James Lawton: Ancelotti's urbane competence mocks all our initial doubts

It is hard to believe there has ever been a front-rank football man with such little edge as this son of a tiny farm town in Emilia-Romagna

Friday 05 November 2010 01:00

As the pressure begins to mount, Carlo Ancelotti might just break into a Fergie rant or a Wenger wobble or even say something hinting at one of the funny cigarettes some speculate Rafa Benitez has recently been inhaling.

It seems increasingly unlikely, though, he will ever do any such thing.

Indeed as Chelsea roll their perfect record into the sudden-death stage of the Champions League the possibility seems as remote as his ever sharing Sam Allardyce's delusion that it is only through lack of opportunity he has not already proved himself a football re-incarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte.

This is despite the fact that he could obviously make a somewhat superior case with a haul of four Serie A titles, four European Cups, and an English Double (at his first attempt) as a player and a coach.

Certainly it is hard to believe there has ever been a front-rank football man with such little edge and attitude, someone more attuned to the fact that his greatest success is unlikely to make the earth move or his worst failure cost a single life, as this 51-year-old son of the little farm town of Reggiolo in Emilia-Romagna.

Watching him so effortlessly, and so often drolly, succeed the formidable Guus Hiddink, has not only been an education in the practicalities of football management but also style and that kind of bone-deep composure that is born to just a few men.

Additionally, it has been somewhat shaming, to say the least, for those of us who sniffed at his appointment and suggested that Chelsea might do as well with the passionate, largely untested Gianfranco Zola – because ultimately did not Roman Abramovich want only a high-profile yes-man, someone with safe enough hands to comfortably field the orders coming down from the executive suite?

Ancelotti has quietly mocked such presumptions. He has proved himself his own man in every situation and perhaps one of the most revealing came at Wigan more than a year ago, when there was much wringing of hands after Chelsea, shockingly off their game, suffered a humiliating ambush. "Such things will always happen in football," he said. "What you have to do is go back to work, learn from it. That is the first thing you do. The last thing is to make a drama of it."

It was harder work though, he admits, a little later when Jose Mourinho brought Internazionale to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League and outplayed Chelsea. Ancelotti said it was a wound that had to be healed.

Now, he is candid about the need to carry Chelsea to victory in the Wembley final of the greatest club tournament in the world. "It is a big opportunity we have this season," he said, "and yes, it is a priority."

Yesterday, Ancelotti's voice was as relaxed and philosophical as ever after the workmanlike demolition of Spartak Moscow, and this was so even when it was borne by the Chelsea Magazine.

The headline was bracing enough: "Coach England, why not?" The quotes were pure Ancelotti; you could hear him reflecting over a fine dinner and an agreeable digestive. "I have always said I wouldn't mind doing the national team job," he said, "and not just Italy [for whom he played 26 times and in two World Cups] but Ivory Coast, England... why not?"

Why not, indeed, when you have done almost everything it is possible for a football man to do; when you have played alongside Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi – and left men like Silvio Berlusconi and Abramovich aware that their money can, in your case, buy only knowledge and self-belief.

Go for Zola, did we say? Surely not.

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