Carlo Ancelotti is back at Real Madrid after six years away. Since then, the Italian has coached in Germany, Italy and England, leading Bayern Munich, Napoli and Everton to varying degrees of success. Well known to have loved his time in the Spanish capital, he’s back to prove he still has what it takes to coach the elite of the elite and lead Madrid following the departure of his old student, Zinedine Zidane.
Zidane, who won three Champions League titles across two spells at Madrid, grew tired of the behind-the-scenes drama at the Santiago Bernabeu and felt undermined by the powers-that-be. Ancelotti, when quizzed about the open letter Zidane wrote at the beginning of this week, was nonplussed. He’s been in football for 40 years, he said. He’s seen it all. Nobody in the game, it’s widely accepted, is as skilled at managing upwards, of dealing with boards and presidents, as Ancelotti.
This part of his persona is carried into his work on the pitch. It’s widely thought his greatest ability doesn’t lie on the training ground or on the tactics board but in the ears of his football players, with Ancelotti deemed the expert horse-whisperer if not a great deal beyond that. He’s not Pep Guardiola or Thomas Tuchel, obsessed geniuses. Nor is he Antonio Conte or Jose Mourinho, polemic competitors. Ancelotti is a bon vivant, but one whose easy smile disguises a ruthless, hard-edged side. Evertonians know that.
Ancelotti took over at Goodison Park mid-way through the 2019/20 campaign from Marco Silva, a Portuguese who was 18 months into a mediocre spell. He oversaw an initial improvement at Everton and recruited well in the summer, bringing in Allan, who he coached at Napoli, and James Rodriguez, who he coached at Madrid. He spoke of his love for the city and the club, and his commitment to a long-term project engineered to return Everton to the elite of the elite. He couldn’t turn down Madrid’s siren call however, and left Merseyside after recording uninspiring 12th and 10th-placed finishes.
He enjoyed a little more success during his first spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, however. Ancelotti won the Copa del Rey, the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup, but his crowning glory came in the Champions League, that competition Madrid fetishise above all else. He led a team that played stunning football to La Decima, the oh-so-elusive tenth European Cup in Madrid’s history. For that, his place in the club’s history is secured. Now, his ambition is to add La Liga to a considerable trophy cabinet and ensure his reign lasts more than the two years he managed before being sacked between 2013 and 2015.