During the opening weeks of the season Carlo Ancelotti has been juggling his job as Chelsea manager with a more important role, that of caring for his seriously ill father back home in Italy.
Ancelotti has been making a weekly journey to Bologna and back on the rare days off that Chelsea's busy schedule allows to visit 87-year-old Giuseppe in Reggio Emilia. Often he flies off from Gatwick Airport straight after a game, spends the day with his family, and then leaves at 4am to be at Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey, for when the players arrive for training at 10.30am.
Ancelotti hopes to fly out again this coming Monday, following Chelsea's home game with Blackpool tomorrow, and to return in time to prepare the team for Wednesday's Carling Cup tie with Newcastle. He said: "My father is not well. He's an old man. When possible I have to go to Italy. Whenever possible, I fly back to Italy to see him. He has good support from my sister, so we don't have a problem for this reason."
The Italian has been relying heavily on his coaching staff, particularly assistant manager Ray Wilkins. "It's not difficult to keep my focus. I've spent a lot of time here and, when I'm not here, I have good support from my assistant," Ancelotti said.
"Everyone knows my situation. I don't have a problem managing the team for this reason. It's difficult, emotionally. When it's your father ... but this is life. I have to do my best to stay close to him, but this is the life. He has a lot of problems. I don't want to explain them."
Ancelotti said he expects to be able to lead the team against Newcastle next week but he has been given dispensation to miss a game if he feels he should be back in Italy. Giuseppe, a retired pig farmer, has had a profound influence on Ancelotti, who credits his father with teaching him the value of hard work.
While the Chelsea manager's private life is proving to be taxing at the moment, on the pitch his team have encountered few problems on their five-game winning streak. They have scored 21 goals so far, after managing 142 in all competitions last season on their way to winning the Double.
Ancelotti admitted he has never managed a team who were able to score as freely as his current Chelsea side. Given that he has twice led Milan to the Champions League, and was also in charge of a great Juventus team that contained the likes of Zinedine Zidane, that is quite some compliment.
Asked if he had ever had such a potent side, he replied: "No, never," although he admitted it is far easier to win heavily in England than in Italy. Ancelotti said Chelsea are playing without fear now, as if that might have been a factor under previous managers. "There's no fear, now, which is good. The players are all involved in the team and there's a good atmosphere in the team. If we can maintain this atmosphere, I think we can have success this year," he said.
"We use possession more, and more attacking play. In the past, Chelsea played a different way. The players enjoy this kind of football because they're all involved. For this reason they can show their ability. The key reason is that we have a lot of skill in front. And midfielders who can score. We have a lot of talent up front."
The goals have been flowing thick and fast lately, especially at Stamford Bridge. Since they lost 4-2 to Manchester City in February, at the height of the row concerning John Terry's alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend, Chelsea have won all eight Premier League games they have played at the Bridge, scoring 37 goals and conceding just two.
Ancelotti yesterday told the club's supporters to enjoy the fun while it lasts, and not to view a 2-0 victory as a "poor game, a shit game." He added: "I don't know if the fans expect us to score six. I'd say it's impossible. I'll say to my fans don't expect that, because it's not real football. Our moment is good for now, but this could change in a second. If you lose a game, maybe you can start to lose confidence. For this reason, we have to stay focused in training and in competition. My experience says that, when you're in a good moment, it's easy to lose this confidence."
Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole are likely to return for Chelsea tomorrow but Frank Lampard needs more time to recovery from his hernia surgery and is again unavailable.Reuse content