We probably shouldn’t have been completely shocked that Zinedine Zidane stepped down as manager of Real Madrid. His replacement, however, caught a lot of people off guard, even if Carlo Ancelotti is not exactly a stranger to the Spanish capital.
Ancelotti, for anyone who only knows him for his work over the past few seasons with Napoli (’18-19) and Everton (’19-21), has won the Champions League three times as a manager – twice with AC Milan and once with none other than Real Madrid. At 61, he previously managed Juventus, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern Munich. So there’s certainly no denying his experience with Europe’s biggest clubs.
We’ll get to the questions I have about Ancelotti and how we should expect him to fare with Real Madrid, but let’s first look at the alternatives Los Blancos had available.
Who were Real Madrid’s options?
Following Zidane’s exit, one of the most popular guesses among those trying to figure out who would replace the Frenchman was Raul. The former Real Madrid star has a relatively similar level of experience to what Zidane boasted back at the time of his first hire in January of ’16. Raul, who enjoyed a long, legendary career with the club before leaving the side in ’10, is currently the manager of Real Madrid Castilla. Few would deny that it’s a matter of when, not if, he takes over as manager of the first team — not unlike the situation with Xavi and Barcelona.
The likelihood that Raul would take over seemingly grew when Massimiliano Allegri returned to Juventus to replace Andrea Pirlo. While Antonio Conte (who is 100% available!) and Mauricio Pochettino headlined the wish lists for many Madridistas, it seemed more likely that Raul would get the call.
Instead, Real Madrid somehow went both outside the box and played it safe, turning to Ancelotti. The Italian (obviously) brings undeniable credibility, but does not appear to be in his prime. While he’s won plenty of games since then, nothing in the last seven years has topped his Champions League-winning season with RM in ’13-14.
Why not Antonio Conte?
Pochettino’s appeal makes all the sense in the world, but may or may not be available. We’d need a separate piece to get into the Argentine’s immediate future.
Antonio Conte, on the other hand, is proven, in his prime and – perhaps most importantly – available. His work with Inter Milan the last two years was extremely impressive, given how long Juventus has dominated that league. While it might concern some that he left the club after it won Serie A, Conte deserves no blame there. Let’s just call Conte’s departure — though escape might be more accurate — understandable, given owner Suning’s financial troubles.
Though Inter’s performances in the Champions League the last two years were nothing short of disastrous (and still defy explanation), his work in Serie A tells me his next club will not regret hiring him.
I can’t definitively explain Real Madrid’s apparent lack of interest in Conte, but perhaps it’s because RM President Florentino Perez has no interest in such a strong, outspoken personality, especially given all the obstacles this club faces in the years to come. For what it’s worth, Conte strikes me as a manager who would be worth the potential trouble – and if nothing else, how entertaining would that be??
Ancelotti inherits a hell of a situation
Real Madrid’s new manager definitely will enjoy having Karim Benzema, who just turned in another incredible season despite a lack of support up top. But below are a few of the difficult questions he’ll have to answer this summer:
• Can he count on Eden Hazard?
• Will he have Sergio Ramos and/or Raphael Varane at center back? Speculation that both players will pursue new homes this summer has swirled for months.
• How will he manage the midfield, where Luka Modric and Toni Kroos continue to defy their age? Surely, he’ll phase them out to make way for younger options soon, right? (Emphasis on “right?”).
• What will he do with loanees Martin Odegaard, Sergio Reguilon and Brahim Diaz, among others? Zidane ended up lacking for options at times this season due to his preference of more veteran players.
• What the hell happens with Gareth Bale?? (Unless Ancelotti already has that figured out)
Putting a lot of the Bale noise to rest.
“He’s coming back. I know him well.” Also spoke about his success with Tottenham this season
— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) June 2, 2021
The grade: B-
If nothing else, Real Madrid has brought in an experienced manager who’s seen it all. That will prove useful ahead of what could be a wild summer and ’21-22 season. That makes it hard to rip this hire. But it doesn’t feel like a home run, either. The three-year contract also has me scratching my head, but the duration of such deals rarely guarantees anything.