Authors: Aleesandro Alciato,Carlo Ancelotti
First published in the United States of America in 2010 by
Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
300 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
© 2010 Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.
Originally published (except chapters 1 and 2) in Italy in 2009 by RCS Libri S.p.A., Milano
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior consent of the publisher.
Translated into English by Antony Shugaar for Paraculture, Inc.
Nuovo Istituto Italiano d’Arti Grafiche, Bergamo – Italy
Library of Congress Catalog Control Number: 2010930884
And for Stefano.
To Eleonora, who is my life.
And to JT.
I’ll keep addressing him by his first name; I always have. When a footballer stops playing, he can finally make friends with his coach. A certain closeness springs up, and barriers come down. I’ve been lucky in that I got that part of the job done ahead of time. I practically came into the world as a member of Carletto’s team; we’ve always been de facto partners. People say that I was a banner for A. C. Milan. If that’s true, then he was the wind that made me flutter. When the wind of Carletto blows, I’m out on the field, with my jersey, number 3, a perfect number in part thanks to my teammates. And he points the way. In his management of the locker room and team meetings, Carletto remains what he has always been: an unparalleled comedian. He manages to crack jokes even before the final game in the Champions League. He talks about
roast dinners, he cocks an eyebrow, and we go on to win, because we are relaxed. People imagine that a coach has to make tear-jerking speeches to his team at the most decisive moments, and in fact there have been tears shed at times like that—but it was always because we were laughing so hard. On certain occasions, we’ve heard total silence from the locker room of the opposing team, while in ours Silvio Berlusconi and our coach were telling us jokes. We’re a family, and that’s what families do.
Carletto never goes overboard—with the possible exception of when he’s eating, because once he sits down and grabs a knife and fork, you’d need an exorcist to stop him. Ever since he became a coach, he sits at a special table, with a special menu, and a special digestive system. He eats, he drinks, he eats some more, he drinks some more. When something good is served, forget about all his discipline and all his methods, including his beloved Christmas Tree. He can’t stand to keep all that abundance to himself. So he starts calling us over: “Paolo, come here. You have to taste this.” “But Carlo, I’m the captain, I’m supposed to set a good example.” “And I’m your coach: have a little taste of this. It’s good.” He’s generous in that part of his life as well. He enjoys life, and that helps us no end. Out of all the locker room management techniques I’ve witnessed, his is definitely the least problematic. He holds in all his own worries and pressures, and so the team preserves its tranquility. And goes on to win. And win some more. And keep on winning. From time to time, though, even the most patient man in the world blows his cool. The last time he actually exploded was in Lugano, after a pre-championship exhibition game against a Swiss team in Serie B. He looked like he’d lost his mind. He said
the worst things to us, he peppered us with unforgivable insults. Horrible things, I couldn’t repeat them here. He just kept it up, and I started to feel like laughing. He’d gone off the rails: I’d never seen him like that. He turned beet red, and sitting next to him was Adriano Galliani, wearing a bright yellow tie. Together they looked like a rainbow. Two days later, he came and asked us to forgive him, because he could never be mean through and through. He’s a teddy bear, deep down. The secret of our track record is the fact that he’s a regular guy. There’s no need to be the Special One, Two, or Three to win. It’s enough to have an inner equilibrium and to stay out of the limelight, to keep from setting off fireworks in front of the television cameras.
Carletto and I have always had a comfortable and close working relationship. We’ve always talked about everything. Whenever he loses his temper, he unfailingly comes to me afterward and asks: “Paolo, was I wrong?”
