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Madrid’s big mistake: The case for Carlo



When a young Carlo Ancelotti was undertaking his managerial education at the Italian Football Federation’s famous Covernacio training ground, he composed a research article titled “Il futuro del Calcio: più dinamicità”. This translates as “the Future of football; more dynamism.” Twenty years later, that article represents the perfect metaphor for Ancelotti’s subsequent career. His style of play is relatively attacking, surprisingly for an Italian manager, but more importantly, he has written himself into the history books, achieving as much, if not more, than any of his peers. The future of football, as it turns out, was Carlo.

Despite Ancelotti’s massive success and influence over the game of football over the last two decades, he has yet again found himself out of a job. Florentino Perez has wielded his egotistical axe and decided that Real Madrid would be better off without the manager who brought them ‘La Decima’. This decision is almost certain to prove to be a big mistake.

Though slightly underrated in some quarters, Ancelotti is probably the best manager of his generation, and certainly one of the greatest of all time. He has brought success and improvement everywhere he has gone, not least Real Madrid, by winning a tenth Champions League title for the Spanish giants. He also won two Champions League trophies during his time at AC Milan, meaning that only he and Bob Paisley have won the European Cup three times as a manager. This shows just how high a calibre of manager Ancelotti is.

At Real Madrid, despite a failure to win the league in two seasons, which is a disappointment for a club of their stature, Ancelotti has the second best win record of any Los Blancos manager. The only man with a better record than the Italian was also sacked in harsh circumstances; this was current Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini. Ancelotti, then, is clearly one of the best managers Real have ever had the pleasure of employing.

It is not just Real Madrid where Ancelotti has been successful; in fact, every club he has managed showed remarkable improvements from having Carlo at the helm. His first club, Reggiana, were promoted to Serie A in Ancelotti’s first season as manager. At Parma, he not only helped to bring through players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, and Hernan Crespo, but also took them into the Champions League places in his first season. At Chelsea, he won the double in his first season, and he started the process of turning Paris Saint-Germain into a European force. Even at Juventus, which is regarded as a failure for Ancelotti, he took them from a 7th place finish under Marcelo Lippi to second the next season. Improvement and success comes as part of the package you get with Ancelotti.

Real Madrid have something in common with all but one of Carlo’s other clubs; they only afforded Ancelotti a maximum of two seasons at the helm. Admittedly, he left Reggiana and PSG, but at the rest he was sacked despite his good records at each respective team. The only place Ancelotti managed for more than two seasons was AC Milan, where, in his third season, he won the first of two Champions League titles. When given time at Milan, Ancelotti built the best team in the world, which was only really cut short thanks to the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, which sucked Milan and Serie A of their credibility, money and stars. Again, this shows the remarkable success of Carlo Ancelotti and why Real were incredibly rash to get rid of him.

The one real criticism that can be levelled at Ancelotti is his lack of success in the league. At Milan, he only won one league title, and failed to win one at Real Madrid. In fact, throughout his career he has managed just three league titles. This is a slightly disappointing stat, but his European success counters this, and had it not been for the effects of playing in the Club World Cup and the fatigue that brings, Real would probably be celebrating the league title rather than Barcelona.

Alas, Ancelotti has gone regardless of the success that may have come, and looks set to be replaced by Rafael Benitez, the man who denied Ancelotti a certain Champions League title thanks to the Miracle of Istanbul and Liverpool’s remarkable comeback. Despite Benitez’ obvious success, and the fact he has won La Liga, it is impossible to escape the feeling that he is a slight trade down on Ancelotti. Both are more successful in Europe than domestically, and they play similar styles of football, although Benitez is slightly more pragmatic on balance. Benitez will be a solid manager for Real Madrid, but is vastly the same as Ancelotti, which begs the question, why did Real not just keep Carlo?

Florentino Perez seems to have made a grave error. He has not only sacked Real Madrid’s second best manager in terms of win percentage and one of just two men to have won three European Cups but also the best coach of the last twenty years. Ancelotti has achieved success everywhere he has been, and when given time, has shown he can build a dynasty as was seen at Milan in the mid-2000s. Benitez and whoever inevitably replaces him will probably still achieve success, due to the nature of the club, its bottomless money pit and ‘Galactico’ mentality. Ancelotti will achieve success due to his own nature. Real Madrid will struggle to find anyone better, and will regret his sakcing, whereas Carlo can build success somewhere else, happy in the knowledge he was a hit with Real Madrid’s players and trophy cabinet. Wherever he goes next, Carlo can write a new ‘futuro del Calcio.” At 55, he still is the future of football.

