When we think of legendary football careers, not only as a professional player but also as a professional coach, very few names come to mind. The legendary Don Carlo is one such name that would certainly feature at the top of such a list.
Carlo Ancleotti is one of only a few people that have won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League as a player and a manager. But that is just one of the large number of accolades, records and achievements of his long successful career – both as a player and a manager.
Carletto’s Journey as a Professional Footballer
Although today’s generation knows Carlo Ancelotti for being a world class manager, Ancelotti was also a fantastic player and was considered one of the best back in the days. In fact, he was a far greater player than most of the current managers were during their playing days. Carlo Ancelotti had a fairly successful club football career as he won 3 Serie A League titles (1 with A.S. Roma and 2 with A.C. Milan) and 2 European Cups (both at A.C. Milan). Because of his success and contribution at Roma and Milan, he also got inducted into the hall of fame of both the clubs.
From Carletto to Don Carlo
After retirement from professional football in 1992 at an early age of 32 because of his struggles with constant injuries that forced him to sit out the majority of the games in his last few seasons, Ancelotti studied football management and coaching at Centro Tecnico Federale di Coverciano in Florence. But it was not just an institute that made Don Carlo who he is today from Carletto, he saw defeat first and not just once, but quite a few times. He became the assistant coach of his former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi for the Italian National Football Team and reached the 1994 FIFA World Cup Final which they eventually lost after Baggio’s famous penalty miss. But his journey did not stop there as he became the manager of the Serie B side Reggiana and helped them achieve promotion to Serie A.
Top Flight Call
After a successful season with Reggianna, Ancelotti joined Parma in Serie A where he got to manage some of the best young players in the world at that time including future legends Gianluigi Buffon (world cup winner), Gianfranco Zola, Hristo Stoichkov (ballon d’or winner), Hernan Crespo and Fabio Cannavaro (ballon d’or and world cup winner). In his first season, he finished second in the league, helping Parma secure a place in the following season’s Uefa Champions League Group Stage. In the next season however, the results were not as good and he finished the season again without any trophies and 6th in the league. Ancelotti got a lot of criticism for his obsession with the 4-4-2 formation which he thought was the perfect formation for any team at that point, especially defensively as he wrote in his book Quiet Leadership. His love for the 4-4-2 also saw Parma fail to strike a deal with possibly the greatest Italian footballer of all time in Roberto Baggio as according to Ancelotti, a creative forward did not suit the teams style.
Stint with the Old Lady
Ancelotti had another opportunity to revive his career as he succeeded the legendary coach Marcello Lippi in 1999. There was tremendous pressure as Lippi was considered one of the best coaches in the world and Juventus had made it to the UCL final 3 times in the last 4 years. For the sake of the team and to fit in Zinedine Zidane, Ancelotti gave up his beloved 4-4-2 formation. However that was not enough and Ancelotti failed to win any major trophy in his first season, only lifting the UEFA Intertoto Cup which was not deemed as prestigious and lost the league by a single point. He was sacked the following season after going trophyless.
Rise of Don Carlo with the Rossoneri, the Blues and Los Blancos
After a disappointing, trophyless first season at Milan, Ancelotti received huge criticism from the owners and the fans for displaying a massively defensive football style even though he had some of the best midfielders and forwards in the world at that point. The following season, he made tons of tactical changes as he introduced Dida to the starting lineup, shifting Andrea Pirlo from the attacking midfielder position to the role of a deep lying playmaker. He stuck to the 4-1-2-1-2 formation with Inzaghi and Shevchenko up front and that helped him win the 2003 UCL and Coppa Italia.
With the introduction of Braziliian stars Kaka and Cafu to the squad, Milan clinched the Scudetto, setting a national record of 84 points in 34 games. With Kaka emerging as one of the best young players in the world, Ancelotti used the 4-4-2 diamond formation once again and took Milan to the 2005 UCL final which is widely considered as the greatest UCL final of all time as Milan took a 3-0 lead at half time against Liverpool, only to see a second half comeback by Liverpool with Milan eventually losing the game in the shootout. He finished runner up to Juventus in the 04-05 and 05-06 Serie A campaigns, however, Juve were subsequently stripped of both the titles because of Calciopoli.
