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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Real Madrid: Carletto the Great

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On Sunday night, the Bernabéu stadium will once again fill up, as it did recently during the Champions League match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, this time on the occasion of a Clásico as charged with meaning as it is atypical. Atypical because the teams will compete in strange colors for marketing reasons: Real Madrid not in classic white, but all black. And FC Barcelona does not want to appear with its burgundy and blue shirt, but yellow, after all with a stylized Catalan flag on the chest.

Black against yellow? An act of blasphemy, say not only the traditionalist supporters of the two clubs, a crime that borders on parody. This gives rise to so many discussions that the important element of this Classic threatens to be overshadowed: a record, more precisely: Carlo Ancelotti’s record.

With ten games to go before the end of the season, Ancelotti’s team from Madrid are ten points ahead of second-placed Sevilla FC. FC Barcelona is even 15 points behind third place. Never in the history of the Spanish league had such an advantage been lost. And that means that Carletto is facing a real triumph: he is the first coach to be champion in the five major leagues in Europe and to be ennobled as Carletto the Great, as Charlemagne. However, the real Charlemagne (747 to 814 AD) once did not reach the British Isles during his expansions.

In his first spell at Real Madrid, from 2013 to 2015, Ancelotti was denied the league title in Spain. He had previously won Serie A in Italy with AC Milan, the English Premier League with Chelsea in 2010 and French Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain in 2013. The Bundesliga title with FC Bayern followed in 2017.

In Madrid, Ancelotti was able to console himself in the summer of 2014 with the ‘Décima’, the tenth Champions League/European Cup title in the history of Real, after years of agonizing wait. This triumph was made all the sweeter when he was forced against local rival Atlético de Madrid almost at the last minute (1-1 draw just before the final whistle, 4-1 after extra time). A year later, however, arch-rivals Barcelona achieved the treble and Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez fired Ancelotti. Ancelotti is part of the club’s history, Pérez said, but at Real the demand was “maximum”, so he saw the moment as “starting over”.

The victory against PSG dissipated the resentment for the long and hard season. In the quarter-finals, Ancelotti now has to face former club Chelsea.

The failed experiment with Rafa Benítez was followed by a glorious stage at Real Madrid under coach Zinedine Zidane, who won three more Champions Leagues, even in a row, and left. After the turmoil that followed under current FC Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui and an unfortunate interregnum from Santiago Solari, Zidane returned and won a Spanish league title nonetheless. In the summer of 2021, however, Zidane dropped again. And Ancelotti returned, in circumstances that can only now be considered clarified.

Last weekend he revealed the Gazetta dello Sportthat shortly after leaving Zidane, Ancelotti called the club’s boss Pérez “right-hand man”: general manager José Ángel Sánchez. Ancelotti, then manager of Everton FC, wanted to inquire about Real’s surplus of players for the new season. But he then asked, rather nonchalantly, how the search for a new coach was going. Sánchez became concerned, and then Ancelotti pitched an idea to his old friend Sánchez: he, Ancelotti, could return to Madrid. Then Sánchez saw the light. He saw in Ancelotti what he had been for the first time: an experienced manager capable of appeasing a nervous club. In the end, Pérez was also convinced of that.

Not everything that has happened since the start of the season corresponds to the concept of football excellence that you have at Real. It would certainly have been interesting to see (and hear) how a packed Bernabéu would have reacted to some poor team performances. But the results were spot on, in part because rivals were weakening, notably defending champions Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona, ​​who replaced manager Ronald Koeman after a few months and turned to Xavi Hernández.

Clásico: FC Barcelona recovered with an established leader: The return of Xavi Hernández could make the Clásico even more exciting than in the autumn.

FC Barcelona recovered with a leader to spare: the return of Xavi Hernández could make the Clásico more exciting than in the autumn.

(Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP)

Before the Champions League round of 16 against his former club Paris, it was clear how much resentment Ancelotti had built up. This is “the season of buts” because every success, every tactical change is followed by a “… but”. Since the tremendous 3-1 victory in the second leg against PSG, which is now followed by another reunion with an exclub (Chelsea FC) of Ancelotti in the quarter-finals of the premier class, the resentment has been forgotten. At least until Sunday, which seems more promising than the Classic of the first half of the season, which Real won 2-1 at the Camp Nou.

Because FC Barcelona has recovered. That was felt in the last Clásico, in mid-January as part of the Spanish Super Cup, when Real won 3-2. On Thursday, Barcelona survived the hell of Istanbul in the Europa League to win 2-1 at Galatasaray (first leg: 0-0), thanks to a stunning goal from Pedri to make it 2-1. The next rival of Xavi’s team is Eintracht Frankfurt.

What does that mean for the Clasico? Nada, explained Xavi, had experienced Clásicos “of all possible colors” during his playing time. A Classic between black and yellow but not yet.


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