Why Ancelotti Is The Special One, Not Chelsea's Jose
“It’s his opinion, however I see my Madrid team fighting for the title and the Champions League, something last season he couldn’t do”. So said Carlo Ancelotti in response to Jose Mourinho’s criticisms after last March’s defeat to Barcelona. By the end of the season, Carletto was hoisting a trophy in Lisbon that Mou hasn’t touched since 2010, a trophy he couldn’t attain in three attempts in the Spanish capital. There’s only one ‘special one’…and it isn’t the Portuguese.
In purely football terms, Carlo and Jose have much in common. Both have won championships in three different countries, both worked at Chelsea, both coached in Milan, and both can boast Champions League victories. It’s away from the dugout that the tacticians take differing paths. One is funny, liked even by his enemies, attacking and humble. The other is sarcastic, paranoid, narcissistic, disliked by all except a select few and arrogant. The goodwill that overwhelmed Ancelotti on winning la decima (the tenth)was plentiful as even those fans and pundits who have no love for the Madrid machine couldn’t help but smile upon the sight of the voluptuous Italian being thrown in the air by his players. Would this love-in have occurred with Mourinho? Impossible.
So what is it about Ancelotti that makes him so popular? In the forward to Ancelotti’s autobiography, Paolo Maldini says ‘Before big games Carletto cocked his famous left eyebrow and told us jokes. Over the years many tears were shed, but only from laughing…even before Champions League finals!’. Clearly, his bond with the players makes them want to win for him. During his post-match conference in Lisbon he was interrupted by several of his players, who ran up and sang a victory song, with Ancelotti joining in. He was then kissed by Sergio Ramos and Pepe before the players left to carry on the party elsewhere. Frank Lampard spoke of him as ‘…a great coach but more importantly a fantastic man’. Wherever he goes, Carletto exudes love.
In contrast to Mourinho, Ancelotti has always tried to entertain whilst winning. He was nearly sacked seven games into his first coaching job at Reggiana in Serie B (‘…we were a ship of fools and the captain was me’ he asserted). He arrived in Serie A with Parma, where he admits to being too stubborn, explaining “I had the chance to sign Baggio but I told him he wouldn’t play as he didn’t fit into my 4-4-2, a formation I believed was correct in all cases”. He expanded “It’s only when I arrived at Juventus that I changed my ways, because I had another player who can’t play in a 4-4-2…and I couldn’t really bench Zidane”.
When coaching Milan in 2003, Ancelotti wanted his team to play beautiful football and received help from Andrea Pirlo. The midfielder explained that when at Brescia under the legendary Carlo Mazzone he played as a defensive midfielder and it worked wonders. The coach agreed to try it and so was born Ancelotti’s masterpiece, the ‘Albero di Natale’ or The Christmas Tree. Milan promptly won the Champions League at Old Trafford in 2003 with a team including Rui Costa, Seedorf, Rivaldo and Shevchenko, and he credits the formation for winning the trophy again in Athens 2007.
There’s no doubting that whilst Mourinho is the king at Chelsea, winning two titles, two league cups and an FA Cup in four years, for the neutral Ancelotti’s version of the blues were much easier on the eye. In his first season, Ancelotti’s team scored 103 goals (Jose’s highest tally was 72 in both his first and second campaigns) and won the clubs first ever double. In the Italian’s title winning campaign, he racked up a series of huge wins, including a 7-1, two 5-0’s, a 7-0 and an 8-0, simply incredible score-lines. One similarity between the pair was that Champions League success wasn’t forthcoming in west London, Mourinho had Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool to thank, whilst Ancelotti lost to Jose’s Inter and Sir Alex’s Manchester United in consecutive seasons.
After winning a Ligue 1 title in France for PSG, Ancelotti signed a contract with Real Madrid for the second time. The first time was back in 2006, but the contract would only become valid once Milan agreed to released their coach. They refused, so Carletto stayed in northern Italy. He still has that contract locked away at home, saying “it is a souvenir of a nice, adrenaline-charged period”. He signed for certain in 2013 though, replacing Mourinho who had lost the respect in a powerful dressing room, but more importantly of Perez who desperately wanted to win la decima. The Italian lost the title to Atletico, but the most important one was won on a humid Lisbon evening against the same opponents, the 55 year old completing in one season what Mourinho couldn’t achieve in three (and in the process overtaking the Portuguese 3-2 in European Cups).
There are only a handful of coaches in world football who have a record to stand up to Jose Mourinho this century. Pep Guardiola is one, but for consistency, success in different countries, tactical variety whilst playing attacking football, all whilst maintaining dignity and respect, Carlo Ancelotti is surely the best coach of the 21st century.