Within ten minutes of Chelsea’s flight to Milan taking off yesterday morning, Carlo Ancelotti nodded off. A brief chat with journalists on the plane had to be postponed while the Chelsea manager enjoyed a quick 40 winks.
If Ancelotti was nervous about returning to the city where he made his name, to face his managerial nemesis, he certainly was not showing it. Or perhaps he had been losing sleep about coming up against Jose Mourinho again.
Ancelotti is an affable fellow. However one man he does not get on with is Mourinho — the handsome, acidic, successful manager of Internazionale — who won back-to-back titles at Chelsea.
“We are not friends,” Ancelotti said recently. Yesterday he batted away questions about Mourinho with the put down: “I am not interested in Mourinho. I am only interested in preparing my team well to play against Inter. Only this.”
Mourinho for his part accused Ancelotti of being part of a “clan” of Italian managers who have conspired against him since he arrived in June 2008. Mourinho has a long-running feud with Ancelotti, who was manager of AC Milan for eight years, as well as Luciano Spalletti, the former Roma manager, and Claudio Ranieri, who was at Juventus and is now at Roma.
Ancelotti had earlier told an Italian newspaper that he believes a majority of Italians will be cheering for the English outfit, rather than Mourinho’s Nerazzurri, prompting Mourinho yesterday to theatrically kiss the club badge on the body-warmer he was wearing and declare: “Only Inter matters”.
These are two men who cannot stand the sight of each other, and fate has brought them together again for two ties in the Champions League that will see one emerge triumphant, the other trying to swallow a sizeable chunk of humble pie.
The pair have traded insults last season in Serie A, when Ancelotti was in charge at Internazionale’s great rivals AC Milan. The two clubs both won one game each last season, and off the pitch the managers similarly achieved a score draw.
Mourinho has little regard for the country boy Ancelotti, calling him “dumb” and reminding him how he lost the 2005 Champions League final to Liverpool despite being 3-0 up at half time. Ancelotti hit back at his abrasive rival, ridiculing his failure to make the grade as a player and referring to Jose as ‘His Mourinhity’ in his autobiography. Ancelotti once said: “If Mourinho is Jesus, then I am certainly not one of his apostles.”
In recent days Mourinho has been revelling in the mischief he can cause in the build-up to this clash. The abrasive Mourinho likes to refer to Ancelotti’s side as “my Chelsea” and he has a point as tonight’s likely Chelsea line-up contains eight players who were under his charge, and that is not including Michael Essien and Ashley Cole who are injured.
Mourinho certainly deserves his reputation as the game’s ultimate winner. He won two titles, the Uefa Cup and the Champions League in his two and a half seasons at Porto; five major trophies in just over three seasons at Chelsea, including two Premier League titles; and the Scudetto in his first season in charge at Milan.
Yet despite his reputation for winning, Mourinho’s record in the Champions League in his three years at Stamford Bridge was nothing to crow about. His team made it to two semi-finals
and lost them both to Liverpool. In all 32 group and knockout matches under Mourinho’s leadership, Chelsea won only half of them.
Chelsea, trying to cope with the sleazy allegations that have been levelled at Ashley Cole and John Terry, have reached the semi-finals five times in the six years of the Abramovich era, but have yet to close the deal and take the major prize. Internazionale in contrast have been knocked out by English clubs in the past two seasons — Manchester United beat them |2-0 on aggregate last year and Liverpool won 3-0 the year before. If Chelsea manage to make it a hat-trick for English sides, then Ancelotti will have claimed a very ‘special’ scalp indeed and will have justified the faith shown in him by Abramovich.
Victory tonight in his old home the San Siro and Ancelotti will be able to sleep easily on the flight home.