Ancelotti Reveals 'Non-Negotiable' Qualities He Looks For In Support Staff

Over the coming weeks on, we are serialising Carlo Ancelotti's acclaimed 2016 book Quiet Leadership: Winning hearts, minds and matches. In this excerpt, Ancelotti outlines why loyalty is 'paramount' when assembling his backroom team, and the importance of tapping into established staff members' knowledge when joining a new club....

It is easy, from the outside looking in, to see football and think that a leader must manage the players and also manage upwards, dealing with expectations from the owner or president, but it is easy to overlook one of the most important relationships at a football club – that between the manager and his support staff.

This is where the second aspect of the family comes in, with me and my trusted lieutenants.

The support staff should be there to listen, to share ideas, for support and as part of a united front as a management team.

Finally, and most importantly, trust between us should be implicit – and loyalty is paramount. It is non-negotiable.

When I hired Giorgio Ciaschini in my first job at Reggiana, we stayed together for 10 years at different clubs.

A very strong relationship grew up between us, so that he was part of my football family.

It should be difficult to break into the ‘family’, but once in it should be even more difficult to be excluded.

As you spend more time in football, working with more people, the family grows, so that you have a bigger and bigger trusted support network around the world of people you can rely upon.

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It is people who warrant our loyalty – not organisations. With organisations, it’s always just business.

Originally, when I was managing in Italy, I had my family, the loyal, trusted people I worked with, and I wanted to take these people with me, from job to job.

Many managers do this when they start a job – they replace the staff en masse with their own people.

But my time at Chelsea would change my outlook on all of this, and show me that it was possible to forge new loyalties and new ways of working.

It would make me more flexible and adaptable in my approach to leading.

When I was having talks with Roman Abramovich and Mike Forde during my courtship with the club, I told them that I wanted to bring my own staff with me, but Abramovich said, ‘Look, we have excellent staff and great organisation. These are good people working for us. You have to come to the club, see what it’s like first and then if you’re not happy you can change.’

I accepted this – but I added that I wanted to try it for one month. ‘If I feel good, great, let’s continue,’ I said. ‘But if I don’t feel good we have to change something.’


Chelsea, then, was a first for me, as I didn’t bring any of my staff with me from Milanello except for Bruno Demichelis, an Italian psychologist who spoke English.

I spent a lot of time thinking things over before agreeing to go to Chelsea. I was not sure – I had always worked with my football family before and I was a little bit worried about the language.

Bruno was my safety net and he added value with his experience in the Milan lab.

Of course, I would have preferred to bring my family, but it was becoming less common for clubs to allow managers to bring in so many of their own people.

When I arrived I was quickly happy with the staff – there were top-quality people there.

Ray Wilkins, who had been working with my predecessor, Guus Hiddink, was helpful because he could speak Italian and therefore be a bridge between me and the players.

He was an ex-Milan player, so he was like family already. Ray provided the cultural link you need when entering a new organisation.

There were also excellent analysts, scientists, nutritionists – all the infrastructure was in place. And then there was Paul Clement.

When I joined I felt that I needed one more trainer, so I spoke to the sporting director, Frank Arnesen, and we agreed to bring in Paul, who was working with the reserves, for 15 days in the first instance, just to see how he did.

After the 15 days were up, Paul came to me and said, ‘Should I go back to the reserves?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. You stay with me.’

Paul became part of my football family. He came with me to Paris and then Madrid, before we went our separate ways when Derby County appointed him as their manager.

It was Paul’s time to go alone, just like it had been with me and [Arrigo] Sacchi before.

When the month’s trial with the staff was up, I said, ‘OK, we do it this way.’

My experience at Chelsea taught me that you don’t necessarily need what you think you want. Working with staff who are already part of the business you are joining can be a huge advantage.

I had to leave behind loyal assistants after a successful time in Milan, because of the Chelsea system.

But it taught me that you can always make new assistants who are just as loyal – and expand your football family.

The Cultural Bridge

When arriving at a new club in a new country, it is important to have people on the staff who have a cultural link to both the country and the club you’re arriving at.

As I’ve mentioned, this was Ray Wilkins for me at Chelsea and at Real Madrid it was Zinedine Zidane.

It’s so important to settle in quickly, to adapt to the culture and the organisation and to know about the players from all levels of the club – and these cultural bridges can help with all of this.

At Madrid I had to take five players from the academy and I didn’t know anything about these players, but Zidane knew all about them and was able to help me.

It didn’t hurt that Zidane had a very strong relationship with the president.

I have learned that you cannot rule out the players acting as your support. When I arrived at Paris Saint-Germain I found Claude Makélélé there.

He had just retired from playing and our paths never crossed at Chelsea, but I knew of him.

He became my cultural link, above all with the French players. He was effectively a key support for me in cultural issues with players and nationalities that were new to me.

In Paris I had carte blanche to appoint my own staff. I brought in the physical trainer I had worked with at Milan.

I was able to take Paul Clement and Nick Broad, who was our nutritionist and statistician at Chelsea, and who became our performance manager at Paris Saint-Germain.

Sadly, he was killed in a car accident when he was so, so young. He was an amazing man and a big loss.

In my opinion, the support staff have the same importance as the players and I try to treat the staff the same as the team.

Of course, I have a closer relationship with my staff than with the players, so for this reason it’s easier.

It’s also easier because I don’t have to choose between them when match day comes. Effectively, they play every game.

With the staff I look at their character as much as I do with the players or anyone else I work with.

I believe that their quality will be more or less the same if they have all the qualifications.

For me, again, the most important thing is trust. I need to have trust so that I can feel comfortable to delegate because I want to empower them and have them as involved as possible.

I want them to have the freedom to speak with the players and sometimes I use the staff for assistance in speaking with the players myself – directing them in what I want doing.

At Real Madrid, Paul Clement was important to help Gareth Bale with his induction into the club – with both the language and the culture – and he was often able to explain things to Bale better than I could.

Every day, together with my staff, we arrange the training sessions. So we speak with each other, we organise together, have ideas together.

Speaking with the physical trainer, the doctor or with my assistants can all have an effect on my original ideas.

For example, Paul and I might decide that this is the day to have a strength session, but then the physical trainer might say that what we’re doing is too much or too soft and that we have to do something different. We then open a discussion and together we’ll find the right solution.

Listening, learning, being adaptable – they’re all crucial when it comes to integrating effectively into a club’s culture.

Not only that, but if my experience with the support staff at Chelsea has taught me anything, it’s that you must always be open to new ideas.

Leaders cannot afford to stand still, they must always be developing, progressing. This wasn’t the only lesson I learned at Chelsea, either.

At Chelsea, as at a lot of English clubs, they integrated the physical side of training with the technical, using data analytics, GPS and other technologies.

At Milan we were used to training differently – to separate physical, tactical and technical training sessions.

I didn’t especially want to change my style of training, but I did so at Chelsea to ensure that there was minimum disruption for the players and I learned to like this way too.

Now I’m happy with this style and I don’t want to change it, but I am always learning, so, you never know, I may change again.

I like to be open to ideas from any source – be it my superiors, my peers, my staff, players or even people outside of football.

A culture of improvement is essential to success.

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