Arguably the most demanding and at times confusing club in Europe, La Liga titans Real Madrid remained consistent with their philosophy of rotating managers on Monday with the firing of Carlo Ancelotti. It’s a move that is baffling for many reasons.
Ancelotti had the support of his players, the fans, and helped lead Los Blancos to two major trophies in 2013-2014. There also doesn’t seem to be a clear successor to lift Real Madrid past their rivals next season. All of that seems to matter little to club president Florentino Perez.
One prevailing thought is that Ancelotti became the victim or scapegoat of Barcelona’s success. The Catalans may be on the verge of winning the treble as the Spanish league champions face Juventus in the Champions League final on June 6 and Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday. While Barcelona may be on the verge of winning three titles, Real Madrid have zero this season though they reached the semifinals of Champions League and finished just two points behind Barcelona in La Liga. The image of Barcelona having such a dominate season, and after a surprise season from local rival Atletico Madrid last season, doesn’t sit well with management at the Bernabeu, but it may be foolish to brand a year without a title on the manager.
Perhaps the most glaring consequence of Real Madrid’s rather surprising decision is that Perez seems to be pinning the blame on Ancelotti and disregarding the wishes of the Real Madrid roster and its supporters. There was no public outcry by fans to see Ancelotti sacked and Real Madrid’s most identifiable face, Cristiano Ronaldo, was in favor of Ancelotti staying on.
"Great coach and amazing person. Hope we work together next season," Ronaldo recently posted on Twitter.
Evidently, player and fan support had little impact on Perez. He also seemed to be willfully disregarding Ancelotti’s success in 2013-2014, winning the Champions League and Copa del Rey. Perez apparently had the mindset of “what have you done for me lately” when it came to Ancelotti’s future.
“The demands here at Real Madrid are very high," said Perez, when asked why he made the decision.
Ancelotti, 55, joined the Real Madrid in 2013, following the departure of Jose Mourinho, and after stints with Juventus, AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. It was only at AC Milan (2001-2009) that the former midfielder for the famed club was able to maintain sufficient job security.
But it was rare for the veteran manager to be at the center of controversy or to be challenged for his knowledge and tactics. He was generally well-liked and well-respected by his players and peers. Ancelotti will no doubt find his way to a new club when he finds the right opportunity and when he heals from a lingering back problem.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid are now on the search for a manager who can reverse their fortunes. It’s a familiar position for the wealthiest club in the world. In the last 10 years, Real Madrid have had eight managers, but this crop of candidates may not be particularly inspiring. Sky Sports jumped on the two possible managers that are rumored to be at the top of the list.
The frontrunner appears to be former superstar central midfielder Zinedine Zidane. After one season as Ancelotti’s assistant, the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year took over as the head coach of Real Madrid’s B team in 2014-2015. But Zidane, 42, has never held a top head coaching job, yet might be a top choice considering his stellar playing career and the respect he still generates from current players. While there may be little opposition to Zidane, it will be a tremendous amount of responsibility for a manager with limited experience. Also, does Zidane want to subject himself to the same fate as the numerous managers who have come and gone? The World Cup winner has a great deal of pride and may be bothered by any second-guessing as the first moment Real Madrid show any sign of faltering.
The others are familiar names, but may not have the same stellar reputation as Ancelotti. Rafael Benitez may be the safest choice considering his success with Liverpool. The current Napoli manager led the Reds to a Champions League title 10 years ago, and took Liverpool back to the final in 2007. But he failed to win a Premier League title, and won just one FA Cup in six seasons. However, the Spaniard is part of the Real Madrid family, having played for Real Madrid Castilla from 1974-1981 and managing the B team from 1993-1995. Benitez also accomplished a great deal with Valencia from 2001-2004. Many Real Madrid supporters will wonder if he can manage a club that boasts several superstars.
The final candidate is Jurgen Klopp, who is coming off a highly disappointing season with Borussia Dortmund. Klopp burst on the scene with his energetic and theatrical expressions on the sidelines as Dortmund shocked Bayern Munich by winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 and securing second-place finishes in the following seasons. The 47-year-old was also at the helm in 2013 when Dortmund reached its lone Champions League final appearance since in 1997. Those accomplishes are quite impressive at a club that is consistently overshadowed by Bayern Munich, but Real Madrid would be hiring a manager who barely qualified for the Europa League. Dortmund finished 33 points behind Munich and in seventh place this past season.
Other possibilities include veteran manager Jorge Jesus, current Porto manager Julen Lopetegui and Sevilla manager Unai Emery.
Perez might already be second-guessing his decision to fire Ancelotti. Though Real Madrid will almost certainly have a strong season due to their talent-rich squad, accomplished managers like Ancelotti are often few and far between.