The Evening Standard

Carlo AncelottI has just revealed that he is a religious man and is gesturing to describe the three stages of life after death.

“Paradiso” says the 50-year-old as he raises his arms high above his head to indicate heaven, then he lowers them below his waist to indicate the position of Hell before he puts his fingertips together near his lips to indicate a destination somewhere in between.

“I hope,” he continues, “I can go to Paradiso. If I am unlucky, I’ll be in the middle. Hell, I don’t think I will go to.” And he laughs. Spending time with Il Diavolo is clearly not something that Ancelotti is going to dwell upon.

The Italian’s laughter does not give the impression that he is a man under pressure despite his team having won only one of the past six matches and been dumped out of the Carling Cup.

Weekend claims that his skipper, John Terry, has been showing members of the public around the same sylvan training ground where our interview is taking place in Cobham in return for £10,000 have also been unhelpful.

Ancelotti is owner Roman Abramovich’s fourth manager since September 2007 yet the sack, just like Satan, is not something the Italian fears.

“I never think that if I don’t win games Roman will remove me,” he insists. “My aim is to do the best for this club, as I have done for other clubs.”

The stoicism that makes him such a formidable opponent derives from a lifetime as a player with Parma, Roma and Milan and coach with Reggiana, Parma, Juventus and Milan, working for some of Europe’s most powerful men.

He spent two years coaching a Juve team owned by Gianni Agnelli, the industrialist and principal shareholder of Fiat. Agnelli, who died in 2003, was once responsible for 4.4 per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product. Then Ancelotti went to work in Milan for eight years under one Silvio Berlusconi.

The one-time property tycoon, media mogul and politician has an estimated fortune on a par with Abramovich, Forbes magazine calculating the Italian Prime Minister’s wealth to be in the region of $9.8billion in 2008.

“I was not close to Agnelli but he had fantastic irony,” reveals Ancelotti. “He liked to joke with the players and the trainer. But I had a very close relationship with Berlusconi. He was President when I played and when I coached.”

The bond Ancelotti developed with Berlusconi was so special that last year when Abramovich came calling he did not want to leave as this would have meant “a fight” with the Milan owner. He only left this year because Berlusconi agreed to let him go.

“Abramovich is like Berlusconi,” says Ancelotti. “He has a passion for his club, he likes to speak about football, as does Berlusconi. Both of them like to watch football on television. After a game he comes to the dressing room.”

But is this not dangerous? After all, his predecessor, Luiz Felipe Scolari, was sacked following a show of player power by John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack?

“No,” he adds. “Down the years I trained lots of players with power.” In Milan these included: Paolo Maldini, Rui Costa, Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko.

While the stars must know who is in charge, Ancelotti has always made sure that there is not a gulf between the coach and the player. “I want to have us at the same level, a man-to-man relationship,” he argues.

If he can replicate what he achieved at Milan, where he twice won the Champions League – the great prize that Abramovich seeks – then Ancelotti should have nothing to fear.

Indeed, so relaxed does he seem with his Russian owner that Ancelotti brushes aside the issue that contributed to Jose Mourinho’s departure in September 2007.

Mourinho had been upset by Abramovich’s tendency to consult other coaches like the Dutchman Piet de Visser, who acts like a private football adviser.

“Roman can speak with anybody,” said Ancelotti. “I don’t have a problem, for I have confidence in myself.”

It was unhappiness with his team’s personality that made Abramovich woo Ancelotti for more than a year. In his autobiography published in May, Preferisco La Coppa (I prefer the Cup), Ancelotti described how he had a James Bond-style secret meeting with Abramovich at the George V hotel in Paris.

This was just after Chelsea had lost the Champions League Final to Manchester United in May 2008 and Abramovich moaned: “Chelsea don’t have personality… this is a team I don’t recognise.”

Ancelotti’s response was: “President, your team is very physical, you have to put more quality in the middle.”

