Ancelotti, Guardiola and a clash of styles – how Real Madrid boss has stood the test of time

By Sports Desk May 04, 2022

On the back of becoming the first manager to win a clean sweep of trophies in Europe's top five leagues, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti suggested his coaching career – at club level, at least – is nearing its end.

"After Real, yes, I'll probably stop," he told Amazon Prime in an interview released on Monday. "I'd like to be with my grandchildren, go on vacation with my wife – there are so many things to do that I have left out that I would like to do. The day I quit, I'll have all these things to do."

That did come with a caveat, though. "If the club keeps me here for 10 years, I'll train for 10 years," Ancelotti added, before leaving the door open for a move into international management ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

One month shy of his 63rd birthday, making him the oldest manager to win LaLiga, Ancelotti can be forgiven for thinking of retirement and life beyond football. He has won everything there is to win, after all, including a record-equalling three European Cups.

And yet, for all his success, which includes 20 major trophies across a 26-year managerial career spanning five countries, laid-back Ancelotti is arguably looked down upon when compared to fellow heavyweights such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

The latter in particular has built a reputation – rightly – for being a philosophy-driven coach who is obsessed with the finer details. Sometimes a little too obsessed when it comes to Champions League football, some might say.

Ancelotti, on the other hand, is old-fashioned in a sense, a coach who learned his trade in the days that managers would regularly be seen puffing away on cigarettes in the dugout, rather than analysing opposition tactics on a tablet.

It was a cigar Ancelotti was seen enjoying last weekend as Madrid toasted LaLiga title glory in his first campaign back, showing there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to coaching philosophy.

The Serie A, Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and LaLiga-winning coach may yet add a record fourth Champions League to his glittering CV come the end of the month, though for that to happen Madrid must first overturn a 4-3 deficit in Wednesday's semi-final second leg with Guardiola's Manchester City.

The opening 90 minutes in Manchester last week produced the joint-highest scoring semi-final first leg in the competition's history, alongside Liverpool's 5-2 win over Roma four years ago, and also provided a snapshot into the two styles of not just Madrid and City but also their respective coaches.

City enjoyed 60 per cent of possession and completed 541 passes to Madrid's 336 – and an extra 248 in the opposition half – which is reflective of how both sides have played this season. 

The Citizens, much like Barcelona during Guardiola's trophy-laden four-year spell in charge, have become perfectly shaped to fit to the Catalan's own style. They have completed 31,385 passes across their 53 games this season, which is more than any other side from Europe's top five leagues.

Madrid also feature high on that list, down in fifth behind Chelsea, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain. They also rank fifth among European clubs for goals scored this season with 108. Yet, when you think of an Ancelotti side, you might struggle to immediately describe the default style of play.

Resilient, perhaps? The resilience to score three goals in the space of 17 minutes en route to eliminating PSG with a 3-2 comeback win in the last 16; the resilience to pick themselves up when trailing Chelsea 4-3 on aggregate late on in the quarter-finals, only to advance 5-4.

Ancelotti's football may not have been revolutionary in the same way that Guardiola helped to transform Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City, yet the Italian has succeeded most places he has gone, not least this season with Madrid on course for their joint-highest LaLiga points haul since tallying 100 in 2011-12.

With a few simple tweaks, not least getting Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior working in tandem, Ancelotti has improved Madrid both in an attacking sense and defensively – even if they did ship four goals against City last week.

And so, while he may not be a perceived as a football 'philosopher' or someone who enjoys antagonising his counterparts, Ancelotti – in his 178th Champions League game in charge – has the chance to further prove he has stood the test of time when Guardiola's double-chasing City travel to the Spanish capital.

Should Los Blancos pull off another memorable comeback and go on and lift the trophy in Paris later this month, there would be no better way for Madrid's quiet leader to bring down the curtain on a legendary coaching career.

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