This is a serious, serious mistake.
Ancelotti leaves this club having won 87 out of the 117 matches he presided over. His side scored 320 goals in all competitions in two seasons, bizarrely 160 each campaign. He presided over a 22-match winning streak, brought this club its tenth European cup and can take credit for four cups won in his two years. Last season, his Madrid side finally overcame this club's somewhat recent German hex as they toppled three Bundesliga sides en route to the Champions League final, as well as rivals Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final. Perhaps most importantly, his presence helped gel a fractured locker room following a chaotic final season under Jose Mourinho to the point where the players were actively, and publically, campaigning for him to keep his job in his last days at the club. The few criticisms aimed his way form his players were hardly notable tabloid fodder.
That's not to say that Ancelotti is without faults because he certainly is and they certainly had a hand to play in his dismissal. Last season, numerous individual mistakes cost this team the chance at a league title when rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were seemingly tripping over themselves to keep Real Madrid in the race. Perhaps individual mistakes from players shouldn't be placed squarely on Ancelotti's shoulders, but it is his job to find ways to minimize and overcome those mistakes and his team couldn't do that. He also hesitated to use his bench often, as evident by some of the sharp words from Alvaro Morata once he left the club for more starting minutes abroad.
This season, the criticism grew much louder as he didn't take much of an interest in rotating his players and giving his bench options many minutes to keep their fitness and form up for when it counted. Young players, such as Morata, Isco and Jese all voiced their displeasure, or at the least, annoyance, at the timeshare they had to take part in. Morata is now a guaranteed starter at Juventus, Isco is being courted by clubs abroad with the promise of starting minutes and Jese's immediate future is up in the air as some believe a loan spell would do him best. Isco aside perhaps, one can't help but wonder why these youngsters haven't received more minutes under Ancelotti, and that's not even taking into account the minutes shortage for some of the more senior bench players. He sometimes stubbornly stuck to his preferred tactics and starters even when they clearly weren't working, as evidenced by the club's abysmal record versus rivals Atletico Madrid and the lack of points won versus top sides in the league. His words in public also raised numerous questions, especially when saying that his preferred attacking trio is guaranteed a starting spot when healthy.
So what now? Well, the rumor mill is buzzing with a number of replacement options but Rafa Benitez appears to be the favorite for the job - for now. Aside from the initial unfavorable gut reactions, Benitez is not a bad manager and he most certainly won't drive this club into relegation or midtable. There's just far too much talent on this team to allow any half-competent manager to do as such. That being said, this would be a move which raises more questions than answers. Benitez is a notoriously difficult man to please and someone who demands two-way play from all his players, one has to wonder how this will fly with someone like Cristiano Ronaldo who, for all of his incredible achievements, isn't exactly busting his back to offer help on defense. Benitez is also a pragmatic manager who hasn't really developed an elite offensive system, so to accommodate this crop of players something will have to give, either from him or the team at his disposal. He rotates heavily, something many Madrid fans wished for this season, but often his rotations have little rhyme or reason to them as star players will be benched in important matches. It doesn't take much imagination to wonder how that'll be received by some of the stronger personalities in this locker room.
Other than Benitez, no clear-cut managerial option stands out. Jurgen Klopp is a popular name, but he doesn't appear to be someone Perez has cast his gaze toward and there are rumors of him wanting to take a sabbatical until next winter. Unai Emery is a popular option for some, but he doesn't carry the gravitas of a Champions League success and one has to wonder how he'd handle the egos at this club. Ernesto Valverde has allegedly turned down the job, Nuno Espirito Santo is committed to Valencia and the foreign crop doesn't inspire much confidence. There's the option of Zinedine Zidane, but he's nowhere near ready enough for the job and is seen as more of a long-term project rather than an immediate solution.
Therein lies the problem. Firing Ancelotti is one thing if you can justify it with results, but firing him with no manager of equal stature or a record of success being available is another. Even if such a manager was available, they would still have to come in and instill their system after a summer in which this club could see significant roster overhaul. The players would have to buy into it, including massive personalities such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, and the manager would need time to acclimate himself to his new environment. Ancelotti had his flaws, no doubt, but he enjoyed a comfort level with the players that we haven't seen in too long of a time. Perhaps he'd have to tweak his tactical system, but even that would've been less of a transition than adopting a new system altogether. Now, this club has to start all over again and go through all the growing pains that a managerial change brings.
With fans, socios and the general football community rallying to show their support for Ancelotti, it's hard to understand how this club still so mercilessly and rapidly lets go of a man who, despite his flaws and despite all the obstacles this side had to face this season, was on the verge of a league title and a second Champions League final. This season may not have ended with any major trophies, but aside from the Copa del Rey this squad was right in the thick of it to win the others, hardly the disastrous campaign that some painted it as.
People will surely blame president Florentino Perez for this dismissal and the blame isn't without merit. However, take a look at this club's managerial track record in the 20 years (an arbitrary but still strong enough sample size) prior to his first term at club president and you'll see that 20 managers took the position in those 20 years. In the short time Perez took off in between his presidential stints, this club went through three managers. Now, the barbs that he only added to the problem of the fickle nature of this club hold true, he's done little to nothing to promote continuity during his tenure, but pinning this type of behavior all on him is ignoring the club's past. Even Barcelona, a club lately lauded for its continuity when it comes to managers, has had 16 managers in 30 years. Bayern Munich has had 18 in the last 30. Juventus: 17 in the last 30. These are four of the highest-profile, high-pressure clubs in the world and Madrid's record certainly looks the worst, but expecting a long stay from the man in charge is expecting a long shot. That being said, this firing does nothing but add to the problem of Real Madrid's fickleness and fans will have to wonder at what point will management run out of viable, and proven, candidates for this job? This isn't a Florentino Perez problem, it's an institutional problem right down to its core. From a fickle president and board, to fickle fans and pundits.
Despite this seemingly rash firing, this is a Madrid side with an incredibly strong young core and much work has been done in the past couple years to acquire young talent which is yet to hit its prime as opposed to the in-prime Galacticos of old. Dani Carvajal, Danilo, Raphael Varane, Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Isco, Jese, Martin Odegaard and Marco Asensio are all 25 years old or younger and will play a big role for this club as they enter their primes. Whichever manager comes in will have a squad with arguably a top-3 player in the world in their position in arguably six or seven of the starting spots and one of the largest budgets in the world to work with. The problem is blowing it all up and starting all over again when this group showed so much potential when healthy. The smarter and more efficient option would have been to reinforce, both on the pitch and in terms of physios, and allowing Ancelotti to learn from the mistakes which he surely was aware of given all the criticism this season. Perhaps given the immense talent and budget this club has, managerial continuity is overrated as those two factors will likely always ensure that this club will be in the race for trophies, but just for once would it be nice to have a manager last longer than three years maximum to see how a crop of players can develop under him.
Ancelotti could have possibly repeated his mistakes had he been given another year, that was certainly a risky possibility, but how is that risk any different from this club repeating its own mistakes by once again firing a manager so quickly?