The Blancos return to the throne as Real Madrid celebrate their 35th La Liga title thanks to their victory over Espanyol Barcelona. For Carlo Ancelotti it is historic, for the team it is remarkable. Because in reality he is no longer suited to modern football.
Real Madrid are champion of Spain. And for the 35th time. The royals are even more successful than FC Bayern. The Munich side have 32 cups, but have just celebrated their 10th consecutive title and thought they were on a historic mission to Europe. But this hypothesis has been disproved for some time. Teams from Gibraltar, Latvia and Norway have had longer streaks. On the other hand, something historic has happened in Madrid. The phenomenon of Italian composure Carlo Ancelotti is in fact the first coach to win the Scudetto in the top five European championships.
Well, how this historic success of Madrid was possible is one of the greatest mysteries of today’s football. Because this team is actually no longer suited to the demands of the modern game. Madrid is neither “Heavy Metal” (like Liverpool FC) nor “Mozart” (like Manchester City). What exactly is real can hardly be defined in these weeks. The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” perceived the ensemble of the eternal heroes Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Karim Benzema as particularly safe on the abyss. However, the movements of the club icons are no longer as delicate as they once were, not as powerful and persistent. Some things seem wooden, others stressed, much less noticeable.
But suddenly, when the next step actually threatens to lead into the abyss, the players remember that they are in fact a real ballet. “Ancelotti’s great gift is making the soloists sound like an orchestra,” said former Bayern technical director Michael Reschke, online magazine “The Athletic” for an epic review of the master coach’s achievements. And so it is: the musicians, the soloists, discover within themselves movements that give life to great moments for the entire orchestra. Modric can still file any defense in the world with an ingenious outside pass on the instep, like in the quarter-finals against Chelsea. Kroos still feels in himself the ingenious strategist, Casemiro the most clear omnipresent. Only one in the squad resists being a part-time legend with all the vehemence of his 600+ games with Real Madrid: Karim Benzema.
Completely addicted to Benzema
The Frenchman has never been as good as this season, in this calendar year. He is considered the favorite for the Ballon d’Or. The fact that Real are champions four games before the end is closely related to his performance. And no one in the royal realm bothers to claim otherwise. In the middle of the month Ancelotti, with the composure of his innate driving man, confessed: “We depend on Benzema, this is reality. And I’m very happy about it.” He has scored 42 goals in 42 competitive matches, including one of course this Saturday when he scored the last goal in a 4-0 win over Espanyol Barcelona as a late substitute. True to rewritten wisdom: no Karim, no party. Where will this mantra lead to the team? On the throne of Europe?
It would be as surprising as it is not. Because these old masters from Madrid have developed a truly amazing skill on the brink. That is to say, always enter the opponent’s head with the legend of him at the right time. There to create uncertainty. There to sink the thought that you can completely control a game, but that even the smallest mistake can be mercilessly punished by the genius and senior class of the four-time premier class triumphs. Seconds are enough for the heroes. Little things spread over 90 minutes (or 180 like a two-legged game).
And this is not the illusion of the old, but their absolute belief. Against Paris St. Germain, in the first knockout round of the premier class, Benzema would have said something in the locker room: don’t worry, they get nervous. They were – and they failed. Qatar’s pool of billions was once again Europe’s luxury idiot, Real smiled. And if there was a face that gave the greatest possible charm to this happiness of the moment, that was the face of Ancelotti. To the happily on his tire-chewing coach, who, from his troubled times at FC Bayern, had been denied that he could still face the challenges of the present. Now he is a historical figure. He is satisfied. “It makes me proud. I like what I do. The five leagues mean that I am doing a good job. I am proud to be here and I want to continue winning titles with Real.”
Ancelotti led AC Milan to titles in Italy (2004), Chelsea FC in England (2010), Paris St. Germain in France (2013) and Bayern Munich (2017) in the Bundesliga. In his first mandate in Madrid (from 2013 to 2015) he had lost a Scudetto. Now she was enjoying his triumph with sunglasses and a cigar. Just like the eternal manager of Hertha Pal Dardai last summer, only of course: more success. An image for the gods of football. He enjoyed the moment between the players of him. He had won again. This understanding, keeper, for whom the locker room (the support) is more important than the well thought out game, the tactical nuance. Philipp Lahm once said of Ancelotti that he would not have said in a week what Pep Guardiola would have said in three hours. Ancelotti gives the players the silent security they give. Soccer is sometimes easy. Ancelotti sees it this way.
Sunday’s championship party turned the welcoming gentleman into a party beast. Thus the newspaper “AS” saw the coach “in hooligan mode”. The 62-year-old danced euphorically on the main bus, sang a little out of tune with his appendix and was not ashamed of his tears of joy. His father and grandfather had just built near the water, he blissfully reported, “those are the geniuses”. The “Gazzetta dello Sport” at home honored him with the “Grand Slam”, the “Corriere della Sera” even elevated him to “Charles V, King of Europe”. For “La Repubblica” one thing is certain: “Ancelotti V”. he is “one of the greatest coaches in the history of football”.
Indeed, the hasty obituaries of his work were not devoid of truth. Ancelotti does not prescribe aggressive pressing (like Jürgen Klopp) or grueling possession (like Pep Guardiola). Ancelotti lets his team do what he does best. The fact that the “excellence” element is sometimes missing this season is probably worth just another raised eyebrow. “My style is to give players the opportunity to feel comfortable,” he said in an interview during his first stint at Real Madrid. It worked often. More recently at Bayern, SSC Napoli and FC Everton not getting more often. In a football that is becoming more and more complex and complicated, tactical laissez-faire seemed lost.
And he found support again only in Madrid. Ancelotti allowed his team to play Real Madrid’s ‘hero football’ without complicated tactical antics. This game of the real is not admired. The fact that the audience of the club’s operetta could not go to the stadium for a long time due to the pandemic saved the manager and the team from moments of discomfort. There were victories instead of whispers. The basis for the title in a season where main rivals Atletico and FC Barcelona faltered and Sevilla FC had no real power in major matches. Reale, the alternative. While Spanish record champions rarely seemed invulnerable, they are when it comes to titles. Former Bayern manager Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called these phases of a season “Ancelotti time”. Even if they waited in vain for him in Munich.
And now the handle of the pot?
In Madrid, time is ticking now at the “Carletto”. Because Thibous Courtois is a fantastic goalkeeper, because David Alaba, who is intelligent in the game, orchestrates the defense, because the midfield with Modric, Kroos and Casemiro knows all the eventualities of a match and has ready solutions, because Benzema creates a danger with every move. Because finally Vinicus Junior is no longer just a part-time talent, but he plays with enthusiasm and efficiency. And because the great Italian gentleman, with his unshakable conviction, can act as a valerian against the nascent agitation. He responds to criticism that royals lack the real in their game with his casual charm: “Some clubs want to play well, others want to win titles,” he said a few weeks ago. And he didn’t have to add what Real Madrid wants.
And the next title invites with caution. Again it is the pot of the handle. It could be the fourth for Ancelotti. This success – he suspects – would be historic. Real goes to the return match against Guardiola’s City with the 3-4 mortgage of the first leg. Manchester City were clearly the best team there, and had sometimes offered football from another universe. City had Real in a vice, on the ground. But never before the knockout, it is this strange aura of Madrid that is already gathering their strength again.