The biggest winner of all from the announcement of the firing of Carlo Ancelotti on Sunday is Carlo Ancelotti himself. Being disposed of by Florentino Pérez whether it through straight forward termination of contract, mutual consent or failing to pick up on a new deal, is a fate experienced by some of the biggest and best names in modern management.
The stigma value of an unfortunate Santiago Bernabéu exit is zero. Indeed, the experience can be even be considered a badge of honour, as you have to have been invited to the Real Madrid party in the first place, before being manhandled out again.
Carlo Ancelotti has now won the Champions League three times with two clubs and there would be no real surprise if the Italian coach achieves a fourth with a third. However, if the Italian is true to his word on Sunday, Ancelotti will be taking a year off, potentially to reduce his smoking habit, which most have risen exponentially after two years at Madrid. The now former Real Madrid coach will also be pocketing a year’s salary with his contract being terminated a year early.
Unlike José Mourinho, who was given a middle finger farewell by some of the Madrid players and fans, Ancelotti was widely liked and respected at the club and by the supporters. One of his biggest fans was Cristiano Ronaldo, who tweeted after Sunday’s 7-3 win that he was hoping to work with Ancelotti again.
A poll of club members published in Monday’s ‘Marca’ said that 73% wanted the Italian to stay. That’s partly because of their loyalty to a manager that delivered the Décima, a 22-match winning streak, and never ever rocked the boat or caused a kerfuffle in the press. It’s also because there is no viable alternative.
Florentino Pérez, in his announcement of the news of the end of Ancelotti, spoke of the need of a fresh impetus after a season without a win in the three big trophies. After the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini, José Mourinho was waiting in the wings. When Mourinho departed, the much coveted Ancelotti had been line up to take over. There is no dominant figure that could be considered a step up or even sideways for Ancelotti.
The admission from Pérez that a Spanish speaker is preferred potentially rules out the hiring of Jurgen Klopp, the favourite in the same poll given to Real Madrid members, but gives a boost to Rafa Benitez, who would have a huge job in convincing a doubtful fan base.
The winner of a poisoned but well-paid chalice will have to achieve what Ancelotti and everyone else has failed to do in his tenure and that’s twist Florentino’s cheque-signing arm into bringing in players that the club actually needs, rather than thinks it needs. A lack of solid midfield anchor to replace the departing Xavi Alonso was a gap covered by every player in the team picking up the slack. None more so than Luka Modric, but when the Croatian suffered a hamstring injury in December, the balance of the side fell apart.
Whilst Florentino may be true to his word by saying on Monday that “I’ve never told a coach who to play,” the Real Madrid president has achieved the same ends by either hiring or firing members of the squad. Pellegrini was scuppered in 2009 by the late transfers of Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben whilst Florentino Pérez has brought in James Rodríguez and Gareth Bale. They are two fine players indeed, but not footballers particularly needed by Carlo Ancelotti in a team that had Isco and Toni Kroos routinely putting in shifts in front of the back four this season.
This is a pattern that has been repeated on numerous occasions over the two tenures that Florentino has been in charge at the club. Whatever name is announced next week, whether it be Sevilla’s Unai Emery, or Benitez, the manager will have to face the same problem as the previous nine managers. There is only one figure that is never wrong at the Santiago Bernabéu. And it certainly isn’t the coach.