Carlo Ancelotti is considered a Champions League expert. After having won the elite European trophy four times with AC Milan — twice as a player and two more times as a coach — there was little surprise when Spanish giant Real Madrid turned to him in 2013 to secure the coveted La Decima (10th crown).
Ancelotti, currently at Italian side Napoli, delivered the goods in the Spanish capital, kick-starting a cycle of four Champions League titles in five years which lasted until Real Madrid’s crushing loss to a young Ajax side in the round-of-16 this week. Ancelotti, though, believed that it was a simple case of regression towards the mean.
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“I think this period is quite normal,” the 59-year-old said, in a telephonic interaction. “Four Champions Leagues is long period of success. The player age is increasing at Madrid, so you have to renew [the team]. They have lost [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who scored 50 goals each season. It is very difficult to find another player of his quality and continuity [longevity]. Vinicius Junior is good but lacks experience. So it will take time.”
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is another club which has desperately sought continental success and turned to multiple managers, including Ancelotti. But the French club has repeatedly failed, the latest being the loss on away goals to Manchester United despite having led 2-0 after the first leg.
“It was unexpected,” the Italian said. “Especially after the first leg result. But Champions League is unpredictable. PSG has spent money but the competition is not only about quality players but about experience, history and some luck. I saw the game and for sure they were not lucky.”
While it remains to be seen if Thomas Tuchel’s PSG reign stretches beyond this season in the wake of the reverse, Ancelotti stated that coaches should get accustomed to short tenures. Ancelotti himself is no stranger, having not spent more than two seasons at any of his past four clubs, including Chelsea and Bayern Munich, in spite of reasonable success.
“Long-term projects are not for top clubs. If you want to remain long term, you have to look elsewhere. Managers know this when they sign the contract. That you have to think about the present and results are very important.”
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At Napoli, this may seem further accentuated, especially after the dizzying heights to which previous coach Maurizio Sarri elevated the game. However, Ancelotti, who had similarly followed the outstanding Pep Guardiola at Bayern, felt the burden of expectations wasn’t huge.
“It is not difficult. After training under such managers, players will have a lot of knowledge tactically. Of course every manager will have his own idea. But you need to have good relations with the players to implement them. This Napoli team is very good in possession but couldn't always attack directly last season. So we now add some verticality and take it forward.”
(The interaction was facilitated by Sony Ten 2 which telecasts Italian Serie A live)
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