When attempting to trace the evolution of “one of the best managers ever” – as labelled by a certain Sir Alex Ferguson - you must find those moments that assisted in moulding a glittering career. Carlo Ancelotti is one of football’s most decorated and celebrated professionals, his longevity at the elite level of the game is testament to ‘Carletto’ the man and his vast knowledge of the game.
So what is it that took the Reggiolo-born son of a cheese farmer from his humble surroundings to the top of the football world?
Following a highly successful playing career that saw Carlo collect three Scudetti, four Coppa Italias and famously, back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990 while at Milan, he took the decision to move into the dugout.
Completing his studies at the famed Coverciano, it was here where Ancelotti created his coaching blueprint and wrote his detailed thesis named ‘The Future of Football: More Dynamism’. The former Italian international’s first role was with the Azzurri, where he assisted one of calcio’s greatest football minds and the man he played under at Milan, Arrigo Sacchi.
In the early days, Ancelotti was a disciple of Sacchi’s philosophy. Inspired and influenced by the so-called Prophet of Fusignano, Ancelotti implemented a similar 4-4-2 formation that was disciplined, fluid and played with high intensity. This was highlighted when Ancelotti famously rejected the opportunity to bring the magical Roberto Baggio to Parma during his time in charge at the Tardini, because Baggio did not fit into his system.
“I said, ‘No you have to play striker.’ Baggio went to another club. That year Baggio scored 22 goals – for Bologna! I lost 22 goals! Big mistake.” Reflecting on that moment in his early career, Ancelotti attributes another of the game’s greats in helping him see football in a different way. That player was Zinedine Zidane. The current Napoli Coach spoke recently about that moment, saying “Zidane transformed everything, because I put the team in a box around the champion, making it a custom-made suit for Zizou.”
This small part of Ancelotti’s grand career provides a window into what helped steer him to success: adaptability. Build a team and the style around the decisive players. Not married to one idea or one way of playing has allowed Ancelotti to develop with the sport throughout the years. A thirst for improving combined with a steely determination to learn has seen Ancelotti embrace several new cultures and different languages in the last decade.
Without those qualities it would have been impossible for Ancelotti to work across Europe, from guiding minnows Reggiana into Serie A to celebrating ‘La Decima’ with Real Madrid and becoming the first Coach to win the title in four of the five major European leagues.
The former Bayern Munich and PSG manager is all too aware that it is not just about the man in charge, so Ancelotti has been wise enough to lean on those around him, despite all his knowledge and experience. Inclusion in the project creates buy-in, with everyone from backroom staff to players on the same page, it increases commitment to the cause.
“They key to success, as a manager, is your relationship with the players. Important clubs and important players succeed when the environment is correct”. This trait was epitomised while in charge at Chelsea. Prior to the FA Cup Final in 2010 he surprisingly asked his squad: “What do you think the tactics should be?” The squad decided the approach, they delivered and completed an historic double.
When you consider the colossal personalities that Ancelotti has dealt with over the years, it makes his achievements that little more remarkable. Player power has become increasingly significant, but Ancelotti has the capacity to manage multiple different characters in a way that makes them feel at ease. “My style is to give the players the best opportunity to be comfortable. That doesn’t mean I don’t like discipline and rules. I like the rules, the discipline and the professionalism, but I like to have a relationship at the same level with the players. I like to speak with them.”
Ancelotti remains in the shadows, handing the sense of power to those that need to feel it most, be that Cristiano Ronaldo or conceited club Presidents such as Silvio Berlusconi or Florentino Perez.
Every experience is used positively, there are never any complaints or headline spats, just a nice guy that offers up enjoyable, efficient and importantly, winning football.
How long can the 59-year-old maintain his existence at the top? For as long as football motivates him too, because for Carlo Ancelotti, there isn’t a club or set of players that he cannot coach.