There certainly is never a dull moment when it comes to discussing Ancelotti's tactics and decisions, is there? Of late, the criticisms have been pouring in. Why doesn't Carlo Ancelotti rotate more, why is he so stubborn, and why does he insist that Gareth Bale plays every game?
Time to put on our gloves and start dissecting.
Carlo Ancelotti gets a lot of criticism for two things: 1) Lack of league titles; and 2) his inherent refusal to rotate players which may or may not have led to key injuries heading into the Bernabeu for the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.
To the first point: Fair. In 15 years of Serie A coaching, Ancelotti managed to capture just one league title despite steering the ship of one of the greatest teams of our generation containing legends like Clarence Seedforf, Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Shevchenko, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Rui Costa, and eventually Ricardo Kaka.
His ratio of years-to-league titles did improve on his next two stops. In England, he won the EPL in one of his two season managing Chelsea; and in France, he won Ligue 1 once in his 1.5 years in charge at PSG.
It can be argued that his time in Serie A was met with fierce opposition in terms of quality. During the hey-day of Serie A earlier in the century, Carlo's Milan (in his 8 years at the club) went up against the likes of Lippi's Juve and Inter's 4-year dynasty which started with Mancini and ended with Mourinho.
Still, the arguments to alleviate the criticism don't discount his failures domestically.
Then there is point #2 - you know, the one about rotations. The criticism comes in left, right, and center - from fans everywhere. I'm not here to make friends, I'll say it quite frankly: Carlo Ancelotti knows more than you. We are living in an era of constant criticism - some of it is warranted; while some of it is ignorant.
Carlo Ancelotti is essentially given a squad from Florentino Perez and asked to make it work, and I promise you there is no better coach in football than Carlo Ancelotti when it comes to accommodating star players.
It started in Milan. During the 2001-2002 season, Ancelotti essentially had to 'decide' between Rui Costa and Andrea Pirlo. Of course, he ended up not having to do that at all. In a genius move, Ancelotti completely reinvented Pirlo by transforming him into a deep-lying playmaker so that Pirlo and Rui Costa could play together. How much value do you put into that decision? It was subtle, yet, probably changed football as we know it.
To be fair, Pirlo did play that role breifly in Brescia under Carlo Mazzone with Roberto Baggio in front of him, but not to the permanent extent in which Carlo implemented it.
Pirlo's new role basically set the standard of what a deep-lying playmaker looks like, and, in hindsight, has catapulted him to one of the best players of all-time in his position - a status only Xavi can rival from this generation.
Think about that. Carlo Ancelotti was responsible in large part for what Andrea Pirlo eventually became.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I promise I will get to my point about rotations soon.
Fast forward 12 years - Ancelotti takes over a Mourinho team riddled with failure. At the brink of the 2013-2014 season, Real Madrid sells it's only true play-maker in Mesut Ozil, essentially replacing him with Gareth Bale who's position mostly rivals directly with Angel Di Maria. Again, Ancelotti finds a way in an un-ideal situation. Di Maria becomes Carlo's 'Pirlo' in his new role as a third central midfielder who can create from deep and wreak all kinds of havoc with the three lungs and slippery eel-like maneuvering that he posses.
Everyone doubted, but Di Maria blossomed. A central midfielder who can run tirelessly, dispossess players, and create from deep? Sign him up - what a luxury.
Di Maria is reborn, his price tag at an all-time high, and Real Madrid cash-in with a £29.7 profit margin on him - a feat highly improbable without Ancelotti's brain.
I had an interesting discussion through e-mail with Michele Pasquali from SB Nation's The AC Milan Offside regarding Carlo's rotations at Milan, and his ability to reinvent players:
Making a comparison with some coach we have in Italy now, Ancelotti is the exact opposite of Massimiliano Allegri or Rafa Benitez and the explanation is very simple. Carlo doesn't like changing the whole starting XI even in extreme situations (3 games in 7 days, for example) and he hates especially changing tactical disposition. An example: back in 2006 Milan had the roster to send on the field a very competitive 3-5-2 with Nesta, Maldini and Jaap Stam as defenders and Cafu/Oddo and Jankulowski as right and left midfielders but Ancelotti insisted with his 4-3-2-1 and forced Stam to play as right back for many games during that season. We can criticize his obstinacy but many of these choices paid off (for example, Milan won the Champions League in 2007 with Stam as right back).
Do you see where this is going yet? It's all foreshadowing to April 22 2014 - where Ancelotti heads into the 2nd leg of the Champions League as an underdog after being heavily criticized for not rotating his players and experiencing calamatic injuries to Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema.
One main problem that Ancelotti has in implementing BBC is that it depends heavily on the midfield trio behind them. You saw the collapse when Modric was injured and was replaced intermittently by Illara / Khedira / Silva. The team collapsed. Kroos and Isco were unable to compensate for the weaknesses of those three DMs.
It's no wonder then, there was such panic heading into that vital second leg.
Perfect timing for Ancelotti to pull a rabbit out of his hat - a 3rd central defender repositioned to play as a defensive midfielder alongside Toni Kroos to make up for Modric's absence.
It was a move that ultimately may have saved Real Madrid's season.
- Would any other coach have opted to go the easy route and field Illara / Khedira / Silva instead, in what was the biggest game of the season?
- Would any coach have been in that predicament in the first place had he rotated the squad properly?
Carlo left unforgettable memories in his time in Milan and I think he's the most loved coach we had in our recent history just behind Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello so it's almost impossible to criticize a coach - and a man - like him because he won "all" he could with this team. His only limit? His tactical stubbornness: probably he would have won more if he had been more "creative" (I'm trying to be more than rational with this statement).