He has endured a long round of media interviews, but even after Chelsea's public relations man has wound up the final session, there is one more phrase Carlo Ancelotti wants to add to his English vocabulary. "Big ears," his translator supplies. "The cup with big ears."
The European Cup has been something of an obsession with Ancelotti as player and coach. He should have played in the final as long as 25 years ago, but when Roma had home advantage against Liverpool in 1984 he was injured, forced to sit and watch as Bruce Grobbelaar wobbled his knees in the penalty shoot-out to such unlikely effect. He would come across Liverpool again, of course; but before that there were victories with Arrigo Sacchi's Milan in 1989 and 1990, helping Frank Rijkaard fashion the bullets in midfield for Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten to fire.
As Juventus coach, Ancelotti suffered a bitter disappointment at Manchester United's hands, losing the 1999 semi-final after leading 3-1 on aggregate before he returned to Milan and vanquished Juve in the 2003 final at Old Trafford on penalties. Liverpool were his nemesis again two years later, with Milan's infamous collapse from a 3-0 half-time lead; redeemed, in part at least, by defeating them in the final of 2007, after seeing off United 3-0 at the San Siro.
Little wonder then that the trophy figures so large in his discourse. "It is the greatest competition in the world," he has already said. Indeed, it is easy to imagine Roman Abramovich being seduced by the notion that Chelsea's fifth manager in two years shares his own desire to win this trophy above all others. Five times in six seasons – a remarkable and undervalued record – the club have reached at least the semi-final. Only once, of course, have they taken one step further, a cruelly false step as John Terry slipped on his run-up in the Moscow shoot-out, allowing United to sneak home.
"I think already now Chelsea is one of the biggest clubs in Europe," Ancelotti said at Stamford Bridge last week. "When a team does five semi-finals in six years in the Champions' League it's one of the best in the world." Yet the margins, as he knows from his own and Chelsea's experience, are thin indeed. Last season they were convinced another final was in reach, until Barcelona's dramatic recovery in the last minute at Stamford Bridge. "It's a very little step. One shot by [Andres] Iniesta and it was out of the final. To win the Champions' League is not so easy. I am here for this." Although he quickly adds: "But not only for this."
The aftermath of that wild night against Barcelona will be felt for some time yet, with Didier Drogba facing a four-match suspension for his obscene rant to a television camera. Yet Ancelotti was not prepared to condemn it: "To lose Drogba for four games is not easy. It has happened and we have to look forward. I was a player and it can happen that in a moment in the game the mind is not cold. You can get carried away by what's happened. When I was a player I was not always quiet. I was a fighter. I didn't want the opponent to come into my territory. This is my territory."
It sounds as though he is relishing
the physicality of the British game, first encountered in the form of Sampdoria's Graeme Souness – "very, very strong, like iron" – and looking forward to the less cagey nature of the game as well. "In England the referees let you play. In Italy there are a lot of interruptions to the game. I prefer to play on. In England the referee blows for 35 fouls in a game, in Italy 50 or 55. I think in Italy there are more tactical games and less space. In England it's more open."
As for his own style, learning the phrase "hair-dryer" is unlikely to be as necessary as the one about "big ears". He has admitted to losing his temper with players only rarely, citing one example after a Milan defeat by Bologna: "I punched the table, kicked in a door, smashed a bottle and screamed at the top of my lungs. I insulted everybody and did so individually and personally."
In London, however, it will be different: "I want to have a good relationship with the players and I want to be myself. I am not interested if they speak to me formally or informally, only that they respect my position. I am the coach, I have to make choices and at the same time I have respect for the players."
When Chelsea go to the United States this week, much will be made of the friendly matches to be played against Milan and Jose Mourinho's Internazionale, but Ancelotti insists: "To do better than Mourinho is not motivation for me. Motivation for me is to win, to take Chelsea up."
The one date he mentions is: "Charity Shield [sic] in Wembley... 9 August." Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United are now clearly of greater importance than "His Specialness" Mourinho and Inter. "I know Ferguson, we drank red wine in Manchester. They are exciting matches with Manchester United. We have a good relationship. We were against each other sometimes and for me it went well but every match has a different story. We will see each other on 9 August."
Carlo's way: Three problems to solve
1: John Terry
While it is likely to prove one of the summer's more overblown dramas, Carlo Ancelotti is entitled to feel let down that his captain, supposedly "the Chels" through and through, has let speculation about Manchester City to drag on for so long. Resolution, in every sense, is required.
2: Midfield balance
Deco, a huge disappointment, was the odd man out for most of last season. Can Ancelotti revitalise him, or would it be better to cut Chelsea's losses? Even without him, Yuri Zhirkov's arrival and Joe Cole's return to fitness mean difficulties finding the best balance across the middle.
The manager intends using pre-season games to decide on Chelsea's best system. Stick with the previous one using a single striker – Didier Drogba, when fit and not suspended – or push Nicolas Anelka alongside him in a 4-4-2? And what to do with Andriy Shevchenko, nothing like the hero of Ancelotti's Milan?
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