ACCORDING to Mike Forde, Chelsea's Performance Director, a man responsible for ensuring that the club are at the cutting edge of sporting innovations in the field of performance analysis, IT and sports science, Carlo Ancelotti will be called in front of the club's hierarchy at the end of the season to explain himself. Even if, by that stage, the Italian has won the league and cup double for the first time in Chelsea's 105-year history. "The day after the season ends we will ask ourselves why we didn't win the Champions League," said Forde this week. "In football it is about getting better every day, that's what we are aiming for."
What more can a man do, eh? Such a meeting would drive most managers potty but it's unlikely to bother Ancelotti one bit. This is a manager who, after all, had to deal with the runaway ego of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during his eight years in charge of AC Milan. And besides, he knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he joined Chelsea. Recently, he described a meeting with Roman Abramovich last March which took place in secret at the George V Hotel in Paris. Such was the covert nature of the operation, Ancelotti was picked up from his hotel by one of the Chelsea owner's people, a man he described as having "a face like he might kill you".
If he didn't have a good think about whether or not to take the Chelsea job then, he was never going to. Abramovich, post-season inquiry or otherwise, will be delighted that his hardy henchman didn't put Ancelotti off taking the job. Rarely has any manager achieved so much in their first year in charge of an English side. Jose Mourinho, of course, won the Premier League and League Cup in his first season at Chelsea back in 2004/05. Kenny Dalglish led Liverpool to the double during his first season as player/manager in 1985/86, while Joe Fagan won the League, League Cup and European Cup during his first season as Liverpool manager in 1983/84. But at that point in the Reds' history, any one of the bootroom boys picked at random could have led the Reds to glory such was the machine-like quality of the team, while Mourinho did spend £70 million during his successful first season. Ancelotti, on the other hand, had none of those advantages, making his achievement arguably the greatest.
He is not a man, though, likely to go on about it. "How will I celebrate if we win? I don't know, I never prepare anything," he told the press at Chelsea's training ground on Friday. "What happens, happens. To have a good evening, I like to have good food, good drink and good company. Maybe with my players." The Chelsea manager was in fine form. There were a couple of in-jokes with a group of journalists he recently had dinner with, a smile or two when asked if he had ever blown a title on the last day of the season – "why must I always talk about the bad days," he laughed – and overall, he wore the manner of a man entirely comfortable in his surroundings. Which is something that wasn't taken for granted when he arrived. When he was confirmed as Chelsea's new manager last June, the immediate reaction was that this country boy from Italy – a man who had been labelled a "pig" by Juventus fans when he was in charge of the club because of his rural origins in Parma – wasn't capable of settling into the environs of one of the world's largest cities.
That he has based himself in the village of Oxshott, an extremely well-to-do spot in Surrey's stockbroker belt, has undoubtedly helped. If he so wished, Ancelotti could go the course of a season without seeing so much as one underground station, or a red telephone box, but he has embraced London life. In his spare time, Chelsea's manager has taken to driving around the city's many locales, having a cup of coffee here, a spot of lunch there. The excursions in his Mercedes got him in trouble recently when he was pulled over by police for talking on his mobile phone while driving. "There is no such a law in Italy," he explained but he turned up the next day at a police station in Esher, not far from his home, to pay the fine. There, he signed autographs and posed for photos with those with business to attend to down their local nick. "A lovely man, really friendly, he didn't turn down one request," one man present told his local newspaper. He's become an extremely popular chap.
It is difficult, though, to figure out what exactly he has done best this season. Perhaps it was his calmness during the off-field scandals involving John Terry and Ashley Cole that threatened to engulf Chelsea after Christmas. "It was not a problem for me," he says. "Those were personal issues for Ashley Cole and John Terry. They kept their problems outside the training ground. If they wanted to talk about it and asked for help, I would have helped. But they didn't ask." Or it could well be that his greatest achievement is having got through the season, to this point at least, without having Chelsea's notoriously fickle players turning on him. "We have a great committed squad," he says. Maybe it's the manner in which he refused to moan about the need for fresh blood and instead concentrated on working with those players actually at his disposal, as well as talking up the club's youth system. "Our academy is working very well to grow young players," he says, a consistent message of his this season. "We want to grow young players – that is our philosophy."
