Carlo Ancelotti has rightly received plaudits for getting Real Madrid within touching distance of “La Decima.”
But he’s only one half of a managerial set up that has been together longer than many married couples.
Paul Clement is, says Ancelotti, “the best manager I’ve ever had on the training pitch.”
Some compliment. But who is Paul Clement? What is his footballing background and how did he get from being a PE teacher to coaching the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo?
**His father was Dave Clement, part of the QPR team that ran Liverpool close to winning the Division One title in 1976.
Long before the time when clinical depression was recognised for the serious illness it is, he killed himself using weedkiller. Dave Clement was only 34 years of age.
He left two young sons. The youngest, Neil, went on to have a playing career himself, chiefly with West Bromwich Albion.
His older brother, Paul, played at non league level before going on to become a PE teacher. Then he got a job at the Chelsea centre of excellence and a whole new world opened up for him.
Next month Paul will take his place on the bench as Real Madrid play in their first Champions League final for twelve years. It is the culmination of a career path the steep rise of which even Paul can hardly take in. He must pinch himself.
He will likely become a team manager himself one day. But, right now, he continues to be one part of a dynamic duo. He is Robin to Carlo Ancelotti’s Batman.
Holy Mackerel Paul! How did you get that job?
Paul Clement says: “It’s been an incredible journey. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was that secondary school teacher. But, in some ways, it’s not a total shock. This was something I’d aimed for, even if actually being here is a dream. Teaching gave me a foundation: organisation, planning, understanding different learning styles and needs, the importance of good communication. I’ve taken that into my coaching.
“The thing I found hardest was the transition from under-16s, then youth, reserve and finally first-team coach at Chelsea. To rise through those positions at the same club in about three years was challenging because you wonder if people still see you as the youth coach. I’d think: is this too much? Am I out of my depth? But that’s just anxiety, human nature. You have to prove you’ve got the character and knowledge to stand on your own two feet at that level. It’s nice when you see you’ve convinced Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti you’ve got something about you.”
“If I didn’t get that opportunity at some stage I’d be really disappointed, but there’s no rush. I’ve gained a lot of experience in football, at lots of different levels, but I’m still a young coach learning from one of the best managers in the world. For now, working at this level is an absolute privilege.”
Clement was promoted from reserve team manager by Ancelotti at Chelsea and the sorcerers apprentice has gone on to learn plenty from the experienced boss.
Clement says: “I used to be more aggressive with players, which didn’t sit comfortably with me, and since working with Carlo I’ve learnt there is another way.
“It’s the carrot and stick story, which Carlo tells brilliantly, even though it’s an old analogy. A horse comes up to a fence, and there’s a number of ways you can get him over it. You can stand behind the horse, crack it from behind and it’ll jump over. Or you stand the other side with the carrot and entice it to come with you, to work with you.
“Both can be effective, but if you’re going to hit the horse from behind be careful, because it can kick back at you. One way is more long lasting which is a nice way of thinking about coaching and dealing with people.”
He has worked with Ancelotti at Chelsea, PSG in France and now at Real Madrid. He is in no doubt which club has the better players.
Paul Clement says: “Chelsea are in transition -still. They always seem to be in transition, but particularly now.
“The Chelsea team was a very powerful and mature team, but there’s a big, big difference in the technical level.”
Real Madrid players could not have two better men to tell them about the strengths and weaknesses of Chelsea – if it is to be the Blues that take on Real in the final on May 24th. And if it’s Atletico Madrid, well the players already know everything they could about their city neighbours.
As for Paul Clement, the final may be his swansong as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian manager says of his English sidekick: “He has all the quality, all the skills and all the experience to be a manager. I know one day I’ll have to say goodbye. But I spoke with Paul’s Spanish teacher, who says he needs ten years to speak Spanish, so we have to stay!”
Tomorrow: Carlo Ancelotti “I’ve only ever wanted to kill one player.”
Paul Clement was talking to Dominic Fifield and Matt Hughes.