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'My team-mates were frightened... they were worried about playing Liverpool again'

We spoke to Massimo Ambrosini and Massimo Oddo, who both started Carlo Ancelotti’s last Champions League final, against Liverpool in 2007.

Image: EMPICS Sport

IF THERE’S ONE manager who has experienced the ecstasy and agony of the Champions League, it’s Carlo Ancelotti.

Ahead of his record-equalling fourth Champions League final on Saturday, the affable Italian won one title narrowly, one on penalties, and lost one in that earth-shattering night in Istanbul in 2005.

Yet, the genius of Ancelotti is that egos or individual histories do not come into it; the fact that the 54-year-old could equal Bob Paisley’s long-standing record of three European Cups is irrelevant.

The pressure of facing Madrid’s bitter rivals, Atlético Madrid, on Europe’s grandest stage will not faze Ancelotti and, ironically, it’s far from the Italian’s most difficult Champions League assignment.

Rather, ahead of the 2007 final in Athens, Ancelotti had to calm, and restrain, Milan’s players ahead of a heated rematch with Liverpool.

Just two years on from Jerzy Dudek’s heroics in that famous penalty shootout, little had changed: six of those Milan players that started that night in Istanbul would begin the game in Athens.

“I would not go as far to say that we had a vendetta against Liverpool,” Massimo Ambrosini told TheScore.ie. “It was more revenge, certainly, for what happened two years previously in Istanbul. What cost us in Istanbul, more than anything else, was 15 minutes of madness but that’s not to say the team were not well prepared or ready. Therefore, Ancelotti prepared us for Athens just like he did for every other game that season.

“In 2007, we wanted to win the final regardless of who the opponent was and luckily we succeeded. To win the Champions League is always special, but relief was not the overriding emotion after what happened in 2005. It was merely joy and euphoria.”

Ambrosini, who was also part of the Milan side that defeated Juventus on penalties in 2003, was Ancelotti’s vice-captain and proved crucial to retaining the squad’s focus on the task at hand.

 

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - AC Milan v Liverpool - Olympic Stadium AC Milan's Massimo Oddo, right, and Filippo Inzaghi, left, celebrate with the European trophy after the final whistle. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

This was particularly important for those five players who were not present for Istanbul, but could still feel the heated tension of the rivalry as outsiders.

“I arrived after the final in 2005 but, of course, I remember it,” Massimo Oddo told TheScore.ie.

“It was an incredible loss. Ahead of the 2007 final, my team-mates – who were there for 2005 – were frightened. They were worried about playing against Liverpool again, so it proved a very important win. Even I was quiet before the game, but that’s part of my personality. Many of the others felt a lot before the match, but I tried to treat it like a normal game – even though it was a final.

“Ancelotti prepared us like it was a normal match. Carlo’s so quiet and calm. For him, if you are playing against a lesser team or in a Champions League final, it was the same. He wanted the same effort from each game. I was nervous, but when we started, my focus was just on the match and not the opposition. We were all so, so happy to win it.” 

Carlo Ancelotti: the man manager

Despite the interfering Silvio Berlusconi, and his tightening purse strings, Ancelotti established himself as one of the greatest managers of the Champions League era with three finals in just five seasons with Milan.

Although greatly aided by the foundations Berlusconi had bankrolled before his arrival in 2001, Ancelotti’s laidback nature and his close bond with his players were crucial to his continental success at Milan.

“Carlo is a great person and a very good coach,” said Ambrosini. “I only have fond memories of my time working with him at Milan. He talked a lot with the players and knew exactly how to transmit his ideas and concepts of the game. He always understood our state of mind and how to handle us. It was nice to play under him with that great Milan team: we were the world’s protagonists, winning in Italy and in Europe. It was such a positive time in my career.”

With little investment offered by Berlusconi during Ancelotti’s eight-year tenure, the Italian instead focused on prolonging veterans’ careers with the famed Milan Lab. 

 

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - AC Milan v Liverpool - Olympic Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

Reflecting this, in the transfer market, Ancelotti looked for cut-price, peak-aged players with vast experience. Among them was the 30-year-old World Cup winner, Massimo Oddo.

“When you arrive at a big club, for each player, it’s different,” said Oddo. “But, it wasn’t difficult to adjust when you worked hard and had so many great players there. I was so happy to play in this team, because I was with some of the best players in the world: Paolo Maldini, Kaká, Cafu, Alessando Nesta…For me, it was just so easy to play for Milan when you’re playing with these kind of players. Because we were all so close to each other, it wasn’t complicated. Also, not only were they great players; they were great people on and off the field.

“Carlo was a brilliant trainer. Each week, the players were just focused on performing and we didn’t need a lot of encouragement from our coach. Ancelotti, sometimes, had to work tactically with us but it was only at the right time. That was the most important thing, as training was much the same as other trainers I had worked under. I had some time with Bayern Munich under Jürgen Klinsmann and the crux of the training schedule was quite similar. Ancelotti’s sessions weren’t particularly special or different; he was more focused on psychology with each player.

“At Milan, he had a great relationship with the players. That was one of his main strengths. Each player who worked under him felt very important. If you played or you were on the bench, it was the same. For him, the whole group was important. For this reason, each player was very close to him  – not only as trainer but as a person, too. You can still see that today, at Real Madrid. When Madrid score, nearly every time, one of the players goes over to celebrate with him.”

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Ciaran Kelly

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