New Bundesliga season starts Friday
Ancelotti's new club Bayern wins 6-0
Italian coach replacing Guardiola
Renowned for his calm approach
You have to be careful of the quiet ones.
If that old adage fits anyone, it’s surely Carlo Ancelotti.
He has one of the most impressive CVs in football – one of just seven men to have won the Champions League as both player and coach, the Italian is also one of only two coaches to have won the European crown on three separate occasions.
The 57-year-old has not achieved this by bawling and screaming, fostering a siege mentality or through mendacious mind games, but with a calm, hands-in-pockets cool.
A quiet word here or there when necessary, resulting in a haul of trophies to really shout about.
“Quiet is my style of management – quiet because that’s my style, my character, my personality,” Ancelotti told CNN ahead of his first Bundesliga match in charge of German champion Bayern Munich, Friday’s thumping 6-0 victory against Werder Bremen.
Some have tried to change him, such as Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, but Ancelotti wasn’t for turning.
His traits were instilled, he says, from his childhood growing up in a small village in Emilia-Romagna, in the north of Italy.
“I try to be quiet in my relationships with people,” he explains. “I grew up like this because I lived in a very quiet and very calm family.
“I had a father who was very quiet, so I grew my character from the beginning.”
Ancelotti has used his lifetime of training to good effect during a managerial career which – starting in the 1990s – has taken him to Italian clubs Reggiana, Parma, Juventus and Milan, English team Chelsea, France’s Paris Saint-Germain and Spanish heavyweight Real Madrid.
He has delivered league or cup titles in every country he has worked in, sometimes both.
Ancelotti – assistant coach when Italy lost the 1994 World Cup final – believes his relationship with his players is central to his success.
“With the players, above all I have to be myself,” he says. “I cannot use another personality because I don’t have one.”
It seems to work, since a host of the world’s highest-profile footballers featured in his autobiography – this year’s “Quiet Leadership: Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches” – almost tripping over themselves to lavish praise on their former boss.
“I say Carlo is the best and I have worked with the best,” said Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has worked under modern coaching giants such as Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
“He’s the best,” agreed former Italy star Alessandro Nesta. “You have to understand how clever he is with his tactics.”
Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Filippo Inzaghi and supposed hard man Gennaro Gattuso were in tears, David Beckham recalled, when Ancelotti left Milan in 2009, after an eight-year spell that had resulted in league, cup, Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup successes.
“He genuinely cares, and he takes the time to care,” former England captain John Terry said. “That’s what makes him the very best.”
The Chelsea stalwart’s relationship with Mourinho is widely believed to have been his closest bond with a coach – but that’s apparently not so.
“He is, for me, the ultimate,” the veteran defender said of Ancelotti.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo joined in, saying the atmosphere at Real Madrid under Ancelotti was “spectacular.” The Portugal star was one of the most vocal protesters when it became apparent Ancelotti was going to be sacked by Real in 2015, a year after delivering the club’s long-awaited 10th European title.
These are serious accolades, which the star names didn’t have to agree to, so what’s his secret?
“I really didn’t have problems with players – in all my career,” Ancelotti explains.
“I know what the player is thinking about a lot of the situations – and know when a player is not happy and why.
“I really enjoy my job. It’s not a job, it’s a passion. I just love – day-by-day – my job.”
Occasionally labeled the “Diva Whisperer,” Ancelotti insists that working with top stars is easy because of their desire to be the best – citing three-time world footballer of the year Ronaldo as an example.
“When we got back at 3 in the morning from away trips, instead of going to bed he would go to the ice bath, so this means he is really professional,” the former Italy international says of the club’s record scorer.
“Managing top talent is easy because most of them are really serious so it’s not difficult – really not.”
He puts his emphasis on his squads, he says, because he can’t control the president, the fans or the media – though you will find him online, with 2.2 million followers on his @MrAncelotti Twitter feed – so why would he even try?
For a supposedly soft man, one of the coach’s role models may be a little surprising.
He is in thrall to the lead character in mobster movie “The Godfather” (whose keeping-it-in-the-family attitude might explain why Ancelotti appointed son Davide to be Bayern’s assistant coach this week).
“When you watch Vito Corleone in ‘The Godfather,’ do you see a weak, quiet man or do you see a calm, powerful man in charge of his situation?” he asked in his autobiography.
It’s a telling comment which explains much of Ancelotti’s approach, even if the violence is reassuringly absent.
His main football influence was part of one of the sport’s most heralded triumvirates – Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm – the Swedish forwards popularly known at Milan as “Gre-No-Li.”
Liedholm would later manage Milan three times, but he made his biggest impression on Ancelotti when he coached Roma, where the midfielder played between 1979-1987.
Liedholm, who Ancelotti describes as – surprise, surprise – “quiet but strong,” was powerful, respected, flexible (like his protégé) and liked to both fine-tune players and give them responsibility.
After Champions League successes with Milan in 2003 and 2007, and Real Madrid (the all-important “decima”) in 2014, Bayern – whose last European triumph came in 2013 – is hoping to tap into some of the Ancelotti magic.
“Carlo Ancelotti has enjoyed success everywhere as a coach and has won the Champions League three times,” Bayern’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told the club website upon the Italian’s appointment in December to replace Pep Guardiola, now at Manchester City.
“Carlo is a calm, balanced expert, who knows how to deal with stars and favors a multifaceted style of play – we were looking for this, and have found it.”
After working under such challenging owners as Abramovich (who once chastised Ancelotti after a 6-0 win), Florentino Perez and Silvio Berlusconi, the Bayern boss is likely to relish working at a club that often appoints former top-level players, including Rummenigge, to management roles.
And Bayern will surely benefit from the extended break Ancelotti recently afforded himself with his Canadian second wife Mariann, who he married in 2014.
“I think it was really good after 20 years to have one year off,” he said. “I enjoyed beautiful places like Canada but now I am ready to start.”
He is, he says, looking forward to the “longest period of sustained success” in his career at Bayern, where he has already won the season-opening German Super Cup.
Despite his calm demeanor, it promises to be some ride.