With their Galáctico policy, can Ancellotti satisfy Real Madrid’s hierarchy?

by James Clancy

AncelottiCarlo Ancelotti is that rarest of beasts; a player who was immensely successful as a player and who transferred that success to the absolute zenith of the club managerial game.

Even more rare is the fact that he is a friendly, affable and likeable character, whose ego is not  bigger than most rooms he enters.

Hailing from Reggiolo, a less than 80 miles from Milan, Ancelotti would win two European Cup titles and two Serie A titles with his beloved AC Milan from his midfield berth. Ancelotti was of course extremely unlucky to miss out on Italy’s 1982 World Cup triumph as he suffered an injury shortly before the start of the tournament.

Ancelotti’s career as a manager has been arguably more successful than his playing career. He brings a calming presence and sense of authority to proceedings. He is also of course well respected though and players know not to mess with him. He does not engage in psychological warfare and keep things much more private and “in house” than his predecessor at the Bernabéu, one José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix.

Ancelotti is, in many ways the antithesis of the eccentric Portuguese. Whilst Mourinho loves the bright lights of the camera flash bulbs and takes every opportunity to converse with the media, Ancelotti sees the media as nothing more than a necessary conduit between the team and the fans.

As Madrid managers go, Ancelotti is also unusual in that he is a rather reserved character, while his predecessors have tended to be louder and more outspoken with Mourinho being an obvious example. Mourinho’s time at the Santiago Bernabéu has been considered something of a disaster by most/all involved. Considering that Mourinho’s Madrid won a first La Liga title in four years under the now 50 year-old’s reign, to say that his time there was a “disaster” would be somewhat harsh. Mourinho did not deliver the longed for Decima though; i.e. Real Madrid’s tenth European Cup/Champions League crown.

Mourinho’s forthright and often argumentative nature meant that he was greatly disliked by the Madrid media with a number of them stating that “Mourinho was just another Madrid trainer. Nothing more.” Two Champions League semi-finals (coupled with that 2012 La Liga win) were clearly not enough to satisfy the fans or the press men. Mourinho can consider himself unlucky that as Madrid manager he came up against a Barcelona side which – for almost the entire duration of his Madrid reign – was arguably the greatest club side ever to grace the game.

Mourinho didn’t help his cause however. Many months before the end of his reign at the Bernabéu, Mourinho had clearly lost the dressing room. High profile bust-ups with club icons such as the popular captain Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, among others and embarrassing incidents such as poking the now Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova in the eye meant that Mourinho’s time in Madrid was not going to last into the 2013-’14 season.

New Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini preceded Mourinho at the Bernabéu and lasted just one season there. The now 59 year-old polyglot is universally popular, with media at Málaga CF (the club Pellegrini has just left) giving him a standing ovation at the end of his final press conference at the club three weeks ago.

Pellegrini joined Real Madrid as the first manager in Florention Perez’s second stint as Real Madrid president in June 2009. After a few days, Pellegrini bought Kaká from Milan, saying, “If we want to win the Champions League and be the best team in the world, we need the best players in the world.” Cristiano Ronaldo became football’s first €100 million transfer when he joined from Manchester United a few weeks later. Karim Benzima and Xabi Alonso joined from Lyon and Liverpool respectively that transfer window, taking Los Blancos‘ spending for that transfer market to almost a quarter of a billion euro during that summer 2009 and the most money Real Madrid had ever spent over the course of a single transfer window.

The pressure on Pellegrini to produce was intense from the outset of his time as head coach (to say Pellegrini was “in charge” would be something of a misnomer due to the influence of the board in team affairs). Madrid President Perez’ criticism began from the outset with a public lambasting of the style of play of Pelligrini’s side as well as their exhaustion following a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in Dublin – a game which was Pellegrini’s first as head coach.

In March 2010, Pellegrini suffered a second hit, being eliminated from the Champions League by Lyon in the Round of 16 with a 2–1 aggregate loss. Florentino Pérez issued an ultimatum to Pellegrini after this defeat, warning him that he would be fired if he did not win La Liga.

Pellegrini’s Real Madrid side achieved a record 96 points in La Liga that season, the highest points total that Real Madrid has ever achieved in a La Liga season, but still finished runners-up, behind their fierce rival Barcelona by three points as Madrid’s directors announced almost immediately after the end of the season that Pelligrini had been sacked. He was given just one season in charge – hardly enough time to implement his plans fully – even if he had broken a number of world records in the transfer market.

Pellegrini later reflected on his frustration at not being able to build a team at Real Madrid due to the club’s controversial Galácticos policy: “I didn’t have a voice or a vote at Madrid. They sign the best players, but not the best players needed in a certain position. It’s no good having an orchestra with the 10 best guitarists if I don’t have a pianist. Despite having some of the best players, we didn’t win the Champions League because we didn’t have a squad properly structured to be able to win it.”

Former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos also last just one season at the Bernabéu, taking over on the 8th December 2008. The then 54 year-old was thrown in at the deep; on the eve of a Champions League match against Zenit St. Petersburg and El Clásico. He managed to bring his team back to the race for the Championship after accumulating an outstanding 52 points out of 54 possible from 18 consecutive games.

