Carlo Ancelotti: A reflection from the Blues ‘ordinary genius’

“… We became the team that went down in English soccer history by winning the Double, the Premier League and the FA Cup – not forgetting the Community Shield at the beginning of the season against Manchester United. For a long time, I thought that was my favourite trophy, if only because it’s shaped like a plate. And on that plate you can put what you like: I piled it high with passion, with the discovery of a world I knew nothing about. London, England, Chelsea, Abramovich, Stamford Bridge, the Blues, the Queen. Another step in my life, another tile in this incredible mosaic, this splendid adventure…” – Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti, The beautiful games of an ordinary Genius

Carlo Ancelotti will always be remembered fondly by Blues fans given his double-winning season. Credit: Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Carlo Ancelotti will always be remembered fondly by Blues fans given his double-winning season. Credit: Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Introduction: Carlo Ancelotti

Here they come again, the darkest hours of a true football fan, seconds counting slower than particles at the absolute zero, two weeks seemingly longer than eternity: the international break. while people all over social media are trying and failing to find new ways to make up for lack of club football (those Greenwood Vs Martinelli arguments, the periodic Didier Drogba slander etc. say a lot), I offer an alternative, reliving those exciting moments of glory with the words of the Italian manager to win the premier league.

A self claimed ‘ordinary genius’, Carlo Ancelotti was brought to Chelsea to build a competitive team with a clear identity. Winning two Champions League’s with AC Milan at the time (he then went onto win a third with Real Madrid post-Chelsea), he was also the one who was thought to fulfil Chelsea’s chase of the highly-coveted Champions league trophy. In the end, a challenge that would prove to be too difficult.

But the start wasn’t an ideal one either, as Carlo Ancelotti remembered in his autobiography: The Beautiful game of an ordinary genius (co-authored by Alessandro Alciato). In fact, it was the only time ‘he felt like he needed a Psychiatrist‘, and it was all because of Yuri Zhirkov.

“…There was me, a manager with a slight trend toward waistline expansion. There were the players, hungry for victory. And there was him, a Russian midfielder with a host of talents and just one shortcoming: he can’t sing. He just makes a lot of noise. But now he was going to have to sing. It was his moment. If you want to join the team, it’s not enough just to sign a contract. There’s another hurdle, and it’s the toughest, where pity isn’t a word, where mercy isn’t known. A player has to make it through karaoke night, a sacred ritual, and in this case it was being staged in a hotel in Los Angeles during our 2009 summer tour in the United States…

“… He stood on a stool and began. My. God. I’ve never heard anything that bad. It was a disaster, he didn’t hit one note, not one. Pieces of bread were flying within seconds, followed by pieces of whole fruit—there was more good food on him than there was on the table before long. And that’s when I started to like him. Eyes staring off into the middle distance, he went on singing like a drowning cat, like a stuck pig, for nearly two solid minutes. Garbled lyrics, a depressingly dreary melody: my old president from A. C. Milan, Silvio Berlusconi, would have summed it up with the words: ‘Of course, a typical Communist.’

“Instead, the entire roster of Chelsea F. C. did something far worse: they let him finish the song. They refused to take pity on him, refused to interrupt that bloodcurdling cacophony, refused to let him go back to his chair in disgrace, go to bed without finishing his supper. And it was the last verse that truly screwed him, because when he reached the point where his teammates just couldn’t take it anymore, someone finally let fly that blessed dinner fork….”

Carlo Ancelotti, The beautiful games of an ordinary Genius
Ancelotti was renowned for his strong man-management abilities and being able to build strong relationships with his players. Credit: Darren Walsh/Getty Images
Ancelotti was renowned for his strong man-management abilities and being able to build strong relationships with his players. Credit: Darren Walsh/Getty Images

Carlo Ancelotto & The Community Shield

Ancelotti’s first real test was the Community Shield. After losing the league by four points, and the historically remembered, disastrous refereeing from Tom Henning Øvrebø, Chelsea under interim manager Guus Hiddink had to settle for the FA Cup trophy the previous season. Therefore, Chelsea Vs Manchester United at Wembley was Carlo’s first game in charge.