John is a history graduate from the University of Southampton, and will soon be completing a Master's degree in Journalism at Cardiff University


Luka Modric could prove the perfect Emre Can replacement at Liverpool

The Croatian has been linked with a move to Anfield with Emre Can expected to leave this summer.



Photo: Getty Images

Emre Can looks set to be on his way out of Anfield this summer as the 24-year-old German international seems unwilling to sign a new contract at Liverpool.

Spanish news outlet El Gol Digital have recently linked Real Madrid with the German international, although they would have to fend off interest from European rivals Juventus.

Speaking to Sport 1, Can recently expressed his desire to be featured in the world team of the year at some point in his career.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

For the 24-year-old, it would be difficult to turn down a club of Madrid’s magnitude and his departure would represent a blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

Nonetheless, a swap deal for Real Madrid star Luka Modric would be a superb way to ease the pain of the German’s exit.

Reports linking Can with the Bernabeu come just a matter of weeks after Spanish newspaper Dario Gol expressed Luka Modric’s desire to leave the current Champions League holders.

The Croation international is reportedly keen on a return to the Premier League return, with Liverpool, along with Tottenham, named as front-runners for his signature.

Even at 32 years of age, the Croatian midfielder is still one of the best players in the world and would represent an excellent short-term fix for the Reds.

Modric was named in the FIFA FIFPro World XI in January and ranked as the 6th best player in the world in the Guardian’s prestigious Top 100 rankings.

His brilliant passing range, his superb footballing brain, and his delicate skills are all crucial components that would boost Liverpool’s attacking threat.

(Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Combined with a world-class attack consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, the Reds truly could stake a claim for the most dynamic frontline in England next season.

Most importantly, the addition of Modric could finally mark the replacement for Philippe Coutinho that many Liverpool supporters have been begging for.

A seasoned international with tremendous experience at the upper levels of world football would be a remarkable transfer for Klopp’s side, and would surely bolster their title aspirations in 2018/19.

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Real Madrid

Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruña: Five talking points from Bernabéu



Photo: Reuters

In Sunday’s post-match press conference, Zinedine Zidane said: “What changed today is the result, that we scored the chances we made, nothing else.” However, there is always a tale to tell, especially when it comes to Real Madrid and this week’s 7-1 thrashing of Deportivo de La Coruña was no different.

Cristiano Ronaldo made the headlines after taking a boot to the head when scoring a very valiant header, but it was Gareth Bale who got the standing ovation and was the reason behind a pervading brisk smile among the crowd.

He has played a significant part in the games in which he has appeared as a substitute this season and he was arguably the best attacking player Real had on the field last week against Villarreal.

After suffering from numerous injuries, the Welshman has managed to put his time on the sidelines behind him. He is currently the top scorer of the team with seven goals, despite missing out a handful of games.

With the league, all but theoretically over for Real Madrid, the hefty 7-1 win was important in many ways.

Real’s slump has put them 19 points behind arch-rivals, Barcelona, and they are currently sitting fourth on the table. The win, dare we say resurrection, over Deportivo La Coruna could mean a turnaround for Real Madrid.

Here are the five talking points of the tie…

Gareth Bale – the long-awaited return of the Welshmen

Real Madrid have had their fair share of creating chances in matches, half or full – they squandered them all. The quality of the chances was missing and misguided crosses were thrown to yield no results. Bale has brought the finishing-touch back to the team and his ability to run past defenders, creating space for an extra touch, has helped his side in scoring.

Bale, for the first goal against Deportivo, chested down the ball, took a touch and curled it around the defender past the goalkeeper – a famed finish he has personified over the years. He dominated the flank and his understanding with Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric was transparent. Meanwhile, his second reminded the hosts how they have missed him in the air.

For a team like Madrid, with players like Ronaldo, Ramos, Casemiro, Varane, and Benzema, scoring headers should be a norm. Although the case in the past, this term they have failed to replicate the same dominance in the air and the Welshman has reminded the crowd what he is capable of in this respect.

