Air of discontent lingers over Chelsea

Chelsea players have reacted with disbelief and anger to the enforced promotion of Michael Emenalo to Carlo Ancelotti's coaching staff.

Carlo Ancelotti, left, the Chelsea manager, alongside his new first-team assistant manager Michael Emenalo, during yesterday’s game against Birmingham City.
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Chelsea players have reacted with disbelief and anger to the enforced promotion of Michael Emenalo to Carlo Ancelotti's coaching staff.

Emenalo, who replaces the sacked Ray Wilkins as assistant first-team coach, has never held a coaching position at a professional football club and arrived at Stamford Bridge after being employed as a girls' team trainer at a little-known US football school.

Installed on Chelsea's bench by Roman Abramovich, the former Nigeria international had been operating as opposition scout since being brought to the club by Avram Grant, the former manager.

Emenalo's influence has increased as he has developed a strong relationship with the club's owner, attending team meetings and questioning players on their performances in the Chelsea dressing room.

Emenalo's actions have aroused the suspicion of senior players who have compared his promotion to Grant's installation as director of football in 2007 - a move that presaged Jose Mourinho's dismissal as manager. "It's like Avram Grant all over again," one veteran said of Mourinho's contentious exit.

Ancelotti has also been unimpressed by Abramovich's latest display of authority. In a team meeting following Wilkins's departure, Chelsea's manager made it clear to his players that the dismissal had been enforced from above and that he had attempted to keep his English assistant at the club. Speaking publicly for the first time about Emenalo's promotion, Ancelotti made it clear that he did not want the change of staff and would not allow the Nigerian to train his players.

"I am not here to explain how I feel at this moment because it is not the right moment," Ancelotti said. "I'm professional. I will continue to work. I want to stay focused on my team. The club made this decision after the decision on Ray. But nothing has changed, for me. Emenalo has been working with me before. He started when I came here last year.

"He was the opposition scout and was supporting me. He's not been involved in the training, and won't be, because Paul Clement has been and will remain doing that. But nothing changes. It was not my decision, but he is working with me for a year and a half anyway."

Despite winning a league and FA Cup double in his first season at Chelsea, Ancelotti was not allowed to reinforce his team in the summer.

Instead, five senior internationals were released or sold, leaving Ancelotti with the thinnest squad of the Premier League title contenders. Also, player and staff bonuses were cut and economies made at the training ground.

Accustomed to working under an authoritarian and unpredictable owner in his previous position at AC Milan under Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, Ancelotti has not complained publicly.

The Italian's contract expires after the 2011/12 season, but Abramovich has yet to make any attempt to renegotiate. Sources close to Ancelotti said that he is unhappy with aspects of his handling by Chelsea and aware that significant opportunities might arise for him elsewhere in the English game. He has already stated his interest in succeeding Fabio Capello as England manager.

Meanwhile, Wilkins yesterday described the sudden termination of a contract that was due to run until next June as "unfair dismissal" in a statement released through the League Managers Association.