“…The first game and the first trophy: the Community Shield against Manchester United, and we beat them in a penalty shoot-out: Ancelotti 1, Sir Alex 0. I had never been to Wembley before and it was a moving experience—maybe I was more curious than moved, but I still knew how it was going to end. We had trained too hard and too well to lose, I had absolutely no intention of embarrassing myself in front of my new players, and they had no intention of putting on a bad show in front of the new coach from Italy….”

“…In the end we went to take our prize. Climbing the stairs that lead from the pitch up to the stands was something I had only ever seen on television, I had always been curious to know what people think in that moment. I found out soon enough: “I have to lose weight.” Jesus, yes, I have to lose some weight. I felt like I was climbing Everest, I was huffing and puffing, out of shape, I couldn’t get enough air. But when I finally got to the top, I understood: it was like starting an ascent to heaven. To the sky. Which is the same color as our team shirts, and that can’t be a coincidence….”

Carlo Ancelotti, The beautiful games of an ordinary Genius
Ancelotti brought instant success to Chelsea winning his first game in charge, the Community Shield, after defeating Sir Alex's Manchester United. Credit: Getty Images
Ancelotti brought instant success to Chelsea winning his first game in charge, the Community Shield, after defeating Sir Alex’s Manchester United. Credit: Getty Images

The Domestic Double

The campaign started in brilliant fashion. Chelsea went on to win 8 games in a row, including a Champions League win against Porto and a league cup victory against QPR. Chelsea was in very good form until a sudden dip in form happened in December.

“…In the Premier League, we began in grand style, encouraged by Abramovich’s request (“I want Chelsea’s style of play to be recognized around the world”) and by the formation that I brought with me from Italy: 4-3-2-1, the Christmas tree. The first few times, no one got it—not
the sports journalists, not even the coaches of the opposing teams. For a
while, it was a walk in the park, I was enjoying myself enormously, and the 3-1 that we stuck to Sunderland in the second game of the season felt almost like a physical pleasure. It was like running downhill: our confidence grew, and the players were happy, too, because they were trying something new— they weren’t bored. I would change the way we played depending on Anelka’s position. Things went great until December, when our opponents started to figure out how to beat us, and our winning streak started to flag, which was inevitable anyway. We lost to Manchester City, and we drew with Everton, West Ham, and Birmingham….”

Carlo Ancelotti, The beautiful games of an ordinary Genius

Things were not going as well as planned. They got worse when Chelsea lost their Champions League tie against Inter. The loss was a tough one to take for many reasons. Firstly, the wounds of ‘the scandal of Stamford bridge’ were still fresh, but, the loss meant the fans had to wait even further for the comeback. Secondly, the bitter sweet relationship Chelsea fans had with the then Inter manager, our previous ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho. Love him or hate him, wherever he is and whenever you face him, you as a Chelsea fan simply don’t want to lose to a Jose side. It’s always a tough one to take.

The relationship between the managers wasn’t ideal either. Managing the rivals clubs of Milan, there were various media altercations between them (although Ancelotti admitted they agreed ‘no more bickering, no more controversy’ just before the first leg at San Siro).

Despite the successful stint at Chelsea, Ancelotti could not help the Blues win the Champions League during his short time at the club. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Despite the successful stint at Chelsea, Ancelotti could not help the Blues win the Champions League during his short time at the club. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

But all those reasons, added with the fact that he was brought because of his specialty of winning the Champions league, pressure was mounting on Ancelotti. But he, along with the leaders inside the dressing room, managed to turn things around.

