Real’s Ancelotti raises eyebrows as a born winner
New Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti can be both shy and charming, twitchy yet composed, but one certainty is his continued ability to win top trophies with different clubs.
The 54-year-old has left the easy riches of Paris St Germain for the Bernabeu because he loves new challenges and Real hope he can gather silverware as quickly as he did at Chelsea, winning a league and cup double in his first season in 2010.
But it was his achievements in his native Italy which have really persuaded Real to cough up and take him from French champions PSG, his famous twitching left eyebrow and all.
A 10th European Cup remains the holy grail for Real president Florentino Perez and Ancelotti’s two Champions League titles with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007 mark him out as special.
The way in which his ageing Milan side recovered from losing the 2005 final to Liverpool having been 3-0 up at halftime to beat the same opponents in 2007 underlines his managerial nous, which he will need in bucketloads in such a demanding job.
Jose Mourinho left Real to rejoin Chelsea after a season of disappointment in the Spanish capital, piling the pressure on Ancelotti straight away to win trophies.
The task will not faze him despite at times seeming ill-at-ease with the media spotlight. He often mumbles in news conferences and the new demands of learning Spanish after mastering English and French relatively recently could hinder him.
At other times, though, the former top class Italy midfielder can appear as the life and soul of the party, cracking jokes while brandishing the cheekiest of smiles.
“People imagine tearjerking speeches made to the team in decisive moments and in effect, there were tears, but only because we couldn’t stop laughing,” Paolo Maldini wrote in the preface to Ancelotti’s autobiography.
Whether the ultra serious Ancelotti or friendly “Carletto” will be seen in his early months in Madrid depends upon the will of Spanish media.
However, he will expect a period of grace after guiding PSG to the third league title of his managerial career and third in a different country in May.
He had big money to spend at PSG and should have a decent-sized budget at the Bernabeu, but one of Ancelotti’s biggest strengths is knowing when not to tinker with a winning formula.
Despite the heartache of the 2005 Champions League final, Ancelotti made only minor changes to his Milan side and seven of the team that started in Istanbul lifted the trophy in Athens.
At Chelsea, he understood that previous interim manager Guus Hiddink had been popular and successful in winning the 2009 FA Cup so he only made minimal changes, relying on the old guard of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry to succeed.
The continuity paid dividends as they retained the cup and won the Premier League with 103 goals scored.
It could be argued though that loyalty to his players has had negative not just positive effects.
Milan bounced back to European glory but domestically they struggled during the second half of his eight-year reign, failing to come close to adding to a sole Serie A title in 2004 as age and lack of tactical dynamism restricted them.
He was sacked at Chelsea following a trophyless second season where he initially failed to build on the success of the first campaign, eventually bringing in Fernando Torres and David Luiz for big money in January but it was too late.
Torres did not settle well and David Luiz was error-prone while his existing charges looked a little stale. Despite the lack of trophies, it was still a surprise when Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich showed him the door.
It was an even bigger surprise in Ancelotti’s next job that he did not win the French title in his first season at PSG.
He replaced Antoine Kombouare in December 2011 with the mega-rich side top of Ligue 1 but they ended up second to unheralded Montpellier before triumphing this term and making the Champions League last eight.
Ancelotti never looked totally comfortable at the Parc des Princes, with expectations so high in a relatively modest league he previously knew little about, and Real fans will hope he settles better in Madrid having asked to leave France.
Following a big persona like Mourinho also has its pitfalls.
After a promising start to his coaching career at Reggiana and Parma, his only notable flop was at Juventus where he failed to win a major trophy between 1999 and 2001 after replacing Juve hero Marcello Lippi and failing to stamp his authority.
Juve brought Lippi back after Ancelotti’s exit and although there is no danger of Real doing that with Mourinho, Perez has proved he will not stand for second best.