Sam Wallace: Ancelotti goes by the book in standing up for stricken Rossoneri team-mate
Talking Football: He has made life a touch uncomfortable for Abramovich but you have to admire Ancelotti's nerve
Monday 01 June 2009
It would have been very simple for Carlo Ancelotti to give last Tuesday's press conference a miss. Easy for him to cite any one of a number of spurious reasons for not attending the launch of his autobiography. Or even not to cite a reason at all. That is the prerogative many famous footballers and managers claim.
Instead, with his future unresolved because his wretched Milan team had lost at home to Roma the previous weekend and were therefore still not assured of a Champions League place, Ancelotti turned up in Rome. He turned up knowing that his book included more than a few indiscreet revelations about Roman Abramovich and that he would be interrogated over his move to Chelsea.
The release of the book had been timed to come one day after what he had hoped would be the announcement of his appointment at Chelsea. But football being such a reluctant adherent to anyone's agenda, results left Ancelotti stranded until yesterday when Milan's season was finally resolved and he could at last quit for Chelsea.
Doubtless, last Tuesday Ancelotti's heart fell a little further when he walked in and saw a group of English journalists in the front row – your correspondent among them – who were scribbling down a translation of his Abramovich revelations with growing incredulity. It detailed his secret meetings in Geneva and Paris and Abramovich's own damning verdict in the summer of 2008 that the Chelsea team had "no personality".
Still, Ancelotti sat down, and amused the assembled Italian journalists by reading a passage from his book, first putting on a pair of a spectacles that made him look like a well-tailored Rome businessman perusing the lunch menu in Trastevere. He went through all this, including a few uncomfortable questions on Abramovich for one reason above all.
Ancelotti's book was written to raise money for a charitable foundation set up in the name of his former team-mate and former Italy international Stefano Borgonovo. In fact, as his ghostwriter Alessandro Alciato pointed out at the press conference, these were the only circumstances under which Ancelotti would do the book.
Borgonovo is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and at 45 years old is dying. He is not the only former footballer in Italy to suffer the condition and there are dark rumours indeed as to why this particular generation of players has been afflicted. He also happens to be a former team-mate of Ancelotti from their days together at Milan. So, faced with attending his book launch, Ancelotti decided, not for the first time it seems, that he could not let Borgonovo down.
Ancelotti may turn out to be a tricky character at Chelsea. He admitted in his book that he had fibbed before to get out of tricky situations. He may be less quotable than Jose Mourinho; less open than Luiz Felipe Scolari; less successful than Guus Hiddink; but by way of an introduction to English football, we know that Ancelotti has an impressive set of principles when it comes to old friends.
By writing the book he has made life a touch uncomfortable for Abramovich but you have to admire Ancelotti's nerve. After all, even a Russian billionaire with a reputation for ruthlessness could hardly get angry about a book that was written to help a dying man.
Borgonovo was never the player that Ancelotti was. He won three caps for Italy compared to Ancelotti's 26. He was Marco van Basten's understudy at Milan and found himself loaned out a couple of times in his four years there. His coaching career had barely started before his illness struck. The kind of struggling ex-pro whom Ancelotti, with his two Champions League victories as coach of Milan, might have chosen conveniently to drift away from.
Instead he has given Borgonovo one of the most precious gifts a famous footballer or manager can give: his story. These are lucrative nest eggs for football people and few give them away for nothing. Ancelotti has a good one too: elsewhere in the book he recalls the occasion Ruud Gullit pinned Fabio Capello up against a wall or when Sven Goran Eriksson got diarrhoea at Roma's Stadio Olimpico (another crap performance at a big game).
I tried to track down someone from the Borgonovo foundation last week but it is a very small organisation, the only full-time employee is Borgonovo's wife. The man at the Italian amyotrophic lateral sclerosis foundation said he only had an email address, no phone number. The website is modest. Imagine what a difference Ancelotti's royalties will make, along with the serialisation rights which have already been bought by an English newspaper.
In the pictures of Borgonovo, he looks like the archetypal Italian striker from the 1980s, coiffured black hair, crucifix tucked inside the collar of his jersey. A far cry from the man who can barely raise his head from his pillow to smile at the camera, in a picture taken with David Beckham that is included in the picture section of Ancelotti's autobiography.
No prizes for guessing who took Beckham along to the hospital to visit Borgonovo. At Chelsea, Ancelotti has one hell of an act to follow in Guus Hiddink. He is also now manager of a club that has not always succeeded in making the right decisions on questions of conduct on the pitch or how it pursues its transfer policy. But on what we know about Ancelotti thus far we can safely say that, on the big issues, he has his priorities right.
Blatter's strange case of continental drift
Kazakhstan is in Asia apart from one bit west of the Ural River that counts as European which, incidentally, is not where England are playing their World Cup qualifier on Saturday. If Sepp Blatter is so bothered about English football losing its identity, how come he cannot even tell which continent some countries are in?
Money men fail Wembley name game
Yes, I know that the corporate money men helped pay for Wembley but it doesn't mean you have to like them. I watched three corporate types in the Wembley stands on Saturday, gormlessly taking photos of the place on their mobile phones. When they had finished discussing their MBAs one of them asked his mate what the club names around the stands signified. After all, how was he to know? It was only a list of past FA Cup winners.
FA test for Watmore
First day at the office this morning for Football Association chief executive Ian Watmore. He is a former civil servant and a straight-talking, decent type. As ever, the issues that will define his reign such as the England football team's success will be beyond his control. However, it is a fervent hope that he stands his ground and does not worry when the flak flies, as it always does at some point with the dear old FA.
* Good to hear that Wayne Rooney had a corporate box at Wembley to watch his former team play on Saturday. He was originally allocated one in the Chelsea end and had to be moved. One doesn't suppose the welcome was much warmer at the other end.
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