“Real Madrid should win La Liga and the Champions League every year with the talent in their squad.”
“Anyone could win games with a squad full of players like that.”
Football fans have either made or heard statements like these regarding Real Madrid since the time president Florentino Perez re-opened the club’s “galacticos” policy during the early 2000’s.
While Perez’s transfer approach of bringing world class players to the Bernabeu has brought the La Liga giants success both on and off pitch, Real Madrid have not been the dominant force domestically and in Europe that many fans and football experts have expected them to be.
There seems to be an inability to understand the complexities involved with managing a club whose first-team is littered with some of the best players in the world. The La Liga giants’ embarrassment of riches is also a heavy burden for its coach as he attempts to man-manage a squad filed with enormous egos, as well as tremendous individual talent. How does a coach get a group of celebrities to buy into the collective good of the team?
The reality of organizing a squad and developing team chemistry isn’t as easy as the latest version of FIFA or Football Manager makes it out to be; it’s simply more complex than the what is portrayed in video games.
For all his domestic and European successes while coaching in Portugal, England and Italy; Jose Mourinho found it extremely difficult to reach the levels expected at the Spanish club. The Portuguese manager was able to win the Spanish Supercopa, Copa del Rey and La Liga titles during his three seasons in Madrid. But his tenure at the club was outshined by numerous issues with the Spanish press and dust-ups with his own players.
More than most professional sports teams, Real Madrid’s players have tremendous say in what goes on at the club. When the players have an issue with the manager, they have a direct line to the president to voice their frustrations. Also, stories from the training ground always seem to find their way to the Spanish press, either by the players themselves or from their representatives.
The media in Spain is another major obstacle that Real Madrid’s managers have had to navigate. There is a glaring focus on the club, with every instance and decision being dissected by reporters and Spanish football experts.
Along with the issue of man-managing what are perceived as “prima donnas” and handling the media, Real Madrid’s boss has to handle the expectations of winning that comes with assuming leadership of Spanish giants.
The goal in Madrid is to win La Liga and/or the Champions League – anything else is considered failure. The club has gone through eleven managerial changes since 2003, in large part because they weren’t on course to meet their domestic and/or European expectations.
The landscape at Real Madrid is dotted with land mines and a manager has to know how to navigate them correctly, or face the sack.
But it now appears Real Madrid have found their man in manager Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian tactician took over from Jose Mourinho in June 2013. He slowly developed an understanding of the squad and over the course of the 2013-14 campaign organized them into the best team in Europe. Although they finished behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in La Liga, Ancelotti directed the club to a Copa del Rey title, as well as its tenth European cup. He was able to win over Madrid’s locker room and bring balance to a squad that was heavy in attacking qualities, but lacking on the defensive side of the pitch.
This season, Ancelotti has dealt with the similar issues, while also having to re-organizing his side following the departures of midfielders Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria. Along with losses of such influential players, as well as the arrivals of new talent into his squad, Ancelotti has dealt with key early season injuries to Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
But after a sputtering start, Real Madrid have found their legs and begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in Spain and Europe. Their new signings – Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez – have settled into their roles at the club and are really clicking with their new teammates.
Since Los Blancos’ loss in the Madrid derby on September 13th, they have gone unbeaten (no losses or draws) and outscored their opponents 56-7 in all competitions. Real are on top of La Liga with 30 points after twelve matches and have already qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 with two group matches left to play.
Now, with midfielder Luka Modric sidelined for between three to four months, Ancelotti will once again have to play with Madrid’s formation and adjust his tactics in order to maximize production from his side. But this is something the manager has dealt with in the past and will likely be able to figure out to Madrid’s advantage.
The team has shown it can play expansive attacking football, but has also displayed the ability to defend and hit teams on the counter-attack. There is a cohesion and level of sacrifice unmatched by recent Real Madrid teams.
In the past, changes in tactics and to the team’s selection led to unrest within the squad. But Ancelotti’s understanding and managerial style has extinguished those flames. The “leaks” to the press have been silenced and the players are happy, and more importantly they are performing.
“He lets us enjoy games and also improvise,” Real Madrid left-back Marcelo told the club’s official website. “He knows we are very confident. We do everything for him, for all the help he has given us and for what he tells us in every game. He is very easy-going and says everything to your face, which is key. He’s a winner and instills humility and the will to get started and do everything to win again.”
Ancelotti has done a fantastic job in Madrid and deserves more credit for the work he has done at the club. It’s difficult to say that a manager who had already won two European Cups, as well as domestic titles in France, Italy and England should be given further recognition – but Ancelotti should be recognized for what he has done while in charge of the La Liga giants.
Last year, he picked up the scattered pieces left behind by Jose Mourinho and fitted them together into Europe’s best squad. This season he has adapted to the ever-changing landscape at the club and has his side steaming towards what looks like a record breaking season.
Prior to Real Madrid’s Champions League Group B match with Basel, Ancelotti revealed that negotiations were under way between his representatives and club officials regarding a new contract at the La Liga side.
“I hope to be in Madrid’s history, not only for La Decima. I have a contract until 2016 and we are already discussing my renewal,” the manager said. “Here, there is no single benefactor but a formidable management team. Real want the best, and consequently the game gets better.”
It’s clear that the fickle officials at Real Madrid are satisfied by what the Italian manager has accomplished to this point. It’s time for those outside of the Spanish capital to give Ancelotti some recognition as well.
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