A dip in form has storm clouds forming over the Bernabeu but letting Carlo Ancelotti walk away would be a huge mistake
For madridistas, there are certainties in life. The sun will rise, the seasons will turn, and Real Madrid will win handsomely. Unlike their Catalan rivals, their ideal is not represented in a specific style on the pitch but instead is cast in the silver of the European Cup. That shining symbol of football represents what Los Merengues always aspire to: dominance.
This season, things are a bit different. With El Clásico looming on Sunday, the pomp of three World Cup stars arriving at Real Madrid and the club”s record-breaking winning streak have long since been forgotten. The see-saw of La Liga has shifted in Barcelona’s favor, their deadly attacking trident hitting form as injuries and poor results have clouded the Bernabeu”s skies. As ever with Real Madrid, a few poor results are the beginning of an existential crisis, and the whistles in the stadium carry whispers of Carlo Ancelotti’s ouster. The dreaded vote of confidence from the club president never makes any manager feel truly comfortable, but both club president Florentino Perez and Ancelotti need to buckle down and weather the storm.
Five years ago, Perez brought the Champions League”s self-styled expert, José Mourinho to Madrid in search of a record-breaking 10th title. Perez did not get what he wanted. Over three seasons, the club collected trophies at a rate slower than Mourinho created controversies. After falling out with Perez, half the dressing room, and half the Bernabeu, Mourinho left to return to Chelsea.
Given his history with the Champions League, it’s no surprise Perez wooed Carlo Ancelotti from Paris Saint-Germain. Ancelotti won the trophy four times with AC Milan (twice as a player, twice as a manager) and in his first season brought home the madridistas’ dream, La Decima. Along with three other trophies last season, Ancelotti brought the intangible qualities of his own personality. The soft-spoken Italian does his job with a minimum of public fuss, calmly conducting press conferences and navigating tabloid pages. Three seasons of discord and uneven success were followed by what passes for harmony around the Bernabeu, their new manager bringing unity to a team often accused of unproductive individualism. The fans were treated to a re-configured team that played with an infectious bravado, a squad of powerful athletes performing the deft tunes of their maestro. The season was capped by the squad surrounding Ancelotti in his post-game press conference room, serenading him with praise.
Arrigo Sacchi’s famous quote, “I never realized that to be a jockey you had to best online casino be a horse first” has proven true—but in the case of Real Madrid, Ancelotti’s resume on the field is just as crucial as off of it. When faced with the reality of life under Perez, the instant respect a former player of Ancelotti’s ability can command from the rotating cast of highly-paid elite footballers is extremely valuable. That kind of credibility means that there is no time wasted proving to the players they should listen when a manager gives tactics, training regimes, even bits of life advice. It helps that instead of being wed to a specific system, Ancelotti designs his formation to amplify the strengths of his best players, a fluid 4-4-2/4-3-3 that at its best is rapier-like, leaving the opposition full of holes.
It’s true that the standards of the Real Madrid faithful are the highest in the game—players and managers alike know the mixed blessing they accept with the white shirt and crowned crest. Sometimes the level of expectation borders on the laughable, and of all the virtues the club likes to associate itself with, patience is not traditionally one of them. However, in the unlikely event that Florentino Perez can stay the course, the combination of a steady hand, tactical acumen, and credibility in the game means Ancelotti could build a side that would give the madridistas what they really crave: lasting dominance.