In this report, Sam Wallace examines the probable challenges that Nigeria’s Emenalo may face as the new assistant to Chelsea FC’s Ancelotti.
What makes a great manager and assistant partnership? Trust (Shankly and Paisley) has to be one quality. Complementing personalities (Clough and Taylor) are another good combination. Even a bit of tension (Ferguson and Kidd) can work. Then there is the importance of loyalty (Busby and Murphy).
Something tells me that when it comes to great managerial/assistant combinations of modern football we might just have to create a whole new sub-section for Carlo Ancelotti and Michael Emenalo.
One struggles to recall a partnership that has begun in less auspicious circumstances than that of the Italian and his new Nigerian sidekick. It is not that their current record stands at played one, lost one, because plenty of great managerial dynasties have started badly. Rather it was the way that Ancelotti introduced his new No 2.
“He won’t be involved in the training sessions,” was – all things considered – not the most encouraging of starts when Ancelotti explained Emenalo’s new role on Friday. That was run a close second by Ancelotti clarifying, “It’s not a new job, it’s the same job he did in the past.” Which, as anyone who has ever got a promotion will tell you, is not what you want to hear from the boss.
Nevertheless, Emenalo was alongside Ancelotti on the bench come Saturday’s defeat to Birmingham City and, whatever the Chelsea manager said about Emenalo continuing to do his old job, it will be difficult to scout Chelsea’s forthcoming opposition when he is spending match days watching Chelsea.
Three league defeats in the last four games have created the gloom over Chelsea. Yet they are still top of the league and await the return of Frank Lampard, John Terry and Michael Essien from injury and suspension. What catches the eye is the frankly weird position around Emenalo’s appointment and the pointedly lukewarm reception that Ancelotti has given him.
The cursory dismissal of Ray Wilkins was the moment that made everyone wince – a bit like seeing a favourite uncle come a cropper through no fault of his own. But foisting Emenalo on Ancelotti did not make sense for either of the two men involved.
For Ancelotti, the downside is obvious. It makes him look like he is being undermined. He did not even get the final say on the sacking of his assistant. Compare that to Fabio Capello, who brought four Italian staff with him when he came to England.
For Emenalo it sounds like one of the greatest opportunities a football man could hope for but when it comes to Chelsea and the whims of that club you have to be careful what you wish for.
The last man to be parachuted in from nowhere by Chelsea was Avram Grant, who lasted eight months as manager and was one penalty-kick from winning the Champions League final, as he never tires of reminding us. He parlayed that into a job at Portsmouth and the less said about how he is faring at West Ham the better.
Grant will always be remembered as the man who was given one of the most extraordinary leg-ups in the history of English football. He has never been able to shake that off and the way things are working out at West Ham suggest that if it was not for Chelsea plucking him from obscurity in Israel he would never have made it this far.
For Emenalo, by all accounts a decent man, is this really what he wants for the next step in his career? Installed as the assistant to a manager who has just seen his former assistant sacked by the powers-that-be? Football has often rewarded ambitious men but some lucky breaks do not turn out to be as lucky as they first seem.
Ancelotti and Emenalo’s paths have crossed once before, at the 1994 World Cup finals when the Italian, then recently retired as a player, was the assistant to Arrigo Sacchi in charge of Italy. The Nigeria team for whom Emenalo played in every one of their four games during the tournament were beaten by Italy in the first knockout round.
Emenalo’s club career never quite lived up to the heights of that tournament, at which he came on as a substitute in the first game and started the next three games, including the second against Diego Maradona’s Argentina. He played for clubs in Germany, Belgium, Israel, Spain, America and even a few games at Notts County but never seemed to stay anywhere for long.
When Grant, who knew him from his days in Israel, offered him a scouting job at Chelsea in 2007, Emenalo was running a private football academy in Tucson, Arizona, that operated girls’ and boys’ junior football teams. Tucson is Emenalo’s wife’s hometown but, that aside, it cannot have been a very hard decision when Chelsea came calling.
In many ways, Emenalo’s rise has been even more extraordinary than that of Grant, who at least had been a successful manager in Israel. Clearly, Chelsea’s new assistant manager has some powerful friends at the club who, in giving him this latest job, have made him an offer he could not resist.
He may believe that he is best served riding this wave and seeing just how far it takes him. Or he might look at Ancelotti and consider how he developed his coaching career gradually, building on a celebrated playing career by becoming Sacchi’s assistant back in 1994.
From there Ancelotti was manager at Reggiana and Parma before moving up a notch to Juventus, Milan and now Chelsea, learning his trade over 17 years. Considering that, the Chelsea assistant manager, who has come from obscurity to the No 2 role at the Premier League champions via an academy in Tucson, might conclude that if his new job looks too good to be true then perhaps it is him who should be suspicious.