Is Carlo Ancelotti the greatest manager of all time?

Published: June 8, 2014
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In his typically humble style, Ancelotti focused the praise and attention on his players after the match. Ancelotti has become the second manager, after Bob Paisley, to win the European Cup thrice as manager. PHOTO: AFP

Florentino Perez, Real Madrid fans and everybody connected to the club are breathing easy now. And why shouldn’t they? At long last, their tenth European title has been secured. The obsession for La Decima has been put to bed once and for all, after a dozen long years of hysteria.

Real Madrid’s captain Iker Casillas and team celebrate with the trophy after defeating Atletico Madrid in their Champions League final. Photo: Reuters

In 2002, Real Madrid marked their centenary year with their ninth European triumph. In the rain in Glasgow, Zinedine Zidane’s unforgettable volley sealed a 2-1 win over Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen. Soon after the game, Perez – who was in his first term as club president back then – announced that Los Blancos will win “La Decima and La UnDecima”. But little was Perez to know that even for a club as big as Real Madrid, it was not going to be that straightforward.

The ensuing years can be described as a fixation with Europe’s top prize by a club never short of ambition. Scores of managerial changes followed. The Bernabeu witnessed millions spent on the likes of David BeckhamKaka, Benzema, Ronaldo (Brazil), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and then finally Gareth Bale. Yet, between 2003 and 2006, not a single trophy was won. Worse, the team failed to reach even the quarter finals of the Champions League between 2004 and 2010.

In truth, Perez himself was to be blamed. The sacking of Vicente Del Bosque in 2003, despite the latter winning two league titles in addition to two European titles in four seasons, was most definitely one of the worst decisions made in the history of the club.

Fromer Real Madrid manager, Vicente Del Bosque (L) and Jose Mourinho (R).

Real’s swagger never quite recovered until Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2010. Yet, even the self-proclaimed ‘special one’ could not deliver what was craved most. Three consecutive semi-finals were as far as he got.

Intentionally or not, Perez – having been reinstated as president in 2009 – has rectified his blunder through a different appointment. Last year, after parting ways with the Portuguese, the 67-year-old made it his number one priority to hire Carlo Ancelotti as the new manager. Even hurdles created by Ancelotti’s then employers Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) did not deter Perez from his aim. Eventually, he got his man.

The Italian showed why he was so coveted by Perez after winning the Champions League final against local rivals Atletico Madrid 4-1 after extra time in Lisbon.

Real Madrid’s manager Carlo Ancelotti. Photo: Reuters

Ancelotti has – much like Del Bosque – proved to have the perfect temperament to ensure success in this pressure-cooker club. His remarkable calmness eases pressure off the players and exudes confidence among his troops. His non-confrontational approach is in stark contrast to his predecessor.

While a successful midfielder in his playing days, it is his success in the dugout, however, that makes a case for him to now be regarded as one of the managerial all-time greats.

After relative success with AC Reggiana and Parma FC, and a harsh sacking at Juventus, it was his stint at AC Milan that is most fondly remembered in Italy. Under his management, the Rossoneri won the Champions League twice, in addition to a league and cup title apiece. The FIFA Club World Cup was also secured in 2007.

Even the shocking loss to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final did not deter Ancelotti and, two years later, he ensured that his side would be the victorious ones in a repeat fixture of the final.

It was Ancelotti who converted Andrea Pirlo from an attacking midfielder into his now famous deep-lying playmaker role. It was Ancelotti, again, who became AC Milan’s longest serving manager over a single time-span (almost eight years); a truly astonishing feat in a country infamous for its frequency and swiftness of managerial sackings.

Andrea Pirlo. Photo: Reuters

Having taken the San Siro giants as far as he could, Ancelotti’s next destination was England in 2009. In his first season, Chelsea won the league after scoring an astonishing 103 goals – a premier league record for one season. The FA Cup was also duly secured. The following season, the antics of owner Roman Abramovich with the sudden sacking of assistant manager Ray Wilkins mid-way through the season derailed Ancelotti’s hopes of defending the league title. Another harsh firing ensued.

Success, however, followed Ancelotti like a magnet wherever he went. An impressive man-manager, Ancelotti – or Carletto as he is nicknamed – converted the potential of the expensively assembled PSG players at his new club into winning talent. The league title in France was claimed in 2013 as the oil-financed club finally got a return on its investments. The egos of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic were masterfully man-managed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Photo: Reuters

When Ancelotti departed, Ibrahimovic said,

“He is the only coach I have had who has such an excellent rapport with his players.”

It is in this recently concluded 2013-14 season though that Ancelotti’s achievements have surely cemented his place into the elite category of all-time great managers.

Right from the word ‘go’, Ancelotti hit the right notes in the Spanish capital. At first, the club’s decision to sell Mesut Ozil to Arsenal to raise funds for the signature of Gareth Bale seemed ludicrous. Ozil’s chemistry in tandem with Ronaldo was working harmoniously.

But Ancelotti’s tactical acumen ensured that world-record transfer signing Bale would fit in seamlessly with his plans. Out went Mourinho’s predictable counter-attack approach and in came his successor’s 4-3-3 formation. Croatian midfield maestro, Luka Modric, previously sidelined by Mourinho, became a central point in the middle of the park. The attacking trio of Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo clicked into gear soon and became, arguably, Europe’s most potent attacking force.

Real Madrid’s attacking force. Gareth Bale (L), Cristiano Ronaldo (C) and Karim Benzema.

Perhaps most impressively, Angel Di Maria was converted into a deeper winger without the sacrifice of his attacking instincts. A solid central defence partnership of Pepe and Sergio Ramos meant that the perfect balance had been reached.

Real Madrid players under Ancelotti. From left to right: Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric, Pepe, Sergio Ramos

This might have been the culmination of a 12-year wait but the legacy of this triumph must centre on Ancelotti as much – if not more than – the players and Perez.

In his typically humble style, Ancelotti focused the praise and attention on his players after the match. Ancelotti has become the second manager, after Bob Paisley, to win the European Cup thrice as manager.

In 2003, Ancelotti showed Juventus why they were wrong in sacking him two years ago, by defeating them in an all-Italian Champions League final. This year, he has proved his point again; this time to Abramovich.

Great managers always have the last laugh.

Rumman Islam

Rumman Islam

The author is a senior, majoring in Social Sciences at Szabist. He previously studied at KGS and Southshore. In his spare time, he likes watching, playing and writing about football. When he's not doing football related things, he likes to catch up on his reading, especially history.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad

    Sorry but Brian Clough is considered the best manager of all time. Winning trophies makes a good manager, but a great manager makes a great clubRecommend

  • Kalam wala

    Who is Carlo? Why do we need to worry about him? Is he with MQM? PTI…?

    Is he doing dharnas? Is he related to Nawaz? Shabaz’s business partner?Recommend

  • Jahangir

    I agree with Saad, but by that logic there is NO match for Sir Alex Ferguson anywhere in the world. Brian Clough was a good manager, maybe a legend. But as I said, SAF is in a league of his own.
    Maybe he didn’t win enough European cups but then who decides how much is enough, winning it twice is not bad at all. And one Cup Winner’s cup.Recommend

  • Raza Malik

    Well written :-)Recommend

  • sisyphus

    @ kalam wala, it’s a sports blog dude. Why would it be about MQM or PTI. Good blog. Looking forward to World Cup analysis from you, Rumman.Recommend

  • Ali

    3 league titles since August 1995 and he’s being considered as the greatest ever? Have you lost it?Recommend

  • Muqtadar Quraishi

    Enjoyed this article. Objective analysis. Recommend