However, after losing to Barrcelona 2–6 at Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid were defeated in four consecutive matches, ending nine points behind their rivals Barcelona. His contract ended at the conclusion of the season. Finishing second in La Liga and losing 5-0 on aggregate to Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League was simply not good enough for Los Blancos‘ hierarchy, irrespective of the attacking, free flowing style of football his Ramos’ played.

Bernd Schuster became Madrid manager in July 2007. As manager, he made a successful start with the Madrid giants, taking them to top of the La Liga standings. Attacking football returned again to the Bernabéu (following Fabio Capello’s soon-to-be-mentioned reign) with Madrid having the strongest offence, not beaten at home from the start of the league and defeating Barca at the Camp Nou, increasing their lead to seven points between them and the Blaugrana.

With Madrid eliminated from that season’s Champions League at the last 16 stage by AS Roma, many doubted that Schuster would continue to be Madrid’s coach, but the club denied the allegations. On 4th May 2008, Schuster guided Real Madrid to their 31st title with three games to spare. At the end of that season, Madrid finished with a then record total of 85 points – a record which beat even Barcelona’s best ever.

The following season (2008-’09) started well for the former German international with the club continuing to play attractive football, though the then 48 year-old had frequent confrontations with the media. Sometimes he refused to answer questions and he started making controversial or sarcastic statements and walking out of press conferences.

On 9th December 2008, Schuster stepped down as manager after a 4–3 defeat to Sevilla FC, and spoke out publicly about his team standing no chance of beating Barcelona in El Clásico. As managerial departures go, this was one of the more bizarre with debate rampant as to whether Schuster was pushed or jumped ship of his own accord.

CapelloPreceding Schuster was the aforementioned Italian legend Fabio Capello (pictured left), who started his second spell “in charge” at Real in summer 2006.

Capello arrived at a Real Madrid side suffering one of the longest spells without a trophy in their history. He quickly drew the disdain of Real’s ardent supporters because of his defensive playing style. In interviews, Capello responded to those critics by saying that the beauty of attacking plays was old. He said that results were much more important than playing beautifully.

His remit was to bring the title back to the Bernabéu, a task that had been too much for five other coaches since 2003.

Capello had numerous high profile fall outs with big names at the club, including David Beckham, Ronaldo and Antonio Cassano.

Madrid were eliminated early from the 2006-’07 Champions League and in February of that season were languishing in fourth place in the league. Amidst the hullabaloo created by Beckham’s announcement that he would join MLS side LA Galaxy at the end of that season, Capello had stated that the Londoner would “never play for Real Madrid again.”

Within five weeks of that announcement however, Capello stated: “The definition of a wise man is one who can recognise and amend his mistakes. David Beckham has shown outstanding commitment in training and will return to the starting line-up this weekend.” Beckham would indeed return to the starting line-up that weekend and was a seen as a pivotal factor in leading Los Blancos to their first La Liga title in four years.

Winning La Liga wasn’t enough for Capello however and he was sacked at the end of the season due to the club’s style of play under his tutelage.

Over the course of the three years from June 2003 to June 2006, Real would be managed by five different head coaches – none of those successfully – well certainly not by the high standards of the club’s hierarchy. No major trophies were won over the course of those 36 months.

Prior to that, Vicente Del Bosque (pictured below) managed to last three and a half years as manager of the club. It was during his reign that the club implemented the “galácticos” policy – where new president Florentino Pérez (back in 2000, Pérez’ first term) implemented a policy whereby the world’s best and most expensive players would be sought – and almost always bought – by Los Blancos.

Del Bosque amendedDel Bosque started his third stint in charge of Real Madrid back in November 1999 after the board dismissed John Toshack following difficulties with the Welshman who was the incumbent head coach at the time.

In his (almost) four seasons in charge, Del Bosque ushered the club through its most successful spell in modern history. Del Bosque steered the club to two Champions League titles in 2000 and 2002, two La Liga titles in 2001 and ’03, a Spanish Supercup in 2001, a UEFA Supercup in 2002, the Intercontinental Cup in 2002 as well as finishing in the last four of the UEFA Champions League every year he was in charge. An impressive list of honours by anyone’s standards.

Del Bosque’s management was successful in uniting the many different modern player egos in his star studded team: during the Del Bosque era Real managed 104 wins out of a possible 186 in his time as coach of the club.

Despite the level of success, many players – in particular the so-called Galácticos – were bought without the input of Del Bosque amid often made allegations that the Real Madrid hierarchy (in particular Pérez and general manager Jorge Valdano) had more control over transfer policy, team selection and other aspects of club that minimised the level of control Del Bosque had during his time as manager.

Incredibly, Real Madrid decided not to renew Del Bosque’s contract in 2003, just a day after he won the club its 29th La Liga title.

Del Bosque of course has gone on to become head coach of arguably the best ever international footballing side, as he guided Spain to three major international tournament wins in a row (2008 and ’12 European Championships as well as of course the 2010 World Cup) – with Spain being the first nation to win three major trophies in a row and universally lauded as arguably the most entertaining side to ever play international football. One wonders what the amiable (then) 52 year-old could have done as Real Madrid boss were he not relieved of his duties back in 2003?

Having won a Serie A title and two Champions League titles as manager of AC Milan as well as the Premier League with Chelsea and Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain, Carlo Ancelotti has one of the most impressive managerial CVs in world football. Whether he can do enough to placate Real Madrid’s board remains to be seen. I for one wouldn’t bet on it.

 

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