Carlo Ancelotti’s return to Real Madrid in the summer of 2021 had one dominant trend across the media and anyone who follows Real Madrid week-in, week-out, could see it.
There was a lot of skepticism. Yes, there was the odd inclination towards the nostalgia that his return invoked but skepticism reigned supreme. At that time, the doubt was not entirely wrong. Real Madrid had just parted ways with Zinedine Zidane (again) and were about to lose their two defensive pillars in Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. At that juncture, Carlo Ancelotti did not seem the right man to take the club forward as had struggled at every job to some degree after being sacked by Real Madrid in 2015. He was not even the first man Florentino Perez approached. Carlo’s name only came into the picture when Real Madrid knew for sure they could not bring either Mauricio Pochettino nor Antonio Conte in; while Max Allegri had also taken a u-turn back to Juventus.
Ancelotti busted these doubts with the most dominant LaLiga triumph in Real Madrid’s recent history and put the cherry on top of the cake with a Champions League title and campaign that will now forever be etched into the folklore of Madridismo.
So how did he manage to do all this? To understand this better we need to dissect the Carlo Ancelotti way and view this from four different vantage points.
Carlo Ancelotti had to make difficult decisions throughout his managerial career. Before he became the AC Milan manager in 2001, he had already given his word to Parma president Calisto Tanzi that he would return to Parma for a second stint. But Milan was hell-bent to get Carlo so he had to make a huge decision to say no to Parma at the very last moment. Carlo was an adored man in both Parma and Milan but his loyalty for Milan trumped his affection for Parma. Milan was his home.
When Carlo returned to Real Madrid in 2021, he had big names such as Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale on the roster. He had Luka Jovic who earns very high wages at the club. Although he trusted Bale and Hazard in the initial one or two games, he had to make a call pretty quickly whether he is going to indulge in the glamor of star names or unleash Vinicius Jr ahead of them. He made the right call and did the latter. The rest is literally history.
There are more examples of big decisions he took in previous years. Carlo was asked to play 16-year-old Martin Odegaard in three games by none other than Florentino Perez in 2015. Carlo refused and only played him in as a substitute in a non-consequential match. Gareth Bale’s agent went to the Real Madrid president directly to change Bale’s position in the middle of the season. Carlo declined the request in the utmost professional manner for the greater good of the squad and this in fact played a huge role in his sacking in 2015. But that did not deter him from standing his ground.
This may appear as stretching it too far but Real Madrid parted ways with Kaka in 2013 – a player who won the Ballon D’or under Ancelotti. He could probably have attempted to prolong Kaka’s stay (that had been rather disappointing during numerous injuries) if he really pushed, but Carlo believed in the freshness of that project and all parties moved on.
We are living in a time where the game can seem too tactical at times. This, right now, is the golden age of data, analytics, and the era of scouting the game to its bare bones. The detailed level of analysis is great – incredibly necessary – and evidently beneficial to the game. But as good as it is, there is a glass ceiling somewhere to how much you can analyze or dial up on the complexity of a tactical scheme.
As long as this game is played by actual humans, there is no glass ceiling on how big a player can dream. The desire to give everything you possibly can for your teammates, your manager and your badge is severely underrated in general but underrate this at Real Madrid at your own risk. Ask PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City if you want to know more about the specific subject.
It’s really difficult to find a man manager who even comes remotely close to Carlo Ancelotti’s extra-terrestrial level. Carlo was initially rejected by Chelsea because of his poor English when they hired Luiz Felipe Scolari instead. Chelsea eventually hired Carlo but he always had a very tense relationship with Chelsea’s former owner Roman Abramovich. Ancelotti was on the verge of a sacking during his first season when Chelsea crashed out of the Champions League against Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan. He won a domestic double with The Blues that season because, at his lowest, he found his players behind him, especially the English players at Chelsea. Thats ironic for a club that did not choose him the first time due to the language barriers, but, that’s Carlo Ancelotti for you.
Ancelotti comes from a very humble background, from Reggiolo, Italy, from the family of a cheese farmer. He has seen life in its simplest and most glamorous forms. Carlo was an accomplished player for AC Milan, a two-time Champions League winner as a player way before he became the only coach to win four. He managed big egos during his entire career and did it mostly without any issues. Being a top player himself helped but he also learned the ropes to understanding players from the point of view of a coach.
