FOX Soccer Exclusive
Real Madrid, Ancelotti get their wish
Carlo Ancelotti’s confirmation as Real Madrid’s new coach on Tuesday has ended Blancos president Florentino Perez’s long search for a successor to the departing Jose Mourinho, while marking the start of the Italian's huge challenge in replacing the “Special One.”
Ancelotti's arrival draws a line under the debate concerning his exit from Paris Saint-Germain and supplies Perez with the manager he hopes could deliver a first Champions League trophy to Madrid since 2002.
"Carlo Michelangelo Ancelotti will coach Real Madrid next season," Real Madrid said in an official statement Tuesday. "The Italian has experienced success in every country where he has managed and arrives in the Spanish capital after being named coach of the season in France."
If that wasn't enough, Real's website also extracted an excerpt from Ancelotti's 2009 biography "Preferisco la Coppa" (I Prefer The Cup), in which the Italian recalls how Perez would always say goodbye to him at social functions using the same phrase: "Carlo, you'll be my coach someday."
Perez had originally expected a smooth transition with Ancelotti being presented in early June, but what at first appeared a simple process dragged on for over a month. With former club Paris Saint-Germain playing hardball, and then running into its own problems in attracting a suitable new boss itself, everyone at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu was stuck in limbo with important transfer business and pre-season preparation on hold.
The wait ended on Tuesday, when Real Madrid announced that the former AC Milan, Juventus and Chelsea manager was arriving on a three year contract. Perez had been determined to get his first choice for the job, and stuck with his decision even as the Paris Saint-Germain saga dragged on.
Carlo Ancelotti helped AC Milan capture their seventh Champions League trophy in 2007 (Photo: Filippo Monteforte/Getty Images).
This is because Ancelotti’s genial and easy-going nature is exactly what is needed at the Bernabeu which was blighted by personality issues and infighting among players, fans and journalists during Mourinho’s last season in charge. The two Champions League trophies on the Italian's CV were also mighty attractive, given Madrid's continuing quest for its legendary “Decima” or tenth European Cup, something which the Portuguese ultimately could not deliver.
A key early task for Ancelotti will be to clarify the role of his former player Zinedine Zidane. Perez has previously mooted Zidane as Madrid’s new director of football, an office position with overall charge of all playing matters. But the Frenchman apparently prefers a more hands-on training ground job working directly with the players. This would logically be as Ancelotti’s number two, but that would leave no room for Mourinho’s former assistant Aitor Karanka, who remains under contract at the club.
The three main decision makers - Ancelotti, Zidane and Perez - also have some catching up to do in the transfer market. Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain has announced his intention to leave for either Arsenal or Juventus, while suitors have also been circling around other key senior squad members including Angel di Maria, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao, Raul Albiol, Diego Lopez and even Cristiano Ronaldo. Perez would love to find a buyer for Kaka, but it looks more likely that Ancelotti will be tasked with trying to rekindle his former charge's old magic.
Higuain’s replacement could be Napoli’s Edinson Cavani or Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, with both Uruguayan attackers having used media events during the current Confederations Cup to press their claims. Neither have made completely convincing cases however, and Perez has suggested more recently that homegrown attacker Alvaro Morata – Spain’s top scorer during their European Under-21 Championship run - could now step up for Madrid’s senior side. That would save Madrid €40 million or so, money which could help their bid for Gareth Bale to around €100 million, thereby breaking Tottenham’s resistance to sell.
Ancelotti will also inherit a new intention to invest in young Spanish players, with a €7.5 million deal to rebuy right back Dani Carvajal, 21, from Bayer Leverkusen already completed. Malaga starlet Isco, who impressed in June’s European Under-21 Championships in Israel, is expected to join this week for about €30 million. A move to hijack Manchester United’s €18 million move for Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara, would be more controversial, but Perez has repeatedly refused to rule it out over recent weeks.
Most important of all for the new boss are the still festering dressing-room issues which Mourinho left behind. Ronaldo’s future remains a huge concern, given he has publicly rejected claims by Perez that agreement on a new contract extension is close. Monaco are reportedly standing by with an offer to double the attacker’s wages, and the close relationship between his agent Jorge Mendes and the French club makes what sounds at first a crazy idea seem quite plausible. Ancelotti must quickly talk face to face with the Portuguese superstar and convince him his future lies at Madrid.
Meanwhile Casillas, dropped by Mourinho last season, has reacted badly to comments from teammate Alvaro Arbeloa which questioned the goalkeeper’s commitment to the Blancos cause. The row has continued into Spain's Confederations Cup campaign, and Ancelotti needs to get the two former friends talking again before Madrid’s 2013-14 pre-season begins. Its first warm-up game is on July 22 at Galatasaray, with the squad then jetting across the Atlantic six days later for a two week tour of the United States.
The club are also determined to reclaim the Primera Division title from Barcelona after Mourinho's last season in charge saw Real finish a disappointing 15 points shy of the Catalans. A two-time Champions League winner with AC Milan, Ancelotti has won domestic league titles in three different countries during spells with the Rossoneri, Chelsea and PSG.
La Liga starts on August 17, but most Blancos fans will already have circled May 24 on their diaries – the date of next year's Champions League final and the ultimate objective of any Madrid season. So Ancelotti has plenty of work to do, and is already a month behind. He better get cracking soon.
FOXSoccer.com's newswire services contributed to this report.
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