He suggested buying Franck Ribery and Xavi Alonso but the former is still at Bayern Munich and the latter has signed for Real Madrid.

As a result, Ancelotti says that Chelsea’s strategy has changed. The club can trade in the January transfer window following the Court of Arbitration in Sport upholding an appeal against a FIFA ban for two windows over the Gael Kakuta affair, but the Blues boss admits: “It is difficult to buy top players at this moment very, very difficult”.

So, if striker Sergio Aguero does not arrive for £50million from Sevilla, Ancelotti, it seems, will be happy to rely on the club’s homegrown talent.

“We have fantastic young players here and, in the future, I want to put them in the squad,” he says. “Fabio Borini played against Portsmouth, Gael Kakuta played in the Carling Cup, Jeffrey Bruma as well – we have very good talent.”

Ancelotti has changed Chelsea’s formation – “we play in a diamond” – and, although he has changed little else, the Italian accepts more needs to be done to develop a team with the personality to please Abramovich.

Strangley, the team he feels can help him to achieve his aims are not one of the Big Four. Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa created such an impression on Ancelotti when Chelsea lost 2-1 there in October that he urged his players to learn how to play the game with intensity.

“Villa has been the great surprise,” he reveals. “They have very good organisation, they play 90 minutes with great intensity. They are defending very well. Martin O’Neill is a very good coach.”

His growing love affair with England makes Ancelotti seem the perfect ambassador for our 2018 World Cup bid. “English football is an experience. Premier League is the talk of football.”

Indeed England even offers lessons to his homeland. “In Italy,” he says, “we have violence and also problems in the stadium and outside. It is totally different here. England had big, big problems with hooligans. They did a very good job to change things.”

And the national team, he believes, could win the World Cup. “England have six top players: Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and also Rio Ferdinand. Difficult for other teams to have six top players. And they have a fantastic coach.”

Fabio Capello, who coached Ancelotti for a year, is: “The best coach to observe the game and change things at half-time, which is a fantastic quality.”

Despite the weekend claims about Terry, the Italian could not be more happy with the leadership that the defender provides.

“Terry is like Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini in personality, character and leadership. I am very lucky to have this player as my captain.”

This may be loyalty, or suggest a certain eccentric streak in the manager, for he is also full of praise for another player whose media image is hardly the best.

“I don’t know what happened to Ashley Cole before he came here from Arsenal but for me he is a fantastic player, a good guy. He always likes to joke, always has a smile and gives no problems.”

For Ancelotti, there is only one flaw in this English football Paradiso, the music in the dressing room. “It is,” he says, “rap music. I want to change to Elton John, even Pavarotti.” But then he laughs. “It is impossible!”

His love affair with England is helped by the fact that he can live a normal life here. “I could not do that in Italy. I can walk in London without a problem.”

Not that this son of a farmer brought up in Reggiolo has much time for London. “I cannot live in London. I am not used to staying in a big city.”

As in Milan he lives close to the training ground – in Oxshott – but there is little danger that the stockbroker belt will make Ancelotti forget the farm life, which is in his bones.

“My father made parmesan. It matured and then you sell. After one year you receive the money, you had to wait, you had to have patience.”

That quality will be much in demand if he is to fulfil the three-year contract he signed in May. Ancelotti is determined to do that. “I would like in the future to manage Roma but now, now I would like to stay here,” he said.

Then he pauses and smiles, “I have to improve my English.”

But whether Abramovich will find the patience should Ancelotti not inject enough of a personality change into the Chelsea team and get them winning trophies remains to be seen.

Ancelotti was speaking in support of Help a London Child. This week the club have been raising funds and awareness of the Help a London Child Christmas Appeal.

Chelsea donated a series of money-can’t-buy-experiences and recorded radio and video appeals which helped to make this year’s appeal one of the most successful in the charity’s history.

Chelsea’s three-year partnership with the charity, created by 95.8 Capital FM, is aiming to improve the lives of children experiencing abuse, poverty, homelessness, disability, and illness.


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