Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti shrugged off losing Didier Drogba, John Mikel Obi, Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou to the Africa Cup of Nations, claiming the tournament may have come at the right time.
The Premier League leaders tackle Watford in the FA Cup third round today before games against Hull, Sunderland, Birmingham and Burnley this month when the African event takes place in Angola.
Despite the three-week Nations Cup, Ancelotti said he would not be put off signing another African player in the future.
He said: “I think that when they have to play for their national team, it’s not a problem. It’s like the European players.”
“Every top player can go to the national team. It’s not a problem for the Africans. It’ll be a great opportunity for the young players now to show their quality. I hope they will do a very good job because I trust in these players,” he said.
Ancelotti will have his first taste of FA Cup football this weekend and the Italian is already aware it has a markedly different flavor in England compared to his homeland.
There, domestic knockout competitions are all but ignored, with even clubs like AC Milan and Juventus, who have both had spells with Ancelotti at the helm, going through the motions in front of sparse crowds.
Many believe the FA Cup no longer has the place in English hearts it once enjoyed but, nonetheless, Ancelotti knows the famous trophy remains worth fighting for, as Chelsea proved last season when they came back from behind to beat Everton in the final.
“It is a very important competition in England,” Ancelotti said. “In Italy, the Italian Cup is not so important. We want to do our best and it is one of our objectives, our aim, to win it. Last year we won it. We want to do the best again this year.”
Championship side Watford are the visitors to Stamford Bridge today and Ancelotti will not need reminding that a stumble at this hurdle precipitated former Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari’s exit almost a year ago.
Chelsea were held at home by Southend United, a third tier, League One, team and although the replay was negotiated successfully the Brazilian was dismissed in February, just a month later. Ancelotti admitted he knew little of Watford save that he is a big fan of their former chairman, pop star Elton John, but promised he would step up the research soon.
“Watford are a good team,” he said. “I don’t know them very well, but I have an opportunity to watch a DVD. Every team can give you problems if you don’t stay focused.”
Watford, whose manager Malky Mackay became a permanent appointment before the season started when former Chelsea Academy coach Brendan Rodgers left for an ill-fated spell at Reading, are mid-table in the Championship.
However, as well as hoping to cause an upset, they will also be using the fixture as an opportunity to bring in much-needed funds after the club almost went into administration earlier last month.
This was avoided when former chairman Jimmy Russo and his brother Vince received a repayment of a loan of almost £5 million (US$8 million).
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