CARLO ANCELOTTI knew he wasn’t taking over a bulge bracket club when he agreed to join Everton, making him one of the most celebrated managers ever to walk into the Goodison Park hot-seat. At Anfield, in his first Merseyside side, the constantly raised eyebrow told you everything you needed to know: the three-times Champions League winner has a major task on his hands at Everton. Losing to an under-strength and inexperienced Liverpool side in the FA Cup is a significant psychological setback.
This came on the back of preliminary news that Everton made record losses for 2018-19, a revelation – which will become much clearer soon – that has made life even for challenging. With Liverpool recently and rightly proclaimed the best team in the world with a 13 point lead at the head of the Premier, the manager whose career has been gilded with solid gold must wonder where he has landed.
Admittedly, Ancelotti is now 60 years’ old and his options are arguably not as great as they once were, but his track record has few equals and he’s feted by most people who have ever worked with him. If Ancelotti is not the manager who regularly eyed the UEFA Champions League, Everton are not AC Milan circa 1990s, Chelsea 2010 or Real Madrid 2014. The objective at the moment must be to stabilise the ship, move into calmer waters and plan for the future with a team built by Carlo that can restore some of Everton’s lustre.
Is this a task that Ancelotti will warm to? He has a reputation of being a manager that takes over an article that is almost finished, one that has elite players already installed. Has he ever had to undergo a real rebuilding exercise?
That’s not to underestimate the ability to manage primadonnas and pampered princes. Ancelotti has proved he can handle egos and delicate high maintenance players. Zlatan Ibrahimović, for example, has called Ancelotti the best coach he has ever played for, and let’s face it, the Swedish icon has worked alongside some very big names. Ancelotti is always popular with fans and the players appreciate his kindness, flexibility and humour.
At the same time, Ancelotti looks a little like Captain Valium, relatively unemotional and always thoughtful. His book’s title, “Quiet Leadership” sums him up perfectly. It must also frustrate club owners who expect animation when things are not going well. They look for reaction and they probably don’t get it. Roman Abramovich used to send him text messages with a question mark if Chelsea lost in Ancelotti’s two seasons at Stamford Bridge. He would often reply with an exclamation mark. And Bayern, after the control-freak intensity of the Guardiola era, felt he was too laid-back.
Look at his record, though, and it is perhaps understandable if Ancelotti is merely a man who is comfortable in his own skin – league titles with AC Milan, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, three Champions League wins, two with Milan and one with Real Madrid. You do not accumulate success like that by luck.
Yet you cannot help feeling that Ancelotti sometimes gets treated badly, even though with every aborted project, he probably gets that little bit richer. At Chelsea, he was sacked in the bowels of Goodison Park just two hours after his club’s final game of 2010-11 – one year after he won the hallowed “double” with the London club. Every employer he has worked for since has always expressed dismay at sacking Ancelotti: at Real Madrid, president Florentino Perez said his manager has won the hearts of the fans and players; at Bayern, where he supposedly “lost the dressing room”, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge went to some lengths to say that Carlo “is my friend and I regret what has happened”; and at Napoli, the club sacked him and then said the friendship between them and Ancelotti, as well as president Aurelio de Laurentiis, was still intact. Only at PSG does it seem that Ancelotti’s relationship been sub-optimal and he has admitted his attitude in his final months was not good.
Why do clubs end up sacking one of Europe’s most successful managers despite loving the man? Is it because of his personality? – it could be that it is too easy to blame someone who seems to have a calm demeanour for underperformance of the team.
There’s no doubt he will be an expensive hiring (he was reported to be on € 6 million per season at Napoli), so club presidents will expect instant success in order to justify the expenditure. People look upon José Mourinho as a short-term appointment, but Ancelotti, since leaving AC Milan in 2009, is even more temporary. While Mourinho usually sticks around for 28-29 months on average, Ancelotti’s tenure has averaged less than 20. It’s all about short, sharp, successful episodes. The two managers are actually quite similar in that if they are not successful in two seasons, they probably won’t fulfil expectations.
So what do Everton expect of their new coach? If they are looking for dynastic building, then Ancelotti is not their man. He’s 60 and most managers are normally beyond their creative peak by then. Even people like Brian Clough, Sir Matt Busby and Helenio Herrera were finished by then.
It would help if he had the raw material needed to improve Everton’s fortunes. He hasn’t. But he does have vast experience and a glittering CV having managed three of Italy’s four biggest clubs (AC Milan, Juventus and Napoli), Germany’s top club (Bayern Munich), one of Spain’s two leading clubs (Real Madrid) and France’s number one (Paris Saint-Germain).
Ancelotti may soon find he’s moved into a very alien paradigm and his target is not, after all, winning the Champions League or even the Premier League, it will be to restore a club with a great heritage to some sort of respectability and be able to look their local rivals in the eye once more. He will need time and money. Have Everton got enough of these elements as their great days move more and more into their back story? And has Ancelotti, a decent man with excellent credentials, got the appetite and patience?