Clash of the 1,000 club as Claudio Ranieri's Roma take on Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli

The two managerial veterans meet on Sunday with plenty at stake despite the dominance of Juventus in Serie A

FERRARA, ITALY - MARCH 16:  Claudio Ranieri head coach of AS Roma looks on prior the beginning of  the Serie A match between SPAL and AS Roma at Stadio Paolo Mazza on March 16, 2019 in Ferrara, Italy. (Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Powered by automated translation

Every visit by Carlo Ancelotti to Rome carries some emotional baggage, although there have been so many trips since he won the hearts of romanisti as a player he takes them in his stride. He is not the sort to lose clarity because of nostalgia. Cool Carletto is not made that way.

Still, Sunday’s fixture at Roma, the club where Napoli manager Ancelotti properly launched his career as an elite footballer, feels like a special occasion.

It is over a decade since he last sat in the away team’s dugout in a fixture against Roma. That was when he was still coaching AC Milan, and about to embark on his grand tour picking up major titles for clubs in all the other major leagues of Europe.

There is no manager at work in the elite tier of club football with a medal collection like Ancelotti’s, three times a Champions League winner, architect of championships in the Premier League, Ligue 1, the Bundesliga and Serie A.

These days, there are not too many left with the mammoth body of work he boasts, either. With Arsene Wenger stood aside, Jupp Heynckes retired, and Louis Van Gaal announcing he would no longer be open to offers, it has been year of farewells to the wise grandees of management.

Which is why Sunday’s showdown at the Olimpico stands out. Ancelotti’s opponent will be Claudio Ranieri, a fellow member of the 1,000-plus club (that’s over 1,000 matches as a coach), and a sharer of many other distinctions.

Ranieri has, like Ancelotti, managed in Spain, in France, at Chelsea, at Juventus, at Parma and indeed at Napoli.

Like Ancelotti, he played for Roma, though not with quite the flair Carletto brought to his creative midfield role, the sort of dynamism Ranieri, a tough defender, experienced at first hand as an opponent on the pitch all of 40 years ago.

So they know a little about one another, and about how to bear the pressures of demanding supporters in unforgiving leagues. That was why, last month, Roma invited Ranieri to replace Eusebio di Francesco, and regarded the so-called Tinkerman’s latest adventure in English football -  where he joined and left Fulham in the Premier League relegation zone after just 16 games there - as irrelevant to his prospects of stabilising Roma.

Ranieri, born in Rome, knows the the club, having coached Roma just under a decade ago, when he took them to within two points of the scudetto, one of the more memorable of Ranieri’s many near-misses.

epa07437529 Napoli's head coach Carlo Ancelotti during the UEFA Europa League round of 16, second leg soccer match between FC Salzburg and SSC Napoli in Salzburg, Austria, 14 March 2019.  EPA/ANDREAS SCHAAD
Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti. EPA

He had a runners-up spot with Chelsea, too, in 2003-04, and was in charge of Juventus for the most of the 2008-09 season when they finished second. He also won a Ligue 1 silver medal with Monaco.

All those are recommendations, but none to compare with the extraordinary event of Ranieri’s long career: the against-all-odds Premier League title with Leicester City in 2016.

“That gives him his place in history forever,” Ancelotti remarked ahead of Sunday’s reunion, acknowledging that making Leicester champions carries a wow-factor that guiding Real Madrid or AC Milan to the Uefa Champions League, or leading Chelsea, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich to domestic titles does not quite match.

“I have great respect for him,” says Ancelotti, “and we get on well.”

Over the years, that respect has grown through their duels. Ancelotti, the serial collector of titles, has never conquered Ranieri the pragmatic collector of silver-medals, in direct contests.

They have jousted six times, dating way back to the mid-1990s when Ranieri was at Fiorentina and Ancelotti at Parma to when, in the first decade of the 2000s, they were on either side of Juventus-Milan collisions. Ranieri has won three and drawn three.

At stake this weekend, that record and the matter of how well each of their clubs can finish in the bunch behind champions-elect Juventus, who are 15 points clear of Ancelotti’s second-placed Napoli in a Serie A table whose summit seems permanently striped in Juve’s black and white.

Ancelotti knew, when he returned to Serie A after nine years away, that no amount of managerial wisdom would make it easy for Napoli to alter that, but he does mean to maintain the southern club’s status as the best-of-the-rest in the division.

Ranieri, who had been away from Italian football for almost seven years until last month, has a clear caretaker’s assignment. In the 10 games left, he is required to push Roma up from fifth to at least fourth.

There is currently a four-point gap. Make that up, give Roma a spot in next season’s Champions League, and Ranieri might be in his native city for the longer term.