As an Italian who has lived in this country for a little over 10 months, it is understandable that Carlo Ancelotti's grasp of the English language still has some way to go.
The Chelsea manager never ventures far without having one of his three handy translators nearby, just in case, and his propensity to use the phrase "top of the list" to describe his side's league position lost its naive charm several weeks ago.
Yet in less than a season in the Premier League Ancelotti has proved beyond all doubt that he has got the measure of the English game. Chelsea need only to beat first Wigan and then Portsmouth to attain their first ever domestic Double, a remarkable achievement that would trump the record of Jose Mourinho, the benchmark against which all Chelsea managers are measured, who won the Premier League and the Carling Cup in his first year.
Ancelotti has done much more, however, than just revive Chelsea's ability to win trophies. He has liberated the players and let them off the leash, to such an extent that Chelsea need three goals at home to Wigan tomorrow to set a new Premier League record for goals in a single season, beating the current record of 97 set by Manchester United in 1999-2000. Score five goals, and they will be the first team to reach a century in the top flight since Tottenham Hotspur in 1963, whose total of 111 is almost certainly out of reach.
The contrast with Mourinho's side could not be more complete. When Chelsea won the title in 2005, they set a new record for having the tightest defence in history, conceding just 15 goals. Now they are on the verge of clinching it with the best attack. Winning trophies, but with the emphasis on attack, not defence – this is the challenge that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich set Ancelotti a year ago when he enticed him away from his comfort zone at Milan. The Italian has not disappointed.
Ancelotti's success has been helped by the very fact that he is not Mourinho. In fact his style in so many aspects of the job is very different from, if not diametrically opposed to, the management technique of "The Special One".
Under Mourinho, the team was focused only on the result. In his 2008 autobiography Didier Drogba wrote of Mourinho: "He infected us with the victory virus, the desire to always win. Only success mattered." This "by any means necessary" philosophy ensured Chelsea won few friends to go with their trophies, and ultimately cost Mourinho his job at Stamford Bridge when Abramovich decided he could suffer his manager's ego no longer.
The most obvious contrast is in playing styles. Chelsea under Ancelotti have adopted the same 4-3-3 formation made popular by Mourinho, but the approaches of the two managers are very different. When Chelsea won the title in 2005 and 2006, they scored 72 goals in both seasons and conceded 15 and 22 respectively. So far this season, they have scored 95 goals and let in 32. "Who dares, wins" might have to become the club's new motto.
Ancelotti spoke yesterday of his love for teams of the past that embodied the spirit of the beautiful game. "One of the best teams was Brazil in 1970, for attacking. Milan in 1988 perhaps – a fantastic team with a fantastic midfielder," he said, a tongue-in-cheek reference to himself. "I had the honour to play in a team that not only won, but made history because Milan, in that moment, changed the philosophy of Italian football. They put more pressure [on opponents]. It was a very good team. There are a lot of good teams that didn't win titles. One team would be Holland in 1974, a fantastic team who didn't win the World Cup. But everyone who loves football thinks about Holland rather than Germany, who actually won the World Cup."
Asked then if he would be happy to be remembered as a glorious loser, Ancelotti somewhat contradicted himself by saying: "No, no, no, no. I'd prefer to be Germany."
His team, however, better resemble Netherlands of 1974 vintage than Germany. Across the pitch, the players are enjoying greater freedom. The full-backs have been bombing forward; Florent Malouda has improved immeasurably; Frank Lampard has raised his game; and Didier Drogba, who has so many times since Mourinho left in 2007 looked like following his mentor out of the door, is currently playing the best football of his career. Contrast that with Chelsea under the merciless rule of Mourinho, when striker Mateja Kezman admitted in 2005 he grew afraid to shoot "because I fear for loss of possession".
When Mourinho ran the show at Chelsea all the style resided with the manager. His look-at-me personality meant all the attention had to be directed at him; it was almost as if he might be jealous should his team become more attractive than him.
Ancelotti's approach has been the opposite, to give the players the freedom to play while the manager takes a back-seat role. He has also encouraged the players to speak their minds, to take greater responsibility. That approach came to the fore after Chelsea were eliminated from the Champions League by Mourinho's Internazionale in mid-March, when a meeting with the squad turned the season around. "I think it's the best thing to speak together and find the right solution when problems come," Ancelotti said yesterday.
