Carlo Ancelotti, believer of ‘I prefer cups’ ideology, is walking the talk
In Italy, the reputation of Carlo Ancelotti as the perpetual runner-up has still not entirely faded.
It was a label that stuck to him in his early days in club coaching when he overachieved by guiding Parma to second in Serie A and then disappointed his bosses at Juventus by falling one place short of a scudetto there.
His long spell at AC Milan would yield a league title, but just the one in seven seasons in charge.
Ancelotti never seemed hung up on the silver medals.
He made light of his setbacks in championships by calling his autobiography, I Prefer Cups, and when you have as many Uefa Champions League triumphs to your name as do Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Jupp Heynckes, you can afford to point out that margins between second and first, in the course of a league season, are often so slender that to talk about a jinx, or a fundamental shortcoming, is misguided.
He does have a marginally better record in knock-out games. Ancelotti has stepped up to many, many podiums after finals and tomorrow night has the chance to join an elite group: managers who have won the European Cup with two different clubs.
He would become the fifth.
Triumph in Lisbon and he would also become only the second coach to have accumulated three European Cups, after Bob Paisley of Liverpool during the 1970s and early 1980s.
But it is in the context of uplifter that Ancelotti should probably be most appreciated. Deliver Real Madrid’s 10th European Cup, and Ancelotti, appointed 10 months ago, will scratch at a 12-year itch 10 predecessors could not.
That sort of instant impact is a characteristic part of his resume. He won Paris Saint-Germain’s first league title for nine years last season. He won the Premier League in his debut campaign at Chelsea, 2009/10, a task beyond his four immediate predecessors there.
All that makes Ancelotti pre-eminent in his profession. He will also have noted that, even at 54, he has become the doyen of his metier.
With Ferguson and Heynckes no longer at the sharp end, and the likes of Vicente Del Bosque and Marcello Lippi working outside European club football, his strategic battles at the sharp end of the Uefa Champions League tend mostly to be jousts against younger minds.
Trumping the garlanded young Guardiola’s Bayern in the semi-final was a feather in Real’s cap, as was the undoing of youngish Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund in the quarters.
With his calm demeanour, Ancelotti will always strike a touchline contrast with the likes of the excitable Klopp.
Tomorrow, the more animated coach is likely to be Atletico’s Diego Simeone.
Simeone, 44, is management’s rising star – meteoric for the uplift he has given Madrid’s second club – and he has a closer identification with his current employers than Ancelotti can claim for himself with Real.
Like Ancelotti at Milan, Simeone is coaching a club for whom he earned great popularity as a player.
That entitles him to act as cheerleader to fans when he wants more noise, to command supporters to attend away matches, as he did in the run-in to the Spanish league title.
In the dressing room, Simeone preaches; Ancelotti’s posture tends to be more poised.
The Argentinian’s speech to his Atletico players after they won their first Liga for 18 years last weekend was captured on film.
He reminded them that “nobody has given you anything for free”, nourishing the underdog drive that has defined the team’s progress under “El Cholo”, as he is nicknamed.
Simeone plans his team talks carefully. In his early days in charge of Estudiantes, with whom he won an Argentinian title, he once gathered his players together, ahead of a local derby, against Gimnasia, and sat them down in front of television.
He had put in the DVD machine a scene from the Oliver Stone film, Any Given Sunday, about a back-from-the-brink gridiron squad.
He pressed play at a point when the weather-beaten coach – played by Al Pacino – lyrically urges the players to unite, go the extra inch for one another, and “claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the difference”. Estudiantes beat Gimnasia 7-0.
Simeone outfoxed Ancelotti in a Madrid derby last October, when the Real coach was still new to the job and on the wrong end of a home defeat that ended a 14-year sequence of Atletico not beating Real in the league.
But the duels have taken on a different shape since: a league draw, and two comfortable wins by Real in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey, gained not just because “Carletto” prefers cups, but because of a stealthy, tactical shift by the manager.
Ancelotti put Angel di Maria deeper in midfield than his customary role, the better to serve the Real strikers with early passes. “That made us uncomfortable,” admitted Simeone.
The reinvention of Di Maria, who will line up in midfield tomorrow, is evidence of Ancelotti’s pragmatism and intuition.
The player had been unhappy to be moved from the forward line with the arrival of Gareth Bale. So the coach found a good, alternative use for him.
Ancelotti similarly returned a disgruntled Iker Casillas, the goalkeeper and captain, to the first team, at least for European matches.
He has also galvanised defender Pepe, who had turned unhappy under Mourinho, Ancelotti’s predecessor.
These success stories witness the man-management skills of Ancelotti, his tactical acumen. His seventh European Cup final – he won two as a player, two as a coach, and lost once in both guises – will not faze the Italian, though the force he confronts in Simeone’s musketeers is a formidable one.
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COACHES WITH MIDAS TOUCH
The coaches who have won European Cups with two different clubs who could have Carlo Ancelotti join their ranks tomorrow:
The former Austria international took Dutch club Feyenoord to their first and only European Cup in 1970 and, after coaching the Netherlands, among other teams, also delivered the trophy for Hamburg in 1983.
The German guided underdogs Borussia Dortmund to victory over defending champions Juventus in 1997 and then, as Bayern Munich’s head coach, oversaw victory on penalties in the 2001 final against Valencia. On the losing side with Bayern in 1999 when they lost 2-1 to Manchester United.
The Portuguese took unfancied Porto to the final in 2004, where they beat Monaco 3-0 and then coached Inter Milan to their first European Cup in more than 40 years. He has also been on the bench in six losing semi-finals, three with Real Madrid, three with Chelsea.
Led Real Madrid out of a 32-year drought, in 1998, to guide the Spanish giants to their seventh European Cup. The German, a European Cup finalist as a player with Borussia Monchengladbach in 1976, had three spells as Bayern Munich coach and won the 2013 Champions League in his last match as Bayern’s leader when they defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM