Even Ancelotti feels the pressure in Champions League final

·4 min read

MADRID (AP) — Carlo Ancelotti is the only coach to win titles in the top five European soccer leagues, and is a victory away from a record-fourth Champions League trophy.

Still, not even Ancelotti is immune to pressure, especially ahead of a Champions League final.

“For me, the toughest moment is three or four hours before the match. You are not feeling well, physically,” the Real Madrid coach said going into Saturday’s final against Liverpool in suburban Paris. “I’m sweating a lot, have an accelerated heart rate, negative thoughts creep in. But fortunately, all that stops once the game starts. There’s no medication, no pills for that, you just have to hang on.”

Few could tell he suffers like that, though, looking at the always-calm demeanor of the 62-year-old Italian coach who is enjoying one of his best-ever seasons.

Ancelotti has looked in control from the start after rejoining a Madrid team that had gone through a lackluster season in which it finished without a significant title under Zinedine Zidane.

Ancelotti quickly put Madrid back on track by keeping the defense solid and making the attack click with Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior. He managed the squad well and it reached the final stages of the season in good form.

The team cruised in the Spanish league, winning the trophy with several games to go, and it also won the Spanish Super Cup. The run to the Champions League final was special, with gritty comebacks against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City in the knockout rounds.

“We have been able to foster a great atmosphere, we have a good relationship,” Ancelotti said. “When the players show up, they’re happy, and when that happens, the team can achieve great things. It’s been a season where certain players have had more involvement than others but the atmosphere has been great and the guys who have had less game time haven’t let their heads drop.”

Among those who didn’t get to play much were Eden Hazard, Francisco Isco and Gareth Bale, in part because of injuries and in part because of poor performances.

“Every decision is pretty difficult and sometimes you can’t tell the whole truth if you want to keep everyone motivated,” Ancelotti said. “This squad has given me no problems whatsoever in that sense because they have all respected my decision without any issue. I haven’t had any trouble this season. We all respect each other greatly.”

Ancelotti had been criticized for not rotating his players enough in his first stint at the club from 2013-15, when he failed to win the league but won the Champions League.

A win on Saturday would put Ancelotti in a league of his own in European soccer with four Champions League titles. Only two other coaches currently have three — Bob Paisley, who won European Cup titles with Liverpool in 1977, 1978 and 1981, and Zidane, who won the Champions League with Madrid from 2016-18.

“It would be a huge achievement for me, but I know anything can happen in a final,” Ancelotti said. “I’m not obsessed with individual honors.”

Ancelotti won the Italian league with AC Milan in Italy in 2004, the Premier League with Chelsea in 2010, the French league with Paris-Saint Germain in 2013 and the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich in 2017. He then coached Napoli and Liverpool rival Everton.

Ancelotti won his first Champions League titles with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, but lost it with the Italian club — in a final against Liverpool in 2005 — after squandering a 3-0 lead. As a player, he won the European Cup title in 1989 and 1990 with Milan.

There will be extra reason to celebrate if he can beat Liverpool on Saturday because it would keep the English club from winning its seventh European title and tying Milan for second-best behind Madrid.

“It is a club I respect. I love its history,” Ancelotti said about Liverpool. “Playing a final against them is special. It’s a club that has won six Champions Leagues, so I’m extra motivated for this game.”

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press

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