What stands out more than anything else, however, is the way after the home defeat to Inter Milan he discarded his diamond formation without thought for his ego and re-invented Chelsea as a 4-3-3 operation. The night of his side's European exit, Ancelotti stood on the sideline puzzled and listless; you could not get the thought of Rome burning while Nero was messing about with his fiddle out of your head. But theatrics – despite one cameo appearance in Don Camillo, a series of 1980s Italian comedy movies based around the antics of a parish priest – aren't in the 50-year-old's nature. He wasn't going to get animated for the cameras, for the sake of some positive PR on the night. The defeat stung him as it did everybody else at the club but in its aftermath he went about fixing what was wrong; he spent his time thinking about how to solve the problem rather than going mad on the sideline.
The subsequent change in formation, where the likes of Florent Malouda, Joe Cole and Salomon Kalou were afforded roles much further up the pitch, laid the foundation in stone for the club's away victories over Manchester United and Liverpool, two of the three most important games in Chelsea's season, according to the manager. "The most important moment of our season will be against Wigan," he said on Friday, clearly not wanting to put the cart before the horse. "It will decide if we win the title or not. But the victory against Manchester United was a fantastic moment for us. Before that game, we were second and after it we went back on top and have stayed there ever since. But it was an important moment against Liverpool, too. It was a very important step for us to win at Anfield."
He warns about the danger of Wigan this afternoon, a side Chelsea lost 3-1 to in September, but he is confident about the game. Ancelotti is not a chancer. He believes in cause and effect and because his players have trained well this week and have been extremely focused, he sees no reason why they won't play to the best of their ability today. He briefly brings up an afternoon when Milan lost the title on the final day of the season after a storm made their away game against Perugia something of a lottery, but as he says: "there will be no storm on Sunday. And we are at home. That makes a big difference."
As for that meeting with Chelsea's hierarchy, including Abramovich, Ancelotti appears to be looking forward to it. "After the FA Cup final, I will meet Roman and together we will take a decision about next season," he says. "I know what I want to do next season. This club can invest money for any player if it is necessary but together, we will make a decision about this. If it's not necessary, we won't spend our money. It's not the most important thing. We have a very good squad, also for next season. This squad is good enough as it is. It is not an old squad. There is experience, there are skills – it is not necessary to spend."
Yet you feel he now has the currency in his chairman's eyes to spend a bob or two. Abramovich may have been wary to hand over millions to a man who may only have lasted a season but the more you learn about Ancelotti, the more you realise he himself knew he'd be around for longer. For example, it's not exactly common knowledge that his daughter, Katia, spent a few months on work experience in Chelsea's Press and Marketing department in March last year. Yes, that's two months before her father committed to joining the club. Miss Ancelotti would have been his eyes and ears at the club, and while she would not have been involved in any serious business at Stamford Bridge, she was around long enough to get a feel for the place. Ancelotti, as we're all beginning to see, is nobody's fool.
Chelsea's first ever double will be proof of that.
Who will win LMA manager of the year?
Bar defeat to an Inter Milan side who have gone on to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League, it's difficult to see what the Italian has done wrong this season. He looks set to become only the sixth manager in the history of English football – Bill Nicholson, Bertie Mee, Kenny Daglish, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger being the others (Preston and Aston Villa won the double at a time when clubs didn't actually have official managers) – to lead his side to the double. Odds 4-1
The 62-year-old has performed a minor miracle in leading a cheaply-assembled Fulham side to Wednesday's Europa Cup final. Their league form has suffered as a result though, and can a manager whose side have won one game away from home all season in the league really be deemed the best manager? Crucially though, Alex Ferguson has said he deserves it. And his view means a lot at the League Managers' Association, whose members vote for the award. Odds 1 -2 fav
The former West Ham and Portsmouth manager will become only the fourth English manager to play in the Champions League – Ray Harford, Bobby Robson and Phil Thomson (in charge while Gerard Houllier was off duty with heart problems) are the others – and that alone should put him in with a shout. The fact that he has led Tottenham from bottom of the league to fourth in just 18 months might also help. Odds 12-1