He’ll be ready.
This is a man who has always been ready for every challenge he faces. He has been waiting for this time and place. May 24th 2014, Lisbon.
Allow me to nail my colours to his mast right now. Carlo Ancelotti is a class act.
That’s my opinion. But more importantly, you will have to go out of your way to find someone in the game who says otherwise. Whether they worked with him at clubs in Italy, France or Spain. Or the press men who have interviewed him during the past 38 years of his professional career as both a player and manager.
They agree on one thing. Ancelotti is a man who commands respect. The bonus is that, despite that Herbert Lom like face, he also knows how to have a good laugh.
He has had to deal with some of the biggest egos in the modern game. But only one player drove him to the point of murder.
He says: “I’ve never had any problems with players, just the one time at Chelsea. One player didn’t show respect and I tried to kill him, but it wasn’t possible.
“The player is the property of the club, and sometimes you cannot do what you want.
“The success of a manager is down to his relationship with players. This doesn’t mean you say ‘yes, yes, yes’. There is discipline, there are rules, but you have to be a little elastic. Sometimes we were not elastic at Chelsea.”
Of course the most important relationship for each and every manager of Real Madrid is the one he has with the President and the men who really run the club. Men who grew up in an era of General Franco (Real Madrid was his club) and who would happily have the dictator back in control of Spain tomorrow. To call them ‘conservative’ would be an understatement.
The men who run Real Madrid are tough bastards. They are not afraid to create a civil war of their own at the Bernabéu.
The managers Real Madrid have been quick to sack are among the best managers to ever work in the game. The impatience so often displayed on the terraces is felt in the corridors of power.
People often credit Fabio Capello with winning the La Liga title for Real Madrid. True, they won it when he was manager. But the team won that title despite Capello, not because of him. They banged on the office door of the President when Capello had said publicly that David Beckham would not play for Real Madrid again.
The team used player power to ensure he did. They did not like how Capello set them up to play and they held a meeting in a restaurant to plan their course of action. The players had tipped off the press. TV cameras and photographers were outside that restaurant when the players arrived.
The outcome was a demand that they be allowed to play in the style they saw fit. And that Beckham be reinstated to the squad.
The Real Madrid players got their way. Not for the first time. Nor the last.
Fast forward a few years and the biggest mistake Jose Mourinho made at Real Madrid was to fall out with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. The trade union like leaders of the dressing room.
They too went to the President and demanded Mourinho be told he couldn’t speak to them in the manner they alleged he had. While they were in his office they also complained about tactics they said were too defensive. They were listened to with open ears. Another manager was about to be undermined.
Truth be told, Jose Mourinho was finished at Real Madrid from the day he walked across to the Barcelona bench and poked the late Tito Vilanova in the eye.
That was a step too far for a club that prides itself on how its employees behave in the public eye. Coupled with him personally insulting referees, his presence became an uncomfortable one for the club.
Mourinho said the players spent too much time in front of the mirror. And I feel sure they did. But, ultimately, it was a failure to progress beyond the semi-final stage of the Champions League that ensured it was once again time for a change of manager at Real Madrid.
At Chelsea, when his back was turned attending the beside of his dying father in Italy; Carlo Ancelotti took a telephone call from his assitant Ray Wilkins. The club had sacked Wilkins for talking back to one of the owners inside men. The Italian was furious at Roman Abramovich for sanctioning the dismissal without first consulting him.
But Roman Abramovich is a poodle compared to Real Madrid President Florentino Perez. He is as tough as they come and a very demanding man. There have been rumours that Perez and Ancelotti are no longer speaking. Ancelotti has dismissed those rumours but is under no illusion that he has to improve on what went before.
Ancelotti says: “The President did not speak to me about what happened here last year with Mourinho, and I didn’t ask. To reach the semi-finals of the Champions League is not bad. It’s not good enough for some clubs, but it’s not bad.
“But the club and its supporters don’t just look to win, they look at how you play. At Real you have to win with style. It’s not enough to just win.”
For as long as I can recall Real Madrid is a club that has judged itself on how the team performs in the Champions League (“La Decima”). Close but no cigar is meaningless.
But, I wonder, has the club become too obsessed about winning the Champions League?
Carlo Ancelotti told Matt Hughes of The Times: “La Decima is not an obsession, but it’s a motivation. For the club it’s very important. The last time Real Madrid played in the final was 2002. For a club like Real Madrid this is not good.”
It is nineteen years since Carlo Ancelotti became a manager. He won a League and Cup double while manager of Chelsea. A fine achievement.
But if Real Madrid win the Champions League final one thing is assured. The name of Carlo Ancelotti will live on in the history of the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo summed it up when he said that Ancelotti had “changed the mentality of the players.”
In Lisbon on May 24th he will be 90 minutes away from changing so much more.