THE Stamford Bridge machine has chewed-up and spat out yet another of Europe's great coaches. Where did it all go wrong for Carlo Ancelotti, and what could he have done to prevent his demise?
The Italian seemed the obvious choice when he was appointed Chelsea boss two summers back: confident, diplomatic, hard-skinned, and used to working with the most demanding of owners.
Hot-footing it from Silvio Berlusconi's Milan, with whom he had won four European Cups as player and manager; he also presented the best chance for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich of laying his hands on the continent's most valuable trophy.
In his first season at Chelsea's helm, he was a breath of fresh air. He seemed to deliver all the things Abramovich had wanted: results deriving from sexy football involving lots of goals; and a complete lack of the controversies that had dogged Jose Mourinho's time with the club.
Chelsea led from the front all season, and raced to a Premier League and FA Cup double scoring a record number of goals. King Carletto had made his mark.
But the small cracks were already starting to show.
Champions League defeat to Mourinho's Inter put a huge dent in his reputation: Abramovich would not have been pleased to see his former employee tactically out-manoeuvre his current one.
Towards the end of that first season, though the goals flowed against largely poor opposition, questions were being asked: about the age and fitness of the squad; about Ancelotti's ability to motivate some players; about his tactical impact and power to change to a Plan B when Plan A was not working.
All of this coincided with a change in rationale by Abramovich. The Russian wanted Chelsea to be more youthful and exciting. He had become obsessed with the idea of signing Fernando Torres; and was exceptionally keen on giving Chelsea more Brazilian flare.
But Chelsea's back-room team bungled the summer transfers of Torres, Neymar and David Luiz and, like their manager, seemed to have no Plan B.
The Blues started the 2010/11 season with a depleted squad. Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho had all moved on – and had not been replaced. Ancelotti was told to bring through youngsters: and while he gave early season chances to Josh McEachran and Jeffrey Bruma – these were not always a success.
To start with the goals flowed. But as late summer turned to autumn, something changed.
A home defeat by Newcastle in the Carling Cup was no disaster; but it was followed by a gutless performance at Manchester City in the league.
Ancelotti can be forgiven for being distracted at this point: his father and idol lay dying in Milan (he would sadly lose his fight for life on September 30). And there were also problems with office politics.
Ray Wilkins was not Ancelotti's appointment, but he was his friend and confidant. The two men got on famously. He must have been aware of attempts by some in the club to paint Wilkins into a corner – and Carlo, a famously gregarious upbeat individual seemed to lose some of his love for life.
Defeat at Anfield to Roy Hodgson's lacklustre Liverpool was a real turning point. Around this time, sources reveal that some in the Stamford Bridge hierarchy were compiling dossiers of Ancelotti's substitutions. Too often they had seen like for like changes that achieved little. How many times in the season, when they going got tough, did the manager simply change his right backs on 71 minutes?
Wilkins was fired after the narrowest of victories at home against a pretty unimaginative Fulham side. He was replaced on the bench by Michael Emenalo – essentially, Abramovich's eyes and ears.
In addition to the joy that had already gone from the job, Ancelotti lost confidence: and Chelsea went into free fall.
A home thrashing by Sunderland was followed by further defeats against Birmingham, Marseille, Arsenal, and bottom-of-the-league Wolves. Having led the table from the off, with an unimpeachable goal difference, Chelsea were in danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League.
The transfer window was a typically-bungled, typically-Chelsea affair. The on-off pursuit of Luiz was a farce that eventually resulted in far too much cash being paid to Benfica. Meanwhile, by signing Torres on the cusp of the deadline for a desperate £50m, the club further undermined its manager - as well as some key players.
At this stage, Ancelotti still had the chance to save himself: and Chelsea's results in March and April helped claw them back, against the odds, to second in the league.
He says he was never pressurised to play Torres: but if someone dumped a new Ferrari in your drive and gave you the keys, most people would feel they should probably give it a run out. But he didn't seem to know how to use the striker.
By the time Chelsea kicked off their Champions League quarter final second leg at Old Trafford, it was probably all over for him. With two straight blanks in the Big Eared Cup, Ancelotti's whole purpose at Chelsea had been erased.
He made mistakes at Chelsea - too many for a top manager. But there will always be the lingering question about how many would not have been made without the meddling of external factors.