Michael Essien insists an invite to play for Carlo Ancelotti qualifies as an irresistible opportunity – and players perform without fear under the Italian’s positive brand of management.
The brilliant former midfielder Essien had two seasons with Ancelotti at Chelsea, recovering from a serious knee injury in the Italian's first campaign to feature regularly.
Ancelotti was a Double winner in his debut Stamford Bridge season.
And a key member of that side, Michael Ballack, supported Essien’s assertion that Ancelotti has a gift for filling his players with confidence.
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German Ballack was equally struck by Ancelotti’s tactical nous after a newly-formed midfield diamond underpinned Chelsea’s twin success in 2009/10.
The ex-Chelsea duo, who between them boast 22 major club honours, spoke to Knowing Carlo, an Official Everton Podcast series focusing on the Club's boss.
Ancelotti took charge of Everton in December 2019 and his magnetism was evident when the manager's former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich attacker James Rodriguez swapped the Bernabeu for Goodison Park last year.
“If you have worked with Carlo, anywhere he goes, if he calls you, you cannot say no, because of the manager and person he is,” said Essien.
“I was not surprised James went to Everton and he has been fantastic.
“Carlo gave me freedom on the pitch – he knew I had the energy to go forward and back into my position.
“Our football was flowing, it was very good for the team and I had the licence to bomb forwards and get a few goals.
“When you are on the pitch, all you want to do is play for him.”
Essien damaged his knee at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations and missed the second half of Chelsea’s Double season.
He returned to play 44 times the following campaign and partly attributes a smooth recovery to Ancelotti’s man-management.
“Carlo is like a father figure, he brought confidence into our game and his way of managing was second-to-none," continued Essien.
“He always talked to me [during rehabilitation] and encouraged me to keep working hard.
“He knew my character and I always saw him in the morning with a big smile… and I came back stronger.
“Carlo is different, he makes everyone feel part of the squad.
“He has time for everyone... and was very positive in his way of managing.”
Ballack was 33 – six years Essien’s senior – and owner of a richly-decorated CV when Ancelotti was appointed at Chelsea.
He knew what it took to win, then, and instantly bought into Ancelotti’s methods.
Ancelotti arrived following eight fabulous years with AC Milan and soon tweaked Chelsea's system to accommodate a battery of exceptional midfielders.
“You could feel immediately that Carlo had a warm heart – but he was very disciplined and focused,” said Ballack.
“I felt trust and respect from the first minute.
“But you realise he wants you to deliver.
“He changed the system… to play with a diamond in midfield.
“Because we had so many good central midfielders, he was trying to build that as a strength.
“[Portugal international] Deco could play behind Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, strikers who could play centrally.
“That was why 4-4-2 with a diamond worked so well for us.
"We were quite flexible in terms of positioning.
“He figured that out really quickly, he read the squad well and it was a change we could use to our advantage.”
Ballack was joined in that midfield by Frank Lampard, while Deco and Joe Cole took turns at the tip of the diamond.
Essien began the season but his injury presented an opening for John Obi Mikel.
And a Chelsea side also featuring John Terry and Ashley Cole pipped Manchester United to the title by a single point.
They scored 103 Premier League goals – 35 more than in the previous season.
“It is never easy to handle a group like that, but Carlo showed for a long time at Milan, and at his other clubs, he commands this natural respect,” added Ballack.
“This relationship with the players and the way he handles them is one of his biggest strengths.
“I felt immediately he trusted me – you want trust and for your coach to understand you – and that gave me huge confidence.”
Hear more from Essien and Ballack by listening to episode one of Knowing Carlo above or by clicking here. All seven episodes are available to download via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred podcast app.
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