Carlo Ancelotti celebrated his 58th birthday in June. Barely had he finished blowing out the candles than he was looking at the fixture list for his 23rd year as a manager and wondering at what point he might come across an opponent who is not young enough to be his son.
As Ancelotti’s Bayern begin their defence of the Bundesliga title, Ancelotti surveys a managerial landscape where experience seems to be a commodity of diminishing value.
No doubt stimulated by what Julian Nagelsmann, the 30-year-old in charge at Hoffenheim, achieved last season guiding his provincial club into fourth place, a host of German clubs are placing collective faith in youth when it comes to their managers .
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The most striking appointment of the summer is that of Domenico Tedesco, 31, at Schalke, a club as grand in scale as Hoffenheim are small. Tedesco, who has less than half of season under his belt as a senior manager - his brief spell in charge at second-tier Erzgebirge Aue from March until June – is one of six managers now on Bundesliga benches who are under 40.
Time was that Ancelotti was making his immense reputation through an ability to coax the best out of footballers of that sort of age, men like Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta at an AC Milan full of veterans and guided to a pair of Uefa Champions League titles by the sage Ancelotti.
The Italian would add another European Cup to his managerial CV at Real Madrid, and his clinching of the German league in his first season gave his record a striking, dazzling completeness. Ancelotti has won Serie A, the Bundesliga, the Premier League – with Chelsea – and France’s Ligue 1, which he conquered at Paris Saint-Germain.
With a stash of trophies like that, Ancelotti can turn a dismissive, selective ear to the sounds of dissatisfaction that were audible at times last season about the style of Bayern’s football, and later, about another Champions League campaign that did not finish with an appearance in the final.
Bayern suffered some bad luck with marginal refereeing decisions when they were eliminated by Real Madrid, but it was the fourth successive season they have not made the podium in that tournament. That hurts their executives.
As for the domestic sphere, Ancelotti, appointed in 2016, knows that a sixth successive title for Bayern is an expectation, almost an assumption. The novice and greenhorn managers lining up against him in the Bundesliga are jousting for as high a finish as they can between 2nd and 15th spot in the table. But Ancelotti must sense he is under pressure to show that his methods, so successful over two decades, are not becoming superannuated.
Last season, Bayern’s main chasers were the newly promoted RB Leipzig, determined and energetic and, in the autumn months, a contrast to a Bayern perceived to have lost some of the press and vigour of their football under previous manager Pep Guardiola. Bayern then reacted well to push clear of Leipzig.
Yet Ancelotti knows he needs to refresh his serial champions again. He has lost key allies. Philipp Lahm, the long-serving captain, and Xabi Alonso, who worked with Ancelotti in Madrid and in Bavaria, have retired.
Lahm’s stepping down should be an opportunity for the impressive young Joshua Kimmich to make the right back position, or perhaps a midfield role, his own for his club and for the German national team, while in central midfield, where Arturo Vidal gives Bayern their snap and Thiago their silk, the new signing Corentin Tolisso, has an obligation to justify a transfer fee, to Lyon, that could rise to nearly €50 million (Dh214.9m).
Ancelotti must make Tolisso feel at home rather better than he did Renato Sanches, the young, costly Portuguese who made little impression last season.
Then there’s James Rodriguez, richly gifted but an awkward footballer for both of Real Madrid’s most recent managers, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane to deal with. Rodriguez has landed in Munich on loan, hoping Ancelotti’s subtle promptings will make him great again.
“I think we have the spirit to win the title once more,” Ancelotti said. “I expect Borussia Dortmund to challenge most strongly and it will be interesting to see how Leipzig cope with a stressful season in the Champions League.”
It may be that, in that competition, Ancelotti needs another gold medal if Bayern are to invite him to stay with them into his 60th year.
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