Wednesday 22 November 2017

'Pacifist' Ancelotti ready for the battle

Sam Wallace

It is on page 43 of the English edition of Carlo Ancelotti's autobiography that he says he expects one day to be manager of Roma, the club where he spent eight happy years as a player under the eccentric regime of Nils Liedholm.

"Someday, I'm going to coach that team," Ancelotti says. "I have a debt of gratitude." Not for the first time yesterday Ancelotti felt obliged to deny that his visit to Rome this week was evidence that he was about to make good on that pledge.

Given that Ancelotti has freely admitted in the past to lying about his intentions in order to make life easier for himself, he cannot complain too much if we take that answer with a pinch of salt.

He won the 1983 Serie A title at Roma, an achievement he says that he will always remember best for the occasion when a police dog bit the unpopular Juventus player Sergio Brio on the backside in the tunnel at the Stadio Olimpico.

"We carried the dog in triumph on our shoulders," Ancelotti recalls, "when I think about the (1983) Scudetto, that (the dog bite) is the first image that comes into my head."

That intentionally absurd remark about the dog is a feature of Ancelotti's book, a brilliant piece of work that is very different to most football memoirs. It is indiscreet about people and players he still works with at Chelsea.

It is self-deprecating at every turn, often portraying the author as an insecure, overweight glutton who, in one instance, is so terrified at the prospect of telling Fenerbahce that he will not take up their offer of the coach's job that he gets his wife to make the call instead.

Somehow, you cannot imagine Alex Ferguson admitting to anything similar. But this is the Ancelotti portrayed by Ancelotti himself -- a funny, overwrought character, who is only too aware of his own flaws and might easily have stepped out of a Woody Allen movie.

That he has not always come across that way to the English football public at large is because his command of the language has not always allowed him. He is one of only three managers to have won the Premier League and FA Cup Double and yet, in three games' time, he will probably be gone.

If Ancelotti's Chelsea team win against Manchester United at Old Trafford tomorrow they will be thrust back into the title race in dramatic fashion. Given their slump between early November and mid-February it will be regarded as the great comeback in the league's recent history if they beat United and go on to win the title.

But the mood at Chelsea is such that, even if Ancelotti does deliver the club's fourth Premier League title, he will not be the manager next season.

Much is changing behind the scenes at Chelsea. The club's sporting director, Frank Arnesen, is leaving this summer to join Hamburg, having finally made strides with establishing the academy on a footing with other leading English clubs.

Many of those academy players developed under Arnesen over the last six years are now in the reserve side that will win the southern Premier League title if they beat Wolves on Monday. Win that and they play United for the national title, which the club have not won in 25 years.

Arnesen was the man who first approached Ancelotti in 2009 to take the Chelsea job and the two men have worked closely ever since.

His departure is one part of what promises to be a summer of transition. Roman Abramovich would appear, once again, to be impatient for change.

But, first, there is a football match to be played tomorrow.

For Ancelotti the "pacifist", as he called himself yesterday, there is no point going to "war" with other managers and no reason for their "mind games" either, as he once bluntly told Jose Mourinho. But the Chelsea manager drew the battle lines ahead of tomorrow's showdown.

"I think that, mentally, we can have an advantage," he said. "Obviously, Man United hoped they wouldn't have to play this kind of game against us. Now they have to fight again for the title. Maybe two or three weeks ago they didn't think in this game they'd need to fight so much."

A 15-point lead has, as Ferguson admitted this week, "evaporated" with Ancelotti demonstrating again why he is the right manager for Chelsea despite the unreasonable pressure he is put under by the club's ownership.

There was steel when Ancelotti brushed aside questions over formations and the vexed issue of whether £50m Fernando Torres will start at Old Trafford.

"The line-up will not be what decides this game," he said. "This game will be decided through the courage of the players, the personality, the character. We don't need to be worried, afraid about this. We have to play at our best.

"With courage and personality, 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 is not important. It's the same for United, the players are motivated. The problem is the fear. Being afraid, to lose energy being too afraid.

"We have to prepare this game like it's a final. We have to stay more relaxed. There is a lot of pressure around us to prepare this game, but you have to have the skills to stay relaxed, maintain good control of your emotions, not be too afraid or worried."

One of Ancelotti's biggest motivational tools will be the indisputable fact that everyone had written Chelsea off. "If we are able to win, nothing is decided," he said.

"If they win, they will win the title. For this reason, they have the advantage again. But for us, it's fantastic to think we can fight for the title. Nobody thought, two months ago, that we'd be able to do this."


Ancelotti has now fashioned a momentum that was unimaginable not so long ago. The realisation, for Abramovich, should be that this manager deserves more time.

"It's not crazy to think that the club can change," Ancelotti said. "I've tried to do my best. But the club has to check my job. If they consider my job good, I will stay."

Ancelotti does not want to engage in a feud with his rivals. "I have a very good relationship with the managers here (in England)," he said.

"If you have to do a war, you have to be in two, not just one. If one wants to do a war and you don't want to react, there is no war. A battle. I am a pacifist? Yes."

That was something Mourinho found out as the two men faced each other, first in Milan, and then in the Champions League.

"Mourinho started mind games and we met and I said we don't have to speak through the papers," Ancelotti said. "It was the time to stop this. He agreed."

There will be no special plans to man-mark Wayne Rooney either. "We want to play our football, not just control their skills and ability. If we are better, we will win."

If they do, it will be United's first home defeat since Chelsea won there a year ago. "They've had a fantastic record this season at home," he said. "But it's time to win." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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