of the first half of the season with a hernia injury. "He came back from the injury very well and is showing a good condition. Surely he can have a lot of seasons to come because he is fit and very professional."
Having sold or freed the likes of Michael Ballack, Ricardo Carvalho, Juliano Belletti, Deco and Joe Cole in the summer - partly due to UEFA's upcoming financial fair play regulations - Chelsea are looking to the likes of Lampard, Terry and Drogba to help nurture the next generation of Stamford Bridge stars.
Explaining the rationale behind the club's change of direction last summer, Ancelotti said: "At the end of the season, a lot of players were at the end of their contract. We wanted to change our ways, give the young players more chance to grow from the academy. That was the reason and now we can come back to say we have players with experience. Now we have to wait to see if we had a good idea or bad idea. We were agreed to change this direction."