It has returned. The feature described as “ahead of it’s time” and “fearless, scathing and above all, correct” – Should he stay or should he go? is back and this time takes aim at one of Serie A’s longest servants, Carlo Ancelotti.
The fans are venting their frustration at players and coaching staff after watching their beloved side limp out of the title race with a derby defeat earlier this month. The case against Carlo Ancelotti is strong – what more can he achieve at Milan? Where else can he take his aged, over-familiar team? His strained relationship with Silvio Berlusconi seems to be reaching its lowest point yet and as Milan flop to the end of another unremarkable season, tensions are high. Already hot under the collar, when Ancelotti reads this edition of Should He Stay or Should He Go? , his shirt might catch fire.
The longest-serving Serie A club Coach by a distance (eight years and counting), Carletto might rightly be considered “The Italian Arsene Wenger”. Both Tacticians face the problem of rejuvenating a team that has already reached its peak. Not many before them have been able to surmount the challenge. Although Sir Alex Ferguson – an exception in every sense – is fast building his third world-beating squad, Ancelotti lacks the Scotsman’s commitment to youth. He is too much ‘the Milan man’ and will not or cannot (under Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative reign) ring the changes the club needs