“…We recovered and we started running again at our own pace, and
without giving away too many secrets. For one simple reason: there aren’t any secrets—or maybe just one: A times table. Like the ones they give you in elementary school, when you learn to count and do multiplication…”

“…We did our calculations right after we were catapulted out of the running for the Champions League by Inter, then Champions of Europe, at a moment in the season that was so precarious it could easily have slid into disaster. In the past, Chelsea had always had a hard time recovering from roundhouse punches like that, so the day after our defeat we all gathered in the locker room of our training grounds in Cobham. The venerable old men all spoke—Terry, Drogba, Cech, and Lampard (another magnificent example of English leadership; when I see him on the field, it makes me happy). I was proud of us in that twenty minutes, we understood that we had lost a great deal but that we could win much, much more…”

“…At that point, we pulled out our times table. Numbers and statistics, written so clearly that no one could possibly misunderstand. There were only a few numbers, simple, fundamental sums that we needed to keep in mind. The number of training sessions remaining: 50. The number of days we could still devote to achieving our objectives: 60, more or less. The number of games left to play: 11.”

“…The first game was against Blackburn, and to tell the truth, the final score of 1-1 did sort of scare me. Then we exploded like an atomic bomb: 5-0 against Portsmouth, 7-1 against Aston Villa, 2-1 away to Manchester United. All magic numbers that made our times table look pretty special. Our success at Old Trafford was the one that got us the League title, even though in the end Ray Wilkins and I were forced to drink to our victory alone….” 

Carlo Ancelotti, The beautiful games of an ordinary Genius

Ballack’s two goals got Chelsea three valuable points at Old Trafford, which eventually brought the league title back to SW6. Chelsea went on to win 4 of the 5 remaining league games and were crowned Champions. Not only that, Chelsea went on to win the FA cup after beating Portsmouth 1-0 to cap off a brilliant end to the season.

Carlo Ancelotti won both the Premier League and FA Cup double with Chelsea. Credit: Reuters
Carlo Ancelotti won both the Premier League and FA Cup double with Chelsea. Credit: Reuters

Carlo’s Chelsea Conclusion

However, things once again became difficult in 2010/11 season, and Carlo couldn’t stop the downward spiral this time. Chelsea surrendered their Premier League crown to Sir Alex and his Manchester United, as well as in the Champions league. Furthermore, two shocking defeats at the Bridge to Newcastle in the League Cup and to Everton in the FA Cup, meant Chelsea finished the season without a trophy. Subsequently, Ancelotti was sacked at Goodison Park on the last league game of the season (arguably the most questionable sacking in the Abramovich Era).

Notwithstanding the highly unfortunate ending of Carlo’s tenure with the Blues, the memories Ancelotti and his team will stay for a long time. It was one of the best brands of football that Chelsea have played in recent memory. The classy and charismatic coaching style created a great relationship between Ancelotti and his players, and made Chelsea a very strong team. If you wonder how hard that is, Luiz Felipe Scolari can be used for perspective (he struggled to manage Drogba and Anelka together and he ended up angering both). But Ancelotti was able to get the best out of these two, along with Malouda, and help form the best front three in the league during his time, breaking records for most goals scored in a league season. 2009/10 also saw Drogba’s and Lampard’s best goal scoring tally ever further adding to the exciting, attacking style of football being played.

Carlo Ancelotti had a largely successful time with Chelsea as many Blues fans still have fond memories of the gentle Italian. Credit: Getty Images
Carlo Ancelotti had a largely successful time with Chelsea as many Blues fans still have fond memories of the gentle Italian. Credit: Getty Images

The ‘Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius‘ isn’t just Chelsea related as it has a lot of great personal stories relating to Ancelotti’s life experiences. From Ancelotti’s childhood memories to his playing career at Roma and Milan, his assistance to Sachi’s Italy to his ‘wobbly bench’ at Milanello, from his unhealthy obsession with food (a bowl of tortellini to be specific) to his car chase at the streets of Istanbul, as well as his struggles with injuries, this is a book filled with moments that make you smile and laugh (with a hint of a wet eye sometimes). Why not finish the international break in a strong fashion? Have fun reading it!

Written By: Biruk

Edited By: Ross-John (RJ) Bonaccorsi (@RJ_Goodthings)


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