Ancelotti hopes nice guys are not second

Often a cumudgeon in public, Chelsea manager is actually an affable man in private who inspires loyalty from his players.
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The tubby, middle-aged man having a quiet cigarette on the roof has become a regular sight at Chelsea's training ground this season.

He looks rather incongruous, a discordant figure out of sync with the prohibitively expensive cladding of beaten brass that hugs the walls of the designer building beneath him, but every now and then Carlo Ancelotti feels the need to light up one of his favourite Muratti cigarettes, and Britain's anti-smoking laws means he has to step outside whenever he wants a nicotine hit. Often the nearest place to spark up is on the roof. As the Chelsea manager remarked recently: "It's not easy to smoke in England."

The Italian, who will have to find a corner where he can grab a quiet cigarette after the final whistle, hopes his title dreams do not also go up in smoke today as he takes his Chelsea side to Old Trafford for a match that will go a long way to deciding the destiny of this season's title race.

But if they do, he will accept defeat by arching his left eyebrow and get on with business. Ancelotti is not one to make a drama out of a crisis. He arrived at Chelsea last summer in the midst of a transfer drama surrounding John Terry's possible move to Manchester City, and pretty much ever since he has seen the club go from one hiccup to another.

First it was Chelsea's transfer ban over their signing of French teenager Gaël Kakuta, swiftly followed by revelations about the private live of Terry and the collapse of Ashley Cole's marriage. Finally attention turned to football and he was dumped out of the Champions League by former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho's Internazionale, sparking headlines suggesting his job was suddenly on the line.

Ancelotti has met it all with a shrug of his shoulders and a raising of his famous brow. Close friend and Milan journalist Andrea Schianchi said the eyebrow is the barometer of Ancelotti's mood. "When his left eyebrow is at its highest, that's when he is very, very nervous," Schianchi said. "When it is in a normal way, he is quite calm. It is the real point of interest to understand Carlo."

Speak to people who know Ancelotti and the common denominator you will hear is what a nice man he is. They say the 50-year-old's strength is the warm way he deals with people, rather than tactical acumen or an encyclopedic knowledge of the game. He certainly surprised a few English reporters earlier this season when he seemed unaware that Nicolas Anelka used to play for Bolton.

Ancelotti's affable charm has inspired great loyalty. The Milan dressing room was in tears at news of his departure last season. Soon after Ancelotti joined Chelsea, Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf told reporters: "He is definitely a good guy. He's a very human coach, and that's not something you find too often. There are so many good coaches but so few who are good guys as well. The human aspect makes a big difference to the players."

Ancelotti demonstrated his human side when Chelsea travelled to Milan for last month's Champions League tie with Internazionale. On the day of the game, Ancelotti introduced his players to close friend Stefano Borgonovo, a former Italy international who is dying from the wasting disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Ancelotti donated the proceeds from last year's autobiography to Borgonovo's charity, and he did not forget his old team-mate when he returned to the city with Chelsea. As Milan manager he used to visit Borgonovo twice a week, and he still makes regular donations to the ex-player's charity that helps others afflicted by this terrible illness.

The Chelsea manager told The Independent yesterday: "He was my team-mate and is a good friend in Milan. He got this illness about three years ago, and it is something a few players in Italy have had. The money that his foundation raises goes towards research into this disease. I like to do what I can to raise money for this fund and help my good friend."

Friendship is a theme that runs through Ancelotti's management style. His aim is to build a bond with the players, not to be their boss. When he arrived he told the squad he was happy to be addressed simply as Carlo, and he has enjoyed various jokes with them in training, for instance when he fooled around in ridiculous glasses which were a gift from the players as a comment on the way he referees training games.

His good humour has seen him through some tough times, not least when he was called "a pig" by Juventus fans angry at his appointment in 1999. Ancelotti wrote in last year's autobiography: "Not that I mind, I grew up on a farm in a part of the world known for sausages, ham and other pork products."

He can lay down the law when he has to, such as when owner Roman Abramovich ordered an end to the sleazy headlines that were swamping the club in January, and he can rant and rave at poor performances. But mostly he prefers to treat players with respect, because it was the way he liked to be dealt with when he was a player. Gianluca Vialli, another Italian who managed Chelsea, said last year: "He is living proof that nice guys can be outstanding at their jobs."

Ancelotti is also very patient, an attribute he ascribes to his father, Giuseppe, a retired farmer from Reggiolo. He hopes Abramovich will also be patient, as Ancelotti is at a club where, among the big European outfits, managerial instability is arguably only exceeded by Real Madrid.

Last season Luiz Felipe Scolari was employed to marry style with success, but delivered neither and was sacked. Ancelotti so far has at least managed to create the style, as last weekend's 7-1 victory over Aston Villa makes Chelsea the Premier League's top scorers with 82 goals. The events of the next six weeks will determine if any trophies are to follow.

Ancelotti denies he is a flamboyant manager like, say, the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "I don't consider myself an attacking coach," he said this week. "I am Italian, and the fortune of Italian football is defensive. I like defence. I like balance. I am a balanced coach."

In the past at Chelsea, a balanced coach meant someone special with a chip on both shoulders but in Ancelotti they have a man who is proving to be of greater substance than was first supposed. It is Easter and his Chelsea team are only eight games away from potentially doing the Double. It could soon be time to put away the cigarettes and get out the cigars.

Match of the day: Who will take the initiative?

Recent League Form

Manchester United

23 Feb: West Ham (h)Won 3-0

6 Mar: Wolves (a)Won 1-0

14 Mar: Fulham (h)Won 3-0

21 Mar: Liverpool (h)Won 2-1

27 Mar: Bolton (a)Won 4-0


27 Feb: Man City (h)Lost 2-4

13 Mar: West Ham (h)Won 4-1

21 Mar: Blackburn (a)Drew 1-1

24 Mar: Portsmouth (a)Won 5-0

27 Mar: Aston Villa (h)Won 7-1

Remaining games

Manchester United

Today: Chelsea (h) 11 Apr: Blackburn (a); 17 Apr: Man City (a); 24 Apr: Spurs (h); 1 May: Sunderland (a); 9 May: Stoke (h)


Today: Man United (a) 13 Apr: Bolton (h); 17 Apr: Spurs (a); 25 Apr: Stoke (h); 1 May: Liverpool (a); 9 May: Wigan (h)

*Carlo Ancelotti has lost just one of his six meetings with Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2007 when he was manager of Milan.

23 Feb 2005: Champions League

Manchester United 0 Milan 1

8 March 2005: Champions League

Milan 1 Manchester United 0

24 April 2007: Champions League

Manchester United 3 Milan 2

2 May 2007: Champions League

Milan 3 Manchester United 0

9 Aug 2009: Community Shield

Manchester United 2 Chelsea 2

8 Nov 2009: Premier League

Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0