Squad rotation

Squad rotation has played a massive role in Real’s recent triumphs and Zidane deserves credit for this. However, this season, the quality from the bench is not there. The contribution from the substitutes is lacking and their inefficiency to provide something concrete has let the team down.

Zidane stuck to his usual principles by putting out a B-team against Leganes for the club’s Copa del Ray clash, resting his star players.

Perhaps for the first time in the season, the squad looked fresher and near 100% if not fully fit.

This victory was a hard-earned one – Marco Asensio’s beautiful finish averted the eyes from an awful performance, but they managed to get the result.

That allowed the ageing squad members to take a breather and the performance against Deportivo was the subsequent result.

Lucas Vasquez and Mateo Kovacic were substituted and since contributed to the win, with the former providing an assist and the latter holding up the ball masterfully during the counter-attack, finished by Modric a few seconds later.

A comeback for BBC

The decision to switch back to 4-3-3, with no Isco on the field, asserted the fact that Real is a better side with a front three, instead of a no. 10 behind two strikers. Due to various injuries, it had been more 270 days since the famous trio were in action and it is clear that Madrid have dearly missed them.

Borja Mayoral started up front against Deportivo, only to be substituted by Karim Benzema, who has recently recovered from the injury. 4-3-3 resolved the issues Real were facing with a 4-4-2 diamond. The overlapping runs were seamless and during the transition, it was easy to defend. What that means for the future Isco is a separate debate.

The midfield three

It has been quite a while since fans have seen the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos in full swing. As glamorous as it was, the link-up play had become damaged and Casemiro’s defensive cover was not proving up to par.

Against Deportivo, however, they were back to their brilliant best.

Casemiro bossed the game, winning seven balls, while weighing with a 92.3% pass success percentage and a brilliant lofted cross that was buried into the net by Ronaldo. He has been labeled as Claude Makélélé of Zidane’s Madrid – rightfully so, as well.

The link-up play between Kroos and Modric was also improved. The former didn’t suffer defensively, like he has done in his recent outings and his confidence seemed restored. Meanwhile, the latter scored a screamer, while proving his understanding with Bale is far greater than that with either Lucas Vasquez or Marco Asensio.

Lackadaisical defending

The big guns fired for Real Madrid, as Bale and Ronaldo both scored braces on Sunday, but the fact is that victory came against a struggling team – although Real needed a win like this to make a statement and build some momentum before the Paris Saint Germain showdown on Valentine’s day (you can predict this result with M88 betting in China).

In hindsight, the defensive frailties are still there to solve. Raphael Varane is solid, almost, and the Frenchman is having a great season. A downside to his game is his partnership with virtually anyone but Sergio Ramos – who is out due to injury.

In Ramos’ absence, Nacho Fernandez comes in. As good as they both have been individually, the understanding is not there – at least not yet.

Marcelo has improved his attacking play. He is great going forward but the concern is still there when it comes to tracking back, especially when the likes Neymar and Kyliann Mbappe will be running the show down the flanks.

Against Deportivo, Dani Carvajal had a solid game after some time and Nacho was undoubtedly the best defender of the night – scoring two goals and cleared one off the line with a brilliant sliding tackle.

A win like this could definitely boost the morale of a team which has been underperforming quite significantly. However, Real should not get too complacent with the victory as the tougher fixtures lie ahead.

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Real Madrid

Why Zinedine Zidane is still the right man for Real Madrid

Mudassir Mustafa



Photo: Reuters

If Real Madrid was to be added to the dictionary, the meaning would be something like this: “A football team with a lustrous history established in 1992, based in Madrid, Spain.” However, if that dictionary has to be football explicit, per se, the meanings would be somewhat different.

The definition of Real Madrid is, as spoken by many, to give it all until the end – to never back down from the challenge and success knows no limits. Hence the narrative was established “Hasta El final, Vamos Real” which, when translated, means ‘Until the End, Go Real.’

Speaking of limits and success, Real Madrid – both the club and the fans, is a very different breed, a one of a kind, a forerunner in almost everything in footballing world – records, accolades, stats, best coaches, best players, best stadium, best training facilities, so on and so forth.

But success comes at a certain price. It was the start of the European cup that put Madrid on the globe; at the time when the internet was a scarce entity. Real could sign big players and they ruled Europe for years.

As the story goes on, Real Madrid becomes synonymous with big-money signings (Proyecto Los Galácticos) and sacking managers at will.

