Ancelotti Reveals How Humble Upbringing Shaped His Character

In our latest excerpt from Carlo Ancelotti's acclaimed 2016 book Quiet Leadership: Winning hearts, minds and matches, the Everton manager discusses his modest upbringing in Reggiolo, northern Italy, his family's inspirational work-ethic and the sacrifices he made in his formative years as a footballer...

I was born into a very poor family – my father, mother, sister, grandfather and grandmother, all living together in the same house.

My father was a farmer and he and my grandfather worked on the land. My father worked very hard.

Every day he started at four in the morning and worked until six, seven or even eight o’clock at night. I learned a lot about discipline and the importance of a strong work ethic – he was a good reference, my father.

We had 10 cows to make milk and Parmesan cheese. This was the only work in the area – there was no real industry, just farming.

We’d earn money from the cheese and a little from making wine. We had a small vineyard for the wine, but mostly this was for our own consumption.

We would sell the excess, which was not a lot. The most important part was the cheese. The problem was that it took a year before it was ready to sell and we could get some money for it, so my father needed to control our finances very carefully each year, waiting for the payment.

You know when you are rich because you don’t know exactly how much is in your bank account; my father knew to the exact penny what we had. We needed to be organised.


This time was to be my first lesson on the importance of the owner. When I was very young my father was working the land but didn’t own the property.

In Italy at the time you could work on the property of one owner, but 50 per cent of what you made went to that owner.

At the beginning I was upset because I didn’t understand. We would work hard in the fields and have a huge pile of grain in the front of the house, but then the owner would arrive with a piece of wood and put it down the middle of the pile and say, ‘This is mine.’ It was the same with the chickens.

I hated this person, but they were the rules. I never saw my father angry with these people.

I only saw my father happy – never nervous, never aggressive. It was a happy period for me. We didn’t have money, but I remember this time as a really happy period in my life, with plenty of laughter.

When you don’t have anything, you don’t know how poor you are. But I did begin to realise then that it was important to have money, like the landowner.

When I first went to play for Roma I went directly to the president to try to agree a contract – at that time there were no agents.

I was 20 years old, had come from a team in the third division, and I asked for 100 million lire a year. He said to me, ‘You are totally crazy.’

At that time a good job could earn maybe 10 million lire.

Of course, without a contract I couldn’t play, so the president said to me, ‘Listen, it’s not so important what are you earning. It’s more important what are you saving.’

‘I can save a lot more with 100 million,’ I said.

We remained at an impasse until the last day I could sign and be able to play.

The president finally offered me 20 million and I accepted. I had only asked for such an amount because my friend, an older guy, who I thought must know what he’s talking about, had said that the club paid a lot of money to sign me, so I should ask for 100 million.

No wonder the president thought I was crazy. You should always know what you’re talking about before you start a negotiation.

When I signed for the academy at Parma, which was far from my family home, I tried to travel home every day after school and after training, but it was exhausting.

I left my family the next year, at the age of 15, to go to a college in Parma close to the training ground.

Because it was a religious college, for priests, I lived there but I went to a normal school outside.

Living in the college was really tough, but it was a great experience for me. Away from my family for the first time, I learned that I had to organize my day by myself. I had to be self-disciplined: go to school then to training, study, clean my own clothes.

It was hard in the beginning. I also learned what bad food was like. With my family the food had always been special.

When planning my day, I had to fit in prayers at the church, in the morning and before I went to bed. Everything was regimented at the college. When I went to training I still had to get a card to sign in and out, even though they knew that I was playing for Parma. There was no flexibility.

Of course, my mother had not wanted me to leave home, which was why I had commuted in the first year at Parma.

Eventually, though, she saw how tired I was with the travelling and how it was affecting my training. She knew that I dreamed to go – I wanted to play football.

I would go home at the weekend, after school on the Saturday, and usually we played on Sunday morning.

My father would usually take me to play – sometimes my uncle – and I would come back home and stay until Monday morning, when I would travel back to school. I found it really difficult and I was very sad.

Being away was a hard experience to adapt to for me because I was born in a little village where everyone knew each other.

I had a lot of friends in my small village but I’d never been on holiday or away before – I didn’t go to the beach until I was 15 years old.

My holiday was to stay on the farm, in my house and maybe go to Parma. At that time, going to Parma was like going from London to Vancouver today. It took the whole day.

Gradually, I learned to adapt and make friends. The four years in the college helped me overcome my shyness and timidity. Aside from two or three of us, most of the people staying there were not players, just schoolboys.

They were guys who had come from outside Parma and who couldn’t go to their local schools for some reason or another. They were all from a similar background to me – farms and small villages.

I didn’t really learn about other regions or nationalities until I started to play for Nils Liedholm (pictured, below), my Swedish manager at Roma. He was the first person I’d met who was from another country.

I thought all Swedes were like him but, after Liedholm, I had another Swede manage me at Roma, Sven-Göran Eriksson, and I soon learned that Liedholm was Liedholm, not a Swede.

It was from him that I learned that it was possible to be flexible.

There were no rules so strict that they had to be obeyed at all times. We could have training scheduled for 11 o’clock, but it wouldn’t start until 11.15 because he was late.

Sometimes we would ask him why and he would always answer, ‘Because I’m working for you. I was busy doing things to make your life easier.’

I was never late but it was OK for him to be late.

When we had lunch or dinner, everyone could choose what they wanted – there was always some flexibility.

When you make a decision, you take into consideration the thoughts of the people involved, to understand what they are thinking. Liedholm did this. He was very smart.