Schools know all about pressure: we may have a thousand teenagers, books to mark, Ofsted prowling and parents at the door.
In football the crowds are larger and the salaries a little higher, though if you think it’s just a game then this may not be the book for you. But for those looking for leadership lessons from a fascinating, high-stakes world, this is a thoughtful and intriguing read.
The book is an unusual hybrid. Both by Carlo Ancelotti and about Carlo Ancelotti, it is not a conventional sports biography. It isn’t a kick-and-tell tale of football gossip, but consists of the Italian legend’s reflections on leading talented teams in one of the most competitive environments imaginable, interspersed with interviews with players and colleagues, and summaries of his famed “quiet way” by the book’s co-authors.
Ancelotti came from poor rural roots to become one of the most respected members of the small cadre of global football’s elite managers. He has won the Champion’s League five times – twice as a player and three times as a manager. His CV includes AC Milan (winning everything), Juventus (less enjoyable), Paris St-Germain (winning Ligue 1), Real Madrid (winning the décima – the club’s elusive tenth European championship) and Chelsea (winning the Premier League and FA Cup double).
No-one knows more than Carlo Ancelotti about what he calls “managing the madness”.
On one hand, he has dealt with the monstrous expectations of billionaire owners, from Silvio Berlusconi to Roman Abramovich. One the other, he’s fielded super-sized egos of star players, like one who reacted to news that he would be a substitute for the next match by saying “Rivaldo has never been on the bench. No, no. Rivaldo doesn’t go on the bench.”
What would the school equivalent be? “Rivaldo will only teach top sets. Rivaldo does not teach Year 3.”
He covers the fans, the media and the agents. One Barcelona player even employed his persuasive ex-wife to negotiate his salary, asking “how can you offer him so little money – he has to feed his wife and children and me?”
Even schools seem sane in comparison, while Ancelotti comes across as remarkably philosophical and open-minded in this crazy world. His approach? Protect the players, build relationships, share meals and create a family.
Even schools seem sane in comparison, while Ancelotti comes across as remarkably philosophical and open-minded in this crazy world
His quiet way is in truth less of a developed leadership doctrine, and more a description of his instinctive personality. “Carlo will take care of you,” David Beckham was told when considering a move to Milan, and that more or less sums it up: calm, thoughtful, authoritative and caring.
The authors have gained access to a remarkable rollcall of galácticos. As well as Beckham, others include Zlatan Ibrahimovic (“I say Carlo is the best and I have worked with the best”), Cristiano Ronaldo (“with Carlo you become part of his family”) and Sir Alex Ferguson (“He’s a gentleman, but a gentleman with a purpose”).
But not everything is quiet in the Ancelotti playbook.
Poor attitude is the one thing that drives him mad. Even during a training ground kickabout, he is shocked when he sees the first team laugh about losing. When roused, the multilingual manager produced a furious outburst in his native Italian. “They didn’t have a clue what he was on about,” recalls one player – but the emotion spoke clearly enough, and was all the more powerful for its rarity.
The other madness is the short-termism. Managers last an average of just 2.36 years in the English Premiership. In Italy and Spain, most are sacked after 16 months. Ancelotti claims to have made his peace with this highly compressed leadership arc.
In fact, he links it to his style. He is usually brought in to calm troubled waters; the team enjoys success, but over the next couple of seasons, that same perceived strength – his calmness – can often be blamed for failures. He’s too patient, too kind, an owner will say. Move him on.
For school administrators, the book asks questions like these: Is your school a family? How do you protect your team from the madness? Is your greatest strength your greatest weakness? Why can’t you speak five languages?
And as Ancelotti moves to yet another mega-club with Bayern Munich – what will he win this season?