Following the Italian’s appointment at Madrid, Aditya Bajaj examines the challenges ahead for the two time Champions League winner.
So what we already knew was going to happen is finally official. Carlo Ancelotti will be on the bench at the Bernabeu after all come next season.
When Ancelotti publicly announced his ‘Madrid dream’ in May, in his mind he had already sealed the deal. For a short period of time, Jupp Heynckes’ name forced us all to do a re-think on the whole scenario, but once the treble winning German stepped aside from football it was only a matter of ‘when’ for the Italian.
Why it took so long, perhaps is best explained by Paris St. Germain’s official communication regarding Laurent Blanc’s appointment as the successor of the former Milan and Chelsea manager around the same time. All parties involved obviously looked for the best possible solution and finding Ancelotti’s replacement before allowing him to leave was the key.
Looking ahead, however, it will be interesting to see how the 54-year old handles the challenges that lie ahead with lots to be fixed following Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous last season at the club.
On-field their quest for the record tenth European crown proved to be fruitless, but it’s the off-field issues that need more attention in the coming days preceding the start of the season in a couple of months’ time. The dressing room is broken, the club captain went from being an icon to ‘persona non grata’ in the space of months and their best player by quite some distance is still wondering if he should opt to stay at the club or ply his trade abroad.
Managing huge egos in the dressing room shouldn’t be a problem for the manager who in the past 14 years has been at the helm of some of the biggest clubs in Europe having coached Juventus, Milan, Chelsea and the nouve riche of France – PSG. Despite his odd altercation with the media at times, there’s no doubting the fact that he’s always been a player’s manager - his former players will certainly vouch for that – and that’s exactly what Madrid need right now. Also, the fact that he was a big player himself during his time definitely has helped him handle the dressing room better as a manager.
What a manager does off the field decides the outcome on it, regardless of his superb tactical acumen and record and that’s where Mourinho failed and badly. He had a squad that could have easily won everything on offer – at least post his first season in Spain – but his mad policy of ‘divide and rule’ obviously dampened the mood and crushed the morale of a team looking to claim their first European trophy since 2002. Never mind the fact then, that he had Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored more than a century of goals over the past two seasons.
It’s simple – you divide them off the field, they will crush your dreams on it. Fixing that, is what Ancelotti will have to pay special attention to and his job will only get tougher once Casillas returns home from the Confederations Cup.
Will he, or won’t he – is the million dollar question here.
Looking at the rapport he has shared with the veterans over the years, chances are that the Spanish captain will be re-instated as a starter, but then there’s Diego Lopez who like it or not, definitely has a case to retain his position that was handed over to him by Mourinho. Maybe, going with Casillas as the no. 1 for next season might indeed prove to be first step to thaw the ice that had frozen by his ouster in the first place. If that’s the case, will he sell Lopez or keep him in the wings to compete with the 2010 world champion and have another shot between the posts will be interesting to see.
Casillas in any case is too expensive and big to be made to sit on the bench and is virtually unsellable because the only big club that really needs a goalkeeper at the moment is Barcelona and the possibility of that happening sounds audacious even hypothetically. Besides, Ancelotti has always valued experienced players in his squad.
|Re-instating Casillas as a starter and convincing Ronaldo to stay should be at the top of the list|
The most important challenge however, is to hold on to Cristiano Ronaldo who is yet to put pen to a contract extension that expires in 2015.
Ancelotti’s reputation of being good with his players – especially the big ones – has certainly put Madrid in a better position than they were last month as far as Ronaldo’s case is concerned. That is another major challenge that the two time European champion will look to sort out as soon possible so the club could concentrate on strengthening ahead of a crucial campaign.
Gareth Bale has been touted as the replacement incase the Portuguese leaves, but the Welsh international cannot be trusted to immediately fill the void as there is no guarantee that he will slot in seamlessly.
As far as ‘La Decima’ is concerned, the Los Blancos couldn’t have hoped for a better manager than him as his record speaks for itself. The Italian’s teams over the years have always looked more comfortable at the continental stage than in the league and his recent stint with PSG more than backs the argument.
Patience, however is the key again.
Obsession in excess over that record tenth European championship like last season would only prove to be counter-productive and both the club and the players need to understand that with time it will come. Bayern Munich have achieved what they last did more than a decade ago, and there were far too many hiccups and heartbreaks before they completed the treble in May and there’s much to learn from their success.
Unlike last season performing well in the league is equally important as it builds the confidence week in week out, and its year zero once for the zillionth time for the Madristas who are desperate to shed off the negative image the Mourinho-era has rendered on them. They now have a coach who has a proven track record over the past decade and is a born pacifier.Success will come, but it’s the challenges off the field that Ancelotti needs to take care of if he’s to really take the club forward and it all starts with fixing the dressing room.
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