Mourinho wanted a team that he could mould into a winning machine, handing players two or three pages on their opponents before each game. Ancelotti could hardly be less like Mourinho if he tried. The Italian does not go in for detailed dossiers. In fact his knowledge of the Premier League is sometimes surprisingly sketchy, as for instance when he admitted earlier this season he did not know Nicolas Anelka used to play for Bolton.
Ancelotti pins his hopes on something far less scientific. While Mourinho was renowned for taking complex notes, Ancelotti has a small crucifix from the shrine of Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar, priest and mystic from southern Italy, that he carries in the pocket of his jacket and will be with him pitchside tomorrow. The Italian has also shown an ability to keep a cool head in a crisis. Ancelotti has succeeded in taking some of the heat out of Chelsea despite another controversial season that has included the transfer ban, which was later overturned, for their signing of Gaël Kakuta, and the saga of John Terry's private life that led to him being sacked as England captain. Just imagine how Mourinho would have made merry with those events, turning them into a huge conspiracy plot to undermine him. Instead, Ancelotti has carefully managed to navigate safe passage through to the other side.
Chelsea no longer surround the referee in the same way they used to under Mourinho. Their players have not become saints overnight but there is no doubt their attitude to officialdom has improved, and they currently sit fourth in the Fair Play League. Ancelotti said: "Roman will be happy for the behaviour of his team, showing good play and good football." Should Chelsea go on to win the Double, it would be a remarkable accomplishment for Ancelotti, but the man whose Milan side famously threw away a 3-0 half-time lead in the 2005 Champions League final against Liverpool is understandably taking nothing for granted. "For me, it would be a fantastic season if I'm able to win the Double. But I want to wait before I answer this question," he said.
Ancelotti is not one for the devastating sound bite that has become the trademark for Mourinho, but he did come up with something yesterday that would not have been out of place from the mouth of "The Special One". "It would be a tragedy if we lost the last game after 10 months of a good, fantastic job. It would be a tragedy, a disaster," he said, somewhat overstating the importance of a football match.
The odd moment of hyperbole aside, Ancelotti has been a welcome addition to the Premier League. Few doubt Chelsea will sweep past Wigan tomorrow and then overcome Portsmouth next week to win the Double in what would be the 11th occasion a team has won English football's two premier prizes. Ancelotti may lack the charisma of his preening predecessor but he more than makes up for it with his ability to deliver successful football that also puts a smile on the face of Chelsea's demanding owner.
Chelsea have been far more prolific in Ancelotti's first season than when Jose Mourinho was in charge, having already scored 95 goals in the League during this campaign compared to the 72 they hit in 'The Special One's' first, 2004-05. Here's how the Blues' top scorers have changed between their title-winning seasons and now:
Mourinho's first title: 2004-05
Mourinho's second title: 2005-06
This season 2009-10
*Ballack, Kalou 4
*However, was this greater firepower to the detriment of their defence? A comparison of Chelsea's statistics from the three seasons would appear to bear this out.
Ancelotti's Idols: The great sides he adores (including one he played in himself)
*Manager: Mario Zagallo
*Captain: Carlos Alberto
*Starting line-up (4-3-3): Felix; Brito, Piazza, Alberto, Everaldo; Clodoaldo, Gerson, Rivelino; Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele
*With Zagallo in the second of three spells in charge, the Samba Kings wowed with their skilful style as they swept all before them to take a third World Cup in 12 years. An ageing Pele still impressed up front with Gerson dictating play and Jairzinho a threat from the wings.
*Manager: Rinus Michels
*Captain: Johan Cruyff
*Starting line-up (4-3-3): Jongbloed; Suurbier, Rijsbergen, Haan, Krol; Jansen, Rep, Van Hanegem; Neeskens, Cruyff, Rensenbrink
*Viewed by many as Europe's answer to Brazil, with Johan Cruyff the fulcrum in a team that initiated the ideal of total football. Van Hanegem was also influential as the Dutch strolled to the World Cup final before losing to West Germany.
*Manager: Arrigo Sacchi
*Captain: Franco Baresi
*Starting line-up (4-4-2): Galli; Tassotti, Costacurta, Baresi, Maldini; Rijkaard, Ancelotti, Colombo, Donadoni; Gullit, Van Basten
*Masters of the pressing game, Milan gave opponents little chance to settle, setting a trend echoed by many as the Italians dominated Europe into the mid-1990s. Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit led the way from the front.Reuse content