Books? ‘No.’ Music? ‘No.’ Food? Somewhere a switch is flicked and Carlo Ancelotti’s eyes light up. ‘Yes, of course,’ he says.
‘I have no problem with English food,’ he went on, as though to explain why he swapped a foodie’s paradise in Italy for England’s widely misunderstood cuisine.
‘English food is roast beef and you have very, very, very good breakfasts. Bacon and eggs! In Italy, it is only coffee and brioche. I have tried Yorkshire pudding and it is really good.’
This is a very promising start to life overseas for someone born and raised in Reggiolo, a small farming town at the heart of the Parmesan cheese-making region, and lured to London by Roman Abramovich.
To borrow a line from Ancelotti’s favourite film, The Godfather, he was made an offer he could not refuse. His brief was to provide Chelsea with a ‘clear identity’. Presumably one other than a widely unpopular club fast-tracked to glory by the Abramovich fortune.
‘This is what I was told should be my goal,’ explained Ancelotti. ‘Buying a certain player for a lot of money is not so important. What is important is to get a player who wants to play the right way.
‘I also want to build up the club over a long time because it has very solid foundations. Very good players, very good facilities and the staff are all very professional. I think there’s the possibility to build and stay here for many years.’
The manager known as Carletto saunters into Baltimore’s Intercontinental hotel, accompanied by his sports psychologist and trusted sidekick Bruno de Michelis.
Two pre-season friendlies into his new job and so far so good. Both games have been won 2-0 and one of them was against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, to the satisfaction of everyone at Chelsea.
There might not be the show of the Special One, but there is no escaping the steel of a man who is fascinated by crime and Mafia films. His message could not be clearer to the other big beasts of the Barclays Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez. He spent last season locked in a bitter Milan rivalry with Mourinho and he can handle the mind games.
‘It happens all over the world, exactly the same,’ said Ancelotti. ‘I will say this: little things worry little minds. I don’t care about that. I had a little bit with Mourinho. But it’s not something that bothers me.
‘What I worry about is getting the team ready, preparing the team to beat my opponents, to win against Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.’
In the early hours of this morning, Ancelotti will have also played against AC Milan, the team he coached for the past eight years.
‘Milan have a history and a big tradition,’ says Ancelotti. ‘Chelsea are a new club; a young club with young people but they have fantastic enthusiasm. I would like to create a new history and tradition for the club. It is a very important thing for me.’
It seems ludicrous to call a 103-year-old club ‘young’ but Chelsea are newcomers to the top of the European game. Ancelotti knows they have history though, and he learned about Chopper, Ossie and Co from a book on Chelsea, in Italian.
Since meeting the squad, his admiration has grown for Chelsea’s stars, especially John Terry, the man Manchester City have spent the summer trying to lure away.
‘He is a symbol,’ says Ancelotti. ‘For what he does on the pitch and what he does when we’re all together. He is a leader. He leads by example. It’s great to have such a captain as Terry. We haven’t spoken about it but I feel in my heart that he is staying.’
Quality is the word he uses to describe Frank Lampard, adding:
‘He is a fantastic player because of the amount of work he puts in and because of how many goals he scores. At training, he is always the first one there. He puts in so much effort. I’ve put him in a new position and we’ve had good results.’
Ancelotti has been taking English lessons for the past six months, practising conversation with David Beckham during the player’s loan spell at San Siro.
‘I liked to speak to him in English, but his Italian is not very good,’ said Ancelotti. ‘And by the end of the season, my English was better.’
When Beckham arrived at AC Milan complaining of a back problem, he was astonished to be whisked off to the dentist. He had been playing through the discomfort for years but the medical team at the Milan Lab made the link immediately and, after filling a tiny hole in one of his teeth, the pain vanished almost instantly.
Ancelotti is determined to install exactly the same level of expertise at Chelsea. ‘Some people will find it surprising that we were able to solve a back problem by fixing his teeth,’ he said.
‘But we will look at everything, be thorough and do the best for our players.
‘Sometimes it is just little things but little things that can make all the difference. I want to use all my experience at Milan to do some fantastic work at Chelsea.’
Milan adjust their culture to train the focus firmly on injury prevention and it is no coincidence that many stars kept going well into their 30s, with Paolo Maldini and
Alessandro Costacurta both playing into their 40s.
Ancelotti’s medical team minimised injuries to such an extent he was able to trim his first-team squad from 34 to 24. The Italian has been impressed with the facilities and medical staff at Chelsea’s training base in Surrey, but he will make small adjustments to bring his knowledge from Milan.
‘We want to do all we can to prevent injuries occurring because that was a big part of what we did at Milan,’ said the Chelsea manager. ‘It’s about prevention rather than treatment.
‘We pay a lot of attention to this because we have a good organisation to control the physical training. We want to integrate some of the things we did at Milan. We want to look at nutrition, hydration and all sorts of things.’
It sounds like just the sort of approach needed to convince a 28-year-old central defender with a history of niggling back injuries, like, let’s say, Terry, that he is best served by staying at Chelsea.
That may not be the case with 32-year-old Andriy Shevchenko.
‘He is the best striker I have worked with because he scored so many goals,’ said Ancelotti. ‘But he had a major back problem two years ago at Chelsea and he had it
for some months. Now he is working very well but, with so many strikers here, it’s difficult to find a place for him.’
The 50-year-old Italian has proved instantly popular — but then so was Luiz Felipe Scolari last year and he was ousted within eight months amid dressing-room dissent.
‘I have my rules and I will enforce them,’ he said. ‘But I want to respect the players and I want to earn respect from them.’
Simply the best: Ancelotti and Shevchenko won the Champions League in 2003 (above) and four years later
Ancelotti’s fellow countryman, Fabio Capello, has made an immediate impact on the English game, and Chelsea’s coach is aware that he now has control over three of
England’s most influential players.
‘Fabio was my coach for my last year of playing and I actually had a good relationship with him,’ he recalls. ‘It is very important for him to have John Terry, Frank Lampard
and Ashley Cole in good condition for the World Cup finals. I do want them to go to the World Cup finals in very good condition.’
As for his relationship with Abramovich, his years working for AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi provided all the preparation he needs. ‘My impression of Abramovich is that he loves football, loves his club and he loves his players,’ said Ancelotti.
‘He wants to know everything that is going on in the club. He is often at the training ground to support my decisions and my work. He is very passionate.
‘My relationship with Berlusconi was different. His character is different. But he is the same because he loves his club and his players and wants to know all sorts of things, including tactics and the condition of the team. We didn’t speak every day. Like Roman, he has other problems. He has a country to run.
‘In Milan, when we took decisions, we took them together. It’s the same at Chelsea. We will discuss transfers and act if we think the player is good for the team.’
‘The most important thing for the coach is to have the support of the owner. Nothing else matters. Berlusconi supported me for eight years and now Roman is supporting
me as I do my work.’
Somehow it is impossible to imagine Mourinho ever reacting with such diplomacy. Then again, it is hard to picture Mourinho tucking into Yorkshire pudding. This is