There were so many farewells on the pitch here yesterday it resembled the main
platform at Milano Centrale station after the summer holidays. One man, Paolo Maldini, said goodbye after a lifetime of service; another, David Beckham, after what amounted to a romantic fling.
There were hugs, there was moisture around the eyes, there were ovations of appreciation. And, amid it all, Carlo Ancelotti disappeared with a smile and a wave. Showing both sides of his character, his final game as manager of AC Milan ended with an efficient victory, inspired by Kaka, his favourite player, and was followed by a
renewed bout of teasing over his impending appointment at Chelsea. It was typical Ancelotti. The football may be dour, but the man is quirky: Stamford Bridge regulars
will already know the type.
‘London is not necessarily my destination,’ Ancelotti simpered when asked about his impending appointment at Chelsea. ‘It is not definite. I am not in a position to discuss my future as I have not reached accord with any club. Nothing is secure in London.’
‘Good luck,’ said his disbelieving interviewer, in English. ‘I won’t understand this until I arrive,’ Ancelotti smirked. He just stopped short of putting his fingers to his lips and giving himself a playful smack on the wrist. The little minx.
By contrast, when it came to the moment of Maldini’s retirement, after 25 years and 902 games for AC Milan, his No 3 was raised and the team crowded around for a
group hug. Ancelotti embraced him warmly as he left the field and the supporters, including all in Fiorentina violet, stood and applauded. The moment he was gone, the final whistle blew. It was a proper send-off for a man who has
always known his path in life.
The word remains that an announcement from Stamford Bridge on Ancelotti will follow
sooner rather than later, that the deal is done and an official statement preceding a grand unveiling at the start of July is prepared. The appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari took a similar course.
Ancelotti’s coyness, however, even after it was revealed that he was definitely parting company with Milan, was further indication of a maverick nature that surfaced in his recently published autobiography and certainly wrong-footed some at Chelsea who were eagerly awaiting the puff of white smoke.
Had there been a last-minute approach by Real Madrid? That was the word here last night. Was Ancelotti now playing hardball, perhaps on the issue of his backroom
It is no secret that he wants to bring his assistant from Milan, Filippo Galli, who is an English speaker, but Chelsea are equally insistent that the new manager will work with existing coaches, including Ray Wilkins and Paul Clement. They want continuity; Ancelotti wants a familiar support system.
Certainly Chelsea were on high alert for Ancelotti’s comments after the last game of the Serie A season. As it was, the event passed without alarm; there was no repeat of the indiscretions in Ancelotti’s autobiography, no details of clandestine meetings, no further breaking of the omerta around the way Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, conducts business.
If there is a bump in the road coming, it will take place out of sight, perhaps when Ancelotti reviews the job specification. Non sisa, was the mantra of the day. ‘One
does not know.’
Ancelotti’s preparation for the post is said to be at such an advanced stage that he has already discussed potential transfer targets but, as usual, so much around Chelsea is
encased in fog, and not just because of their proximity to the river.
Italian allies speculated on how Ancelotti would react if required to work in London alone. Then there was the issue around departing manager Guus Hiddink, who has
the ear of Abramovich on football matters and could increase Ancelotti’s feelings of isolation.
Yet what is not to like about being the new manager of Chelsea? Well, the intrigue, certainly. Ancelotti is described by those who have dealt closely with him as a man who likes his allies to be friends, who is happiest working in a social environment
and who will need more than Wilkins’ membership of the old boys club at AC Milan to form a bond.
His grasp of English is not great and even if he has more than a month to learn before the players report for training, he will still be dependent on his support staff in London. Chelsea say there is no problem with bringing an assistant but do not want a vanload of Italian coaches displacing those already employed. Everyone in Italy who is familiar with Ancelotti and the way he works believes this could grow into an issue, long-term.
Gordon Brown’s 50 per cent tax rate probably did negotiators no favours last month — although there is renewed speculation of a deal worth £5m net — and there will need to be guarantees over budgets. Asked if there was a player he would like to take with him from Milan, Ancelotti replied: ‘There is, but it is not possible.’ This was instantly interpreted as the end of any move for Kaka.
Ancelotti departed having taken Milan into the Champions League automatically — defeat against Fiorentina would have meant prequalifying, like Arsenal — but with
the distinct impression his time was up. The fans sang his name, once, which is not much of a return for a man who won the Champions League twice and the Serie A title, along with four other trophies, and later he admitted that the club had told him it was time to go.
‘I wish I could have won the scudetto (league title),’ said Ancelotti, with no little venom. ‘It was wasted on the other team.’
He meant Inter Milan, who have eclipsed their city rivals domestically in recent seasons, Jose Mourinho’s most recent success no doubt hastening Ancelotti’s removal (he still had one year of his contract to go).
Ancelotti detests Mourinho and his bitterness added a sour note. He made a great play of insisting he has left the club harmoniously but the reality is this is a glorified sacking. It just happens that Chelsea’s interest has coincided with AC Milan’s rejection, making Ancelotti look like a guy who has found a pretty new girlfriend, when the truth is he has been dumped by his old one. He would have stayed had they wanted him; he made that clear several weeks ago.
Perhaps that is why he looked a little heavy-legged as he took his place on the touchline at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. He ambled out, and ambled away at the end, and for much of the game stood, swaying slightly, to the left of the dugout, his hands in his pockets. His team were ordinary by comparison to the best in the Premier League.
Is he the right man for Chelsea?
Non si sa.
SHOW US YOUR TROPHIES
AC Milan (2001-2009)
2003: Champions League;
Italian Cup; UEFA Super Cup.
2004: Serie A; Italian Super Cup.
2007: Champions League; UEFA
Super Cup; FIFA Club World Cup.
De Graafschap (1982-1984)
PSV Eindhoven (1987-1990)
1987: Dutch League.
1988: Champions League;
Dutch League; Dutch Cup.
1989: Dutch League; Dutch Cup.
1990: Dutch Cup.
1998: World Cup fourth.
Real Madrid (1998-1999)
1998: Intercontinental Cup.
Real Betis (1999-2000)
South Korea (2000-2002)
2002: World Cup fourth.
PSV Eindhoven (2002-2006)
2003: Dutch League.
2005: Dutch League; Dutch Cup.
2006: Dutch League.
2009: FA Cup.