Chelsea's former manager tells Dominic Fifield he feels no bitterness over his swift and silent exit.
It has been almost nine months and Carlo Ancelotti is still waiting for a call. The talk was that he spent his summer as a guest on one of Roman Abramovich’s luxury super yachts, perhaps the nine-deck Eclipse or the back-up Luna, the invitation an apparent testimony to the strength of his relationship with an oligarch who had wielded the axe a few months previously.
But the rumours are untrue. Abramovich has not written. He has not rung. He has not even texted. The silence is deafening.
“On his yacht? No, no, I didn’t have that possibility,” said Ancelotti through a guffaw, his mind drifting back to life at Chelsea and the moment that chief executive Ron Gourlay played executioner, delivering the owner’s dismissal at Everton within an hour of last season’s conclusion.
“No, I didn’t speak to Roman at the end of the season. He took a decision and I respect his decision. Everything is finished so there is no reason to speak. If I had been the owner, Ancelotti would have stayed, but I’m not. But, in Italy, we say that if one door closes, you can find a bigger door. Paris St-Germain (PSG) could be that bigger door.”
There is no bitterness lingering in Ancelotti at the indignity of his abrupt departure from Stamford Bridge only 12 months after claiming Chelsea’s first league and FA Cup double. Nor should there be. The Italian’s recent career has taken him on a tour of Europe’s most glamorous hubs, from Milan to London to Paris, where he is now ensconced in a swanky apartment in the city centre with a favourite restaurant swiftly identified and regularly patronised just around the corner. Life is “good”. The food is “good”.
Ancelotti inherits a table-topping team
PSG, backed by Qatari Sports Investments, and potentially the wealthiest club in world football, appointed him as manager when they had already topped Ligue 1.
So where exactly did it all go wrong? Ancelotti has watched the stuttering progress of his successor at Chelsea, André Villas-Boas, with interest, a season of transition having marooned the club on the fringes of the title race, left to fend off those who would oust them even from the top four.
“I don’t know how long Villas-Boas’s changes will take but, when you change something at a football club, you have to give the manager time,” he said. “You cannot reach your objective immediately. They want to refresh the team but the philosophy was introduced by [José] Mourinho who turned John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba into great players. They’re the same players I trained. Chelsea want to change all this.”
Some of the issues that dogged the latter days of his own tenure remain. Fernando Torres managed a solitary, scruffy goal in 14 league appearances for Ancelotti following his £50-million move from Liverpool, the manager exhausting combinations of forwards and systems in a bid to eke more from his World Cup winner, all to no avail. He remains an enigma.
“When Fernando arrived at Chelsea, he had the same problem, a lack of confidence in front of goal,” said Ancelotti. “We thought it was just because he had changed clubs and teammates and so needed time to get to know them better. Now I think it is different.
“Last season, he lost even more confidence. It’s always a problem for strikers when they don’t score. But, if you believe in the player, you have to stick with them. I think Fernando still has ability and Chelsea still believe in him. I certainly don’t regret standing by him last season. He needed to have time to return to his best and he needed to play.
“With Drogba, it’s another story. There is a lot of competition and it could be good to have Drogba and Torres play together but it is difficult for them technically. You could put them in a partnership but you’d have to build a different shape and a different system.”
The implication is that Chelsea does not have the personnel to make that a comfortable fit. It is almost uncanny, then, that Ancelotti should find PSG—even with a lead established by his predecessor, Antoine Kombouare—with a somewhat unbalanced squad following a scattergun buying policy in the midwinter window. PSG are Manchester City in the early days after Abu Dhabi United Group’s takeover, a club who have not claimed their domestic title in 18 years but are keen to make their new-found ambition clear, even saddled with the reality that Ligue 1’s reputation is not that of the Spanish, English or even German leagues.
Chase for big names proves a futile exercise
January was an eye-opener. The Parisian pursuit of David Beckham and Milan’s Alexandre Pato came to nothing. About €105-million has been spent this season but the marquee arrival is still elusive and when it was closest, common sense kicked in over salary demands.
“It’s not true that Carlos Tevez didn’t want to come here,” said the manager. “His first choice was Milan, and his second was PSG. We needed a striker and had an opportunity to buy him, but we couldn’t find a financial agreement. Maybe it might happen in the summer, but I do not think his demands will change.
“The owners here are ambitious and want to invest but they want to invest in the right way. Everyone said I only came here for the money but I have the same contract now as I did at Chelsea—not one pound more.
“We bought three big players [Thiago Motta, Maxwell and Pato] but we found good agreements for them all. I found a club that were first in the league so I have a big responsibility to make sure they end the season on top.
“But the owners’ aim is very clear: to build a team in the Champions League, not just in France. We know we are not at the same level as Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona or Real but, in the future, we hope to close the gap.”
It was tedium that forced the 52-year-old to seek a return to the dugout. “It was nice to have four months not even speaking about football, but when the English and Italian leagues started, I began to think. I did look back at Chelsea. It is normal to evaluate everything and you have to do that when your mind is cold. But I hope I’m a better coach now.”
And will he speak to Abramovich again? “Of course, in the future, I’m sure we will come back to having a relationship.” For now, the wait for an invitation to Eclipse goes on.—