By Graham Ruthven
In an age of Spanish dominance on the international stage, Real Madrid have often rejected the premise of ‘tiki-taka.’
While the ethos is now thought to best represent Spain to the rest of world football it has yet to infiltrate the Santiago Bernabeu, but that could be about to change under Carlo Ancelotti.
In fact, if the €32.2 million signing of midfielder Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad is an indication of his intentions at the club, then he could be set to commit footballing sacrilege by copying their closest rivals, Barcelona.
With Ancelotti in charge, Madrid are expected to adopt a very different form when the new season starts next month. Their identity will be younger, more dynamic, more Spanish and more Barca.
In line with this new mantra, los Blancos have completed a deal for Sociedad's Asier Illarramendi, after he impressed for Spain at the Under-21 European Championship this summer.
The comparisons with fellow Real youth product Xabi Alonso are plentiful, but in truth Alonso was always the exception in Mourinho’s fast and furious system.
It’s what has afforded Alonso the interchangeability to switch between the capital club and the largely Barcelona dictated Spain national team.
But if Ancelotti is to field both Alonso and Illarramendi in the same side, the latter would most likely take on the role fulfilled by Sergio Busquets at Barca. Just like the Camp Nou lynchpin, Illarramendi’s strength lies in recycling possession, operating in the space between the backline and the more advanced midfield diamond.
His positional awareness and efficiency in between the lines will provide Ancelotti with the central platform he needs to facilitate his more attacking threats higher up the pitch.
And if Madrid are looking for their own Busquets, then in Illarramendi they have already found their Andres Iniesta by parting with €27m for Malaga playmaker Isco.
At Chelsea, Ancelotti provided an insight into his own footballing principles, commenting: “Our system is a little different, we keep possession and play attacking football. Our aim is to keep control of the game with possession of the ball.”
As an accomplished tactician as both a player and a coach, he even published a thesis as a young student in Italy, titled: “Il futuro del calico. Piu dinamictica” – The future of football. More dynamism.
If Ancelotti is to pursue a formula of dynamism he will find no better example than the one set at Camp Nou over the past five years or so. The target for the Italian coach is to draw los Blancos closer to Barca in terms of style and identity, even if he cannot call on a La Masia-style set-up to help him do it.
Of course, Real Madrid’s youth academy remains one of Europe’s most productive, by the measure of graduates now in the professional game, but if the club's system produces for the mass market, Barcelona’s does so for the high-end spectrum.
There are no reserves of exceptional, technically accomplished rookies waiting to be given their big chance for Ancelotti to call upon, but Madrid's activity in the transfer market thus far suggests they may be following the model traditionally set by their closest rivals.
Some suggest the Barcelona blueprint is fraying and that La Masia is struggling to keep the conveyor belt of talent flowing into the first team. While Barca have already splurged €57m on the signing of Brazilian poster boy Neymar, and continue to be linked with big names such as Thiago Silva and Fernando Torres, Madrid have implemented a more prudent strategy in the transfer market. The roles have been reversed.
Ancelotti and Perez have already set about dismantling the style of play and squad dynamic established under Mourinho, with Blancos youth graduate Dani Carvajal returning from Bayer Leverkusen, alongside the youthful arrivals of Carlos Casemiro and Isco.
The Portuguese coach turned them into an unpredictable and explosive outfit in his three years in the Spanish capital, giving his side an identity that somewhat matched his persona, but if the Italian has it his way, then it will be a forward thinking modern system on display at the Bernabeu next term.
Mourinho was brought in as the man to topple Barca, but Ancelotti could be the one to beat them at their own game.