After the departure of Andriy Shevchenko, Don Carlo introduced the Christmas Tree formation which proved to be the deadliest and most lethal formation of that era as he played Inzaghi up front as the lone striker, with attacking midfielders Kaka and Seedorf right behind him who played in front of defensive midfielders Gattuso, Pirlo and Ambrosini. This was a work of genius by Don Carlo as even though Inzaghi was not the best or the perfect striker, the team was able to score goals thanks to Kaka’s versatility, the Brazillian proved to be the best player in the world by helping Milan win their 7th European Cup/UCL in 2007 for which he went on to win the ballon d’or. By his side played Clarence Seedorf who was supposed to be an attacking midfielder but was really a box to box beast that could tackle and chase down players. Pirlo, even though he was deployed as a CDM, was the primary playmaker of the team and alongside him played the tough tackling midfielder duo of Gattuso and Ambrosini.
At Chelsea, he implemented the diamond formation again with a stacked midfield that included defensive strongmen in Michael Essien and Obi Mikel plus Frank Lampard as the creative and goalscoring midfielder that gave 15 assists and 20 goals almost every season. Along with them, Michael Ballack was a great box to box central midfielder and Deco was the perfect midfielder to control the tempo of the game and create chances for the forward line. He won the English Premier League with Chelsea in the season 2009-10 which is considered a tremendous feat since he was without his main African striker Didier Drogba for the later part of the season. He also won the FA Cup and FA Community Shield the same season.
Don Carlo joined Real Madrid in 2013 after leaving PSG with a Ligue 1 title in his bag. The hype and pressure were huge as he had set his standards really high after successful stints at Milan, Chelsea and PSG. The pressure was also huge because he was to replace the “Special One”, Jose Mourinho who had just been sacked by the club. Ancelotti found success at Real Madrid with the 4-3-3 formation even though he started with his beloved 4-4-2. That formation also saw the full potential of the front 3, the BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) that played fast counter attacking football thanks to the extraordinary pace provided by all three players, especially Bale and Cristiano who were considered the fastest wingers at that point.
But the key factor for Madrid’s success was Ancelotti deploying Angel Di Maria in the left centre midfield role that gave Cristiano the freedom to move in the front line and get into the best position for crosses in the box. This helped Real Madrid win La Decima (their first UCL title in 12 years) and Angel Di Maria was named MOTM for the final.
The Diva Whisperer
Don Carlo’s style of management has drawn a lot of praise from players, former players, fans and the media as he has always been great at man management, especially in clubs full of superstars such as AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid. He uses his own experiences as a player to communicate, help and understand his players better. He chooses not to criticize his players in the media or demotivate them at any point after losing a game. Even though he loses his temper quite often during the match and also in the dressing room at times, he is quick to apologize and take control of the situation by analyzing his mistakes as it was noted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic from his time at PSG in the book Quiet Leadership. Zlatan also said Carlo Ancelotti was the best coach he ever met for the way he used to manage the talent in the squad. He also received high praise from possibly the greatest football player of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo and in return Carlo Ancelotti only had praises for Cristiano as he said in an interview that his relationship was excellent with the Portugese, that he can virtually score in every single game and stay at the top of his game for as many years as he wants.
Carlo Ancelotti will definitely go down as one the biggest icons in the history of football for his marvelous professional career as a player and as a manager. His contribution to the beautiful game has been second to none. As a player, he paved the way for young Italian football players to become great midfielders as he mastered his role while representing some of the best teams in the world back then including the legendary AC Milan. And as a manager, he created a model that is used by emerging coaches to learn management and coaching in today’s game.