Carlo Ancelotti Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: There aren’t many active managers in club football today who have handled — and successfully at that — such a huge array of stars as Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, but he himself makes light of that aspect of the job.

His Real team alone boasts two of the highest-paid footballers on Earth in Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, as well as some of the most decorated footballers such as Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso and the like. And his eight trophy-filled years at AC Milan saw him lead the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Paolo Maldini and David Beckham.

“There is no magic formula in handling the stars. My philosophy is simple: I respect them as professionals and expect they will also respect me,” one of the most respected managers in club football told Gulf News in an exclusive interview in Doha last week.

Ancelotti had just finished a lengthy TV interview in the breathtaking surroundings of The Torch hotel in the Qatari capital, but was patient enough while fielding questions.

The two-time winner of the Uefa Champions League (both with AC Milan) knows he has quite a task at hand — if meeting expectations for the demanding Real management is one, another one is to make optimum use of Bale and Ronaldo, who is a strong favourite for the Fifa Ballon d’Or award.

“He [Ronaldo] is our most valuable player, while Bale is still settling down. He was injured initially but has come back strongly. We are working at getting the right combination,” Ancelotti said.

Starting the New Year with a blockbuster exhibition game against his former club Paris Saint-Germain, Ancelotti’s priority now is to close the gap with leaders Barcelona in La Liga, apart from taking a shot at taking Real’s Champions League title tally to double-digits — they have won it more than any other club with nine, but not since 2002. However, he is in no mood for making any signings in the January transfer window, giving priority to continuity.

But is he missing the creative flair of Mesut Ozil, who was sold to Arsenal last August? Ancelotti was quite categorical: “I think we made a mistake when we gave him the possibility to leave the club. However, we have fantastic strikers and don’t need a back-up after [Gonzalo] Higuain’s departure.”

In the one-and-a-half years that Ancelotti was with PSG, he guided the side to their first Ligue 1 title in 19 years — albeit the French team have been aided by the cash injection from Qatari investors. On his switch to Spain, Ancelotti said: “The two leagues have a different school of football. While France has a more physical style, La Liga encourages more good football, which has made it so popular.”

Moving on to the subject of the World Cup, it was time to pick his brains on the favourites. “I would say Brazil and Spain are ahead, while other teams can be outsiders. As far as Italy is concerned, they have less strength this time but my country has a strong history in the World Cup,” he said.

Even though Ancelotti has not worked in the Gulf, he is no stranger to it, having conducted AC Milan’s winter camp in Dubai a few years back, while he looked impressed with the infrastructure in Qatar, hosts of the 2022 World Cup.

But he feels it’s time a decision is taken on the timing of the World Cup. “There is no problem with organisation, but the fact remains that playing the World Cup in winter may be a problem for the European countries,” he said.

He will reach two decades of coaching next year — a journey that saw him start out with the modest Regiana, followed by Parma, Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG and now Real Madrid. There have been so many ‘firsts’ in his career, a notable one being the first Italian and only second non-Englishman after Arsene Wenger to win both the English Premier League and FA Cup (with Chelsea) in 2009.

With little left to add to the CV, where does Ancelotti go from here? “I want to continue working and that’s it,” he said.