Dani Carvajal’s first day was also Carlo Ancelotti’s first day. It was July 15th 2003 and the right-back and the coach were two of the new faces as Real Madrid launched their pre-season preparations for the campaign that would end with the lifting of La Décima.
Both men had been recruited that summer. In the case of Carvajal, Real Madrid activated a buy-back option they had on the player, who had significantly matured after leaving La Fábrica to sign with Bayer Leverkusen in 2012. Leaving the club hadn’t been easy for Carvajal, who’d been at Real Madrid since the age of 10 and who even laid a symbolic first brick as a 12-year-old when construction began on the sporting complex at Valdebebas in 2004. But, he knew he had to go elsewhere for his start and he grasped the opportunity in the Bundesliga with both hands. It was a no-brainer for Los Blancos to buy him back for €6.5m, just €1.5m more than they’d received for him the previous summer.
It was said at the time that Carvajal had been forced out of the club by Jose Mourinho, but that’s not 100 percent true. The Portuguese did recommend that Carvajal go out on a loan or buy-back-type deal, but that’s just because Álvaro Arbeloa was the clear starter and unlikely to lose his place. Nevertheless, it was surely comforting for Carvajal to return to Spain knowing that Real Madrid had hired a new coach and that he’d be able to make this fresh start under fresh management. “I hear he’s a good man manager,” the Spaniard even said, enthusiastically, as arrived back at Valdebebas that summer.
Ancelotti’s reputation clearly preceded him. Meanwhile, Carvajal hardly had a reputation. He was an unknown. “I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know a lot about him, but he has surprised me and has shown he is a good right-back who plays with a lot of intensity,” Ancelotti told the media in a press conference held at the end of that first week of the summer 2013 pre-season.
Those words were soon put into action. In the first game of that new 2013/14 season, it was Carvajal who got the start at right-back for his senior debut. The new arrival was thrown in immediately and there are two reasons for that. One is that Arbeloa had been away with Spain for that summer’s Confederations Cup and was one of the last players back for pre-season training. The other is that Ancelotti genuinely trusted Carvajal.
“Carlo is a top coach, in every sense of the word,” the right-back said in a recent interview, after extending his contract to 2025. “When I returned from Germany, I spent my first season with him and I made my debut under him and he allowed me to become an important player. I ended up making the position my own and gaining his trust.”
That’s exactly how it went down. Ancelotti trusted Carvajal at right-back more than he trusted Arbeloa, especially as that season progressed. It’s true that Arbeloa missed all of March and April with injury, but even before then the youngster had already made the starting spot his own. He was Ancelotti’s man for the 2013/14 run-in, playing every Champions League minute from the quarter-finals onwards, and also for 2014/15 and then for every Real Madrid coach who followed.
Only rotation, suspensions and several injuries have kept Carvajal out of the line-up since that first Ancelotti season. There is no doubt that the Spaniard will be the returning coach’s first choice on the right of defence in this new season. Once again, only health and fitness can keep him off the pitch.
The player himself is hoping the struggles of last season are now behind him. “Carvajal will be around for a while and it’s time to take a step forward and be an important component of this project as we look to win more titles,” he said – yes, using the third person – in that same post-renewal interview. There is certainly reason to be excited about the next chapter of the Carvajal and Ancelotti story.