The world got the wind of this Real Madrid in late 90’s. Real lifted the UCL (their seventh) in ’98 and then again in ’00 – and again in ’02.

The appointment of Vicente del Bosque was in many ways the best decision taken by Real Madrid in their recent history. His stint started way back in ’94 but was never given the full authority – Benito Floro, Jorge Valdano, Arsenio Iglesias and then John Toshack had their time in the famous white house.

But, as recurring as this statement has become, their stint lacked success. For Real Madrid, winning everything one year and failing to replicate the same form in the next, doesn’t quantify the success.

Del Bosque was modern-day Carlo Ancelotti of Real Madrid, so to speak.

They resemble in many ways; calm, poised, composed, tactically sound, and modest. The Spaniard ushered Real to its finest era in modern history – only Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano’s Madrid have enjoyed more success by then.

Del Bosque lifted two Uefa Champions League in 2000 and 2002, La Liga in 2001 and 2003 and numerous other cups. These numbers are better than most coaches’ entire career, but for Real Madrid merely winning a league doesn’t count as a success.

Del Bosque was sacked and so were the hopes of Madridistas who thought Real might be becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United under him.

47, the hitman number, then becomes the latest to fall under the umbrella of Real Madrid’s notorious synonyms. Four years and seven coaches without a single major trophy.

Revulsions were revved, stars with stellar egos took hold of the dressing room, managers deserted, and fans were all but not sated. In the competition personified by Real Madrid, they failed to make it to the last-eight for years to come. Until Jose Mourinho was appointed.

Though Real didn’t win a Champions League under his reign either, they did make it to the semis in all four years of his tenure.

History has an awkward way of repeating itself. And in 2014, it did when Carlo Ancelotti was named the manager of the club. Real won their long-awaited La Decima with a victory over city rivals Atletico Madrid.

Despite winning a Champions League trophy for the first time in 12 years, the following year Real fell short to Juventus in semis and were knocked out of the competition. And so, ended the Ancelloti era.

Players loved him, liked him, he won over the Bernabeu, many tears were shed reminiscent of when Fernando Redondo was sold, but that is Real Madrid – the perfect definition of ‘No Untouchables.’

The appointment of Rafael Benítez was short lived. He was never an upgrade on Carlo Ancelloti – tactically, mentally or in managing squad’s ego, a factor that has found its true meaning in Real’s dressing room over the years.

After being labeled as defensive-minded coach, and failing to win matches in a steamrolling fashion, he found himself standing at the wrong end of the Valdebebas.

In comes, Zinedine Zidane, the bald Frenchman who knows it all. He was there when Madrid sacked Del Bosque and he was there when they failed to win a major trophy for years.

He was the product of Los Galacticos himself, and after retirement, he has served in the office as Sporting Director.

If there was any guy best suited for the job, it was him. To put the cherry on the cake, his relation with President Florentino Perez is near perfect.

What Zidane did in his first year in charge, was unexpected and anticipated by no one. He surpassed and surprised everyone – pundits, writers, columnists, fans, managers, players, even someone hard-to-please socios.

Mentioning the trophy haul and the records fall under his feet, is a no-brainer here. But, the start to this season was underwhelming.

19 points short of Barcelona – they are closer to the relegation zone than to the top. Only twice there has been a gap this big in the history of the club.

This is the worst start to a league campaign in almost a decade.

Having said that, Zidane is still the right man for the job. He still has the fans, players, and management behind him; all of which are a necessary ingredient to cook something special.

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the behemoth of a stadium in all its glory, has seen it all. Megastars, massive failures, huge celebrations and tearing nights.

As flawed and frenetic tactics Zidane has, his achievements are a little too much to ignore. One reason for not sacking him immediately could be the lack of availability of less popular figure.

Guti and Solari are not ready – while the former may ever be but the latter has shown no signs to be considered a reliable option.

Joachim Löw and Mauricio Pochettino are both linked but none is ready to take the job right away.


Real Madrid’s squad is in a dire need of shake up. Ageing and underperforming players are pulling the team in the opposite direction – too complacent to perform at the highest order.

The squad needs a refresh and that should be done regardless of its effects; unsettling the nerves of already established stars.

To complete the transition from already established players to world-class youngsters, Real needs someone who understands club inside out and there is no one else better than Zidane for that job.

However, Zidane knows he is walking on the wedge and he needs to find the solution sooner than later.

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