Carlo never wants to do everything on his own. It’s a sign of his considerable intelligence. And that’s why he can win wherever he goes: at A. C. Milan, at Chelsea, at Real Madrid—anywhere. His knowledge of soccer is global, enormous. He has mind-boggling experience of every aspect of the game. Even as a player he was an outstanding organizer—of the game and of ideas. You can’t really criticize him, either in technical or human terms: if you do, you’re not being fair. At A. C. Milan, from the times of Arrigo Sacchi on, we’ve had lots of coaches, nearly all of them winners, but each of them managed the group in his own manner. Leaving aside the question of methods and results, if I were asked who brought the highest quality of life in those years, I’d absolutely have to say it
was Carletto. Before he came to Milanello he was fairly rigid, less open to tactical innovation; but over time, he grew. He evolved. And we evolved with him, because you need to give a man like that players who know enough not to take advantage of him. Underlying everything that we did was a reciprocal trust. Over the years, there have been people who took advantage of the situation, but we were quick to make sure they understood how to behave. In particular, we explained to them that they had to respect Carletto, always, no matter what. Because of the magical soccer he seems to be able to conjure up. For the way he talks to his team. For the way he behaves off the field. And for the words he wrote in this book, where he has told the story of his life, and of himself, without keeping any secrets.
People have described him in a thousand different ways. For me, quite simply, he is a friend. A big, easygoing friend. And I miss him.
nly once in my life have I felt like I needed a psychiatrist. I was looking at Yuri Zhirkov, but all I could see was a rib-eye steak. Perfectly grilled, juicy, smoking, medium rare. I looked him in the eye and suddenly I was starving. Which is nothing new, really. Meat, fish, red wine, Coca Cola, salami, mortadella, romano cheese, a chunk of gorgonzola, fish and chips, layer cake, an after dinner drink, spaghetti, bowties, pesto, Bolognese sauce, a rack of ribs, veal stew, antipasto, appetizers, entrées, dessert, and even—this one time, in a shrine to nouvelle cuisine in northern Italy—I had an espresso made from coffee beans grown on a compost heap, grown in the farmer’s own manure, for all I know. In other words: I’ve gobbled down everything imaginable in my life, but never had my hunger stirred up by a football player. All the
same, just then, that’s what was on my mind: I had developed a strange new appetite. It may have had something to do with the fork that was flying straight at his face, following a trajectory that, I must say, had a certain elegance. Thrown by an unknown hand, with a clear objective. Ballistically speaking it was perfect, hurtling silently through the air, a clearly identified flying object. There was no plate, and the knife and spoon were missing, but the restaurant was there, and so were the diners: us, Chelsea Football Club. 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. This was my first time on the road since leaving A. C. Milan. Hollywood was just a stone’s throw away and Yuri was on stage—I was trying to figure out if I was watching a slapstick comedy or a horror flick. More scary movie than comedy, judging by the shivers running up my spine. For players coming up from the youth team, the requirement is to dance in front of their new teammates, in front of the whole squad, a full audience. Players or new staff members that have come from another club are simply expected to choose a song and belt it out. Without musical accompaniment, without help of any kind: a solitary torture.
I, for example, immediately seized on a northern Italian folk song, in dialect, one that I’ve always liked:
La Società dei Magnaccioni
, by Lando Fiorini. The kind of stuff you’d hear at a small town party, where everyone’s drunk. For those of my readers who don’t know the song, I would suggest listening to Elton John and then trying to imagine the exact opposite. I did pretty well, none of the players booed or hissed. Maybe that was because they knew I was capable of benching them for the entire season … No, really, they all cheered when I was done, and in fact somebody pulled off the tablecloth and began waving it back and forth, like a banner. They all surrendered to my bravura.
That’s not how it went for Zhirkov, who had been introduced to the crowd by one of our team masseurs: “Ladies and gentlemen, silence please. It is my privilege to introduce to you tonight an artist who comes to us from the East, he’s here tonight just for us, please lend an ear, and then you be the judges.” The snickering in the background didn’t bode well. From Russia, with fury … The sacrificial victim was led toward the gallows, and by now I could see in John Terry’s and Frank Lampard’s eyes the terrible drama that loomed on the horizon. They were already laughing, even before he could open his mouth. Ivanovic was rooting for him—“Go on, Yuri!”—but it was the kind of encouragement you get when someone’s setting you up for a pratfall. His teammates had been ribbing him for days, telling him he needed to train for this moment as if it was the Champions League final, that his future at Chelsea would depend on his performance that night. This was no joke, practically a sacred rite of passage. He looked as worked-up as I get when I’m about to walk through the door of a trattoria, and
the fact that he’s fundamentally shy anyway certainly didn’t help. 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.