Having tasted major silverware success with some of Europe’s biggest clubs - AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid - Carlo Ancelotti is, above all else, a winner. Indeed, most recently, the former midfielder, who represented his country at the 1990 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil, guided Los Blancos to victory in the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco in a trophy-laden 2014.
It was therefore inevitable that Ancelotti made the final three-man shortlist for the FIFA World Coach of the Year in Men’s Football award. At the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2014, held on 12 January this year in Zurich, he told FIFA.com he saw his inclusion as “recognition of the work we at Real Madrid put in over the course of the whole year". "It’s a real honour,” added the 55-year-old tactician, who also playfully described himself as a “great cook and singer”.
In an exclusive interview, Ancelotti touched on a wide range of topics including his working methods, how he handles top players and whether or not he will ever be Italy coach.
FIFA.com: Carlo, there’s a lot that has been said about you and your working methods but, in your view, who is the real Carlo Ancelotti?
Carlo Ancelotti: I’m just a coach who really likes his job, who still has fun, and who tries to have a good, close relationship with his players. Someone who, by working alongside them, aims to achieve the goals the club expects of us.
In the ultra-professional modern game, how hard is it to have fun with your players?
It isn’t hard. Over the course of my career I’ve worked at the very highest levels with the most responsible and professional players around. I’d say that the higher the level [they play at], the more responsible and professional they are. That makes everything pretty simple, especially at Real Madrid. Here I’ve found a group of very focused, very motivated players, who work well as a team. They get on really well with each other and that makes everything more straightforward.
I’d say that the higher the level [they play at], the more responsible and professional they are. That makes everything pretty simple, especially at Real Madrid.
What do you place most importance on: the mental, tactical or technical side of the game?
I think that in football, at this moment in time, the mental side of the game is most important. It’s vital to keep everyone in the squad motivated, even those who aren’t playing. Then comes the tactical side too, building a team that puts the idea of playing as a unit, as a group, first, and then comes convincing great players that they need to harness their individual qualities for the good of the team.
You have answered the call of clubs such as AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and now Real Madrid, with the pressure to win trophies ever-present. What’s the hardest thing about tackling challenges of this size?
For a coach, the most important thing is the relationship he can forge with his players. You might come in with your ideas in mind, but then it comes down to them to put them into practice on the pitch. If you’ve a good relationship, then footballers take on board your ideas more easily. So, that’s the hardest part. Then of course, at Real Madrid you have to win, at PSG you have to win… but it’s also the case that every team has its objectives: whether it’s avoiding relegation or winning the European Cup. That’s why I feel that, whatever level you’re at, coaches all face similar problems.
If you had to pick out just one moment of a success-packed 2014, what would it be and why?
I think that the key clash of our season was [the final of] the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, in Valencia [Editor’s note: Madrid won 2-1 via a late Gareth Bale strike]. Although the most beautiful moment was, without a doubt, the Champions League final in Lisbon where, after such a long wait, we claimed La Décima [a tenth European Cup/Champions League title] for Real Madrid.
In that final Madrid overcame Atletico Madrid, whose coach Diego Simeone was, like you, a finalist for the World Coach of the Year award. What can you tell us about El Cholo?
He’s had an incredible season. He had a fairly unheralded team and, thanks to his ability, determination and character, took them to the top of the Spanish league. Fortunately he didn’t win the Champions League too (laughs), but he’s able to instil his strength of character into his team and that’s what enabled them to go all the way to the final.
He’s a player who’s a one-off in terms of professionalism and responsibility, even at this level.
The continental title earned Madrid a place at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco. What was your verdict on victory at that competition?
In Italy we’d say it was “la ciliegia sulla torta” (the cherry on the cake). The cake was winning the Champions League and then we took the cherry too, which was the Club World Cup. It’s a major trophy which only the champions of each region compete for. I’d say it crowned a fantastic year and of course we really wanted to win it.
You drew praise in Argentina for shaking hands with each of the players of losing finalists San Lorenzo after the title decider in Morocco. Why do you think that gesture caught the eye so much?
I don’t know. In my view, at least with coaches at this level, there’s a lot of mutual respect. Sometimes we might have differences of opinion, particularly during a football match, when there can be a lot of tension, nerves and the odd misunderstanding, but in general there’s a lot of respect. I’d say that my gesture was seen as part of that.
Changing the subject somewhat, how would you describe Cristiano Ronaldo?
A lot of people would be really surprised by him. As I’ve said many times before, he’s a player who’s a one-off in terms of professionalism and responsibility, even at this level. He was born with extraordinary talent, but he squeezes the juice from and works on that talent thanks to a level of drive I’ve seen in few other players.
You once said that Zinedine Zidane was the player you most enjoyed watching, but is Cristiano up there too?
That’s right! (Laughs) Zidane was the player I most enjoyed in training, but Ronaldo’s the one I enjoy most in matches – he scores in virtually every game!
One final question before you go, will we ever see you take charge of La Nazionale?
I’d like to… (pauses for thought). In Italy the story goes that we reach the World Cup Final every 12 years: we did so in 1970, ’82, ’94 and in 2006. If that continues then we’ll reach the final again in 2018, though I think [Antonio] Conte will still be in charge then. Then we’ve another story: we play the Final every 12 years but only win it every 24. We did it in 1982 and 2006 so, following that pattern, Italy will win it next in 2030. I’ll be 71 then, so I’ve still got time…