CARLO ANCELOTTI has waited nine years for the chance to say goodbye to Stamford Bridge.
Tomorrow, it will be “hello” again, as he returns to SW6.
But there is an irony that he does so in charge of the club he faced in his last Chelsea game.
His sacking, in a Goodison Park corridor after a 1-0 defeat on the final day of the 2010-11 season, summed up the brutal nature of Roman Abramovich’s first decade at the club.
First was first. Second nowhere.
Most owners would have felt the only league and FA Cup Double in the club’s history 12 months earlier would give the manager leeway.
That was not the Chelsea way.
Things have changed a great deal since.
When the Italian walks back into the Bridge as Everton boss, he will see plenty of familiar faces — one or two might be slightly embarrassed.
Among the Chelsea high command, there are few regrets about their actions over the past 17 years.
That trophy count — five Prem crowns, one Champions League, two Europa Leagues, five FA Cups and three League Cups — is a strong reason.
Most of the changes have, by any analysis, been for the better, even if they felt harsh at the time.
But sacking Ancelotti, after a season in which he had come second to Manchester United, who also eliminated them from the Champions League, is viewed as a
Ancelotti was hired from Milan to get the best out of Andriy Shevchenko, who had lobbied hard for the Italian to get the job.
Yet he ended up being booted for not getting the best out of £50million signing Fernando Torres.
In between there were moments of doubt, including a humbling by his Milan nemesis Jose Mourinho, but some of the best football of the entire Abramovich reign was
The Russian owner had wanted Ancelotti once his love affair with Mourinho hit the rocks.
Weeks before his arrival, the Italian published a book and in it he wrote: “The manager of Milan is on a secret mission.
“I, like 007, on my own. Sat behind a driver with the face of a killer.
“More than a taxi, this is a time machine.”
Despite telling tales, Ancelotti duly took over from caretaker Guus Hiddink, opening his news conference with a joke questioning John Terry’s role before outlining his philosophy.
He said: “What is necessary is to have the best team, not the best players.
“They need to be unselfish, to have character. We can change the idea of the team using the same players. It depends on me, as manager, to do that.”
And he did, too. Ancelotti was able to forge a new team identity, with assistant and club legend Ray Wilkins the perfect link-man.
Off the pitch, Ancelotti was instantly popular.
Humorous and charming, with a love of fine food, wine, and a crafty fag, a calming influence at a club where frenzy was frequently the default position.
On it though there were too many of what Ancelotti described as “bad moments” — the worst being a Champions League KO on their own turf by a preening Mourinho
and his Inter side.
That hurt, bitterly.
One of the reasons Ancelotti had run from the embrace of Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi into the arms of Abramovich was that London offered a
bolt-hole to escape the constant — and frequently vicious — barbs of the “Special One”.
In the aftermath of that defeat, Ancelotti looked to be on his way out and after 30 hapless minutes at Portsmouth his future looked as gloomy as the weather.
But David James’ air-shot let Didier Drogba walk the ball into the empty net.
Chelsea scored four more in the second half, seven to demolish Villa three days later and when Drogba scored the winner at Old Trafford the following week the
Blues were in the box seat.
The title was sealed with an eight-goal destruction of Wigan and Drogba’s goal against Avram Grant’s relegated Pompey at Wembley completed the Double.
Yet it was a high watermark. The next season Ancelotti’s men were top until mid-November when three defeats in four saw them tipped off the summit.
That spell also saw Wilkins sacked after a spat with chief executive Ron Gourlay.
Ancelotti considered quitting in support but changed his mind, appearing from behind a curtain at his next press conference to say: “Surprise!”
The stunning signing of Torres amid rumours — always denied — that his medical had not been as scrupulous as it might have been was even more of a surprise.
Ancelotti’s fate was settled by the Spaniard’s shocking display at Old Trafford in the Champions League last eight, second leg as Chelsea were eliminated.
His popularity was irrelevant although his sacking by Gourlay, before the paint had dried on the campaign, was beyond harsh.
A lot of water has flowed under the Bridge since. And some tears.
The Chelsea fans do not forget and will give Ancelotti the welcome he deserves.