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As one of only six men to have lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup as both player and coach, Carlo Ancelotti knows a thing or two about the continent's premier competition – and the former AC Milan and Chelsea FC boss told UEFA.com he considers the UEFA Champions League to be harder than ever to win.
Ancelotti was part of the famous Milan side crowned European champions in 1989 and 1990 and he landed the trophy twice as Rossoneri coach in 2003 and 2007. Last season was a lean year in comparison for Italian teams, with only FC Internazionale Milano getting as far as the quarter-finals, and Ancelotti feels making the grade in Europe is not getting any easier.
"I played in the Champions League [final] in 1989 and 1990 and it was different then," he told UEFA.com. "There were less games [to play], because to reach the final you needed to play maybe nine games, but now it's very difficult. Twenty years ago you played against the first teams from other countries; now there's more competition – four teams [from] England, four teams [from] Italy, and so on.
It's more difficult to win the Champions League now and this is why I consider the Champions League the best competition in the world."
This term, after four group stage matches, Italy's three UEFA Champions League representatives are all still hopeful of reaching the round of 16, and Milan's next challenge will be to host FC Barcelona, whom Massimiliano Allegri's men held to a 2-2 draw on matchday one.
"The strength of [Barcelona] is the philosophy of the club," said former Parma FC and Juventus trainer Ancelotti. "They have a lot of players [who have graduated from] their academy. When they put on the Barcelona shirt they feel something special because they were born in the academy. So this is the reason [they are so strong]. And the philosophy for one club, their idea of football, is the best at this moment."
Of the Serie A sides, Napoli have perhaps the hardest task to qualify, but despite facing FC Bayern München, Manchester City FC and Villarreal CF, the knockout phase remains a realistic prospect for a team who have taken points off all three group rivals.
"Napoli is a very exciting place," said Ancelotti. "The people there show great passion for the team. Twenty years ago they had the best player in the world, Maradona, playing for Napoli. After that they went down, but they much better now and everyone is following them because they are playing good football and have fantastic support."
For Ancelotti, meanwhile, it is a return to England's Premier League that interests him as a manager, although the man who left Chelsea last summer is by no means certain of what the future holds.
"Short term, I don't know," he said. "I would like to be a manager again. I'm not afraid, I want to wait and see what happens.
I would like to find an ambitious club that has a good project for the future. I am sure that I will come back to manage another club soon."