Zinedine Zidane, Andriy Shevchenko, Ronaldo Nazario, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema (soon) – has any manager ever successfully managed so many Ballon D’or winners?
Ancelitt’s longevity is something that is not talked about enough. You would see him smoking shisha with Ronaldo Nazario in the late 2000s and the same man would dance with the likes of Vini Jr and Eduardo Camavinga at the Bernabeu in 2022. Carlo is a lovable character who mastered the art of getting the best out of players in the simplest but the most efficient of ways.
Sure, Ancelotti is perhaps not as hipster of a tactician as someone like a Jurgen Klopp or a Pep Guardiola. Even his apprentice Zinedine Zidane showed more versatility in his two stints as Real Madrid’s head coach. But Carlo still has some tricks left up his sleeve. This Real Madrid team obviously still needs some specific fixing to do, for example, Real Madrid’s press is still pretty disjointed. But now is a time to reflect and give credit to Carlo for the good things he has done.
Real Madrid last summer were not satisfied with their current style of play and they needed a stylistic overhaul. Ancelotti has found himself in that exact situation before: at Milan, Chelsea, Napoli, and Real Madrid (twice). He was tasked with establishing an exciting style of play that would please the club owners, presidents, and fans numerous times and his success rate in doing so is actually remarkable considering he did not always get the necessary backing in the transfer market to do so . At Chelsea he wanted Andrea Pirlo to play in front of the two center-backs as a deep-lying playmaker. But Chelsea could not buy Pirlo. Ancelotti made Micheal Essien his own version of Pirlo, and the player actually performed brilliantly under him.
He also transformed Angel Di Maria’s profile in 2013-14 to such an extent that Di Maria was referred to as the third-best player in the world for a brief period. From a dribbling winger, Ancelotti made Di Maria a line breaker on the left-half-space and on the central channels behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
A simple technical wrinkle unearthed a monster of a player in Vinicius Jr. While the Brazillian was taking way too much time and too many touches before shooting in previous seasons, Carlo transformed him into a devastating goal threat by simply limiting his touches before shooting.
His in-game management late into the 2021-22 season and especially after the 0-4 loss against Barcelona has been excellent. It’s probably okay if you sometimes need a wake-up call sometimes. It’s not okay if you do not wake up even after the wake-up call. Carlo woke up big time.
The friendly face in front of the press
A Real Madrid manager’s relationship with the press has always been interesting. Zinedine Zidane openly called out how the mounting pressure of the media seemed uncalled for and unfair in his farewell letter in 2021. Ancelotti decided to bypass this whole charade and shared an unprecedented amount of tactical information with the media. He was blatant at times. Other times he was funny, philosophical, and did not leave much to the imagination of the media outlets. Announcing his starting line-ups almost three hours prior to the game was a questionable action during the season but in the end, no significant harm was done by it.
In the end, Carlo did not pick any beef with the media and was pleasantly diplomatic on most things. He took the blame on himself when things were not going well and deflected the praise to his players whenever the team did well. It shielded the team from any unnecessary drama and maintained the excellent environment of the dressing room.
When Carlo Ancelotti became PSG’s manager, the now multi-billion-Euro club did not even know that they had to have a dining facility in their training center. Carlo explains in his book ‘Quiet Leadership‘how he taught PSG the ins and outs of being a professional club. He joined PSG for their new project and their sporting director Leonardo, who used to be a friend. Carlo was one day threatened to be sacked by Leonardo and the PSG president if he did not win a non-consequential game that was around the corner. PSG is and was, poorly run.
There was no point in putting a manager in that situation before a game, you can sack him after the game if you want. PSG won that game but Carlo decided to leave that toxic environment at the end of the season and joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2013 for the first time.
His affection for Real Madrid cannot be overstated. He could have become the coach of Real Madrid in the early 2000s too but he respected his loyalty to Milan. This is a man of incredible honor, patience, experience, and character. He is a man who was destined to be at Real Madrid so destiny made sure he found his way back in 2021. Lacklustre stints at Bayern, Napoli, and Everton do not suit this man. Champion of Spain and Champion of Europe for a record 4th time – that’s more like Carlo Ancelotti.