By Marcus Christenson
When Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as AC Milan coach in November 2001, few doubted his reputation. However, having just finished second in Serie A for the second consecutive season, having previously taken the runners-up slot with Parma AC in 1996/97, some said he did not have the hunger to be a winner.
Just under three years later, there are few doubts about the man who won the European Champion Clubs' Cup with Milan as a player in 1988/89 and 1989/90 and as a coach in 2002/03. Having won the Serie A title in 2003/04 he has now won the two trophies that count for Milan - his next task is to win them both in the same season.
"Our challenge for next season is to improve and to try to win both the league and the Champions League," Ancelotti told uefa.com. "This Milan side has been constructed to win all the competitions it plays in and that will be our mission for the next season."
Should they do so, Ancelotti will be the first coach since Fabio Capello in 1994 to achieve such a famous double. However, anyone who saw Milan in action last season and noted the emphatic manner of their league success, which saw them finish nine points clear of second-placed AS Roma, would not bet against them.
"It was a sensational season and it is hard to say what we could improve," reflected Ancelotti, who has signed S.S. Lazio defender Jaap Stam and Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo in the closed season. "But all the other teams will want to beat us so we have to be prepared. We can't stand still."
To do so would be to fail in Milan's aim to entertain as well as achieve. "The Milan of [president] Silvio Berlusconi was born 18 years ago with the mission of winning and entertaining and that has become the project," explained Ancelotti. "The objectives have always been clear."
In terms of great entertainers, the current Milan side boast one of the modern greats in Brazilian livewire Kaká, who was one of the revelations of last season after his arrival from São Paulo FC in August. The 22-year-old scored ten goals and provided numerous assists to become an instant Milan hero.
"I didn't know much about Kaká when he arrived but it only took two training sessions for me to realise that he is a world class player," said Ancelotti. "He quickly learned the rhythm and the habits of Italian football and then exploded onto the scene.
Kaká is a world-class player who can become the world's best."
With a Kaká-inspired Milan firing on all cylinders in the spring, it seemed that the 2003/04 Champions League title was in their sights. However, after taking a 4-1 lead from the home leg of their quarter-final against Spain's RC Deportivo La Coruña, Ancelotti's men crashed out with a 4-0 defeat in the return leg.
It is a match Ancelotti would rather forget. "I have never wanted to talk about this game," he said. "It remains a mystery to me." However, he insists the defeat does not haunt him, saying: "I have cancelled the memory of this game. All I can say is that the team became even stronger after that night."
Strong enough to win the famous double that eluded Ancelotti last season? Who knows? Only one thing is for sure. No-one accuses Carlo Ancelotti of lacking the true master coach's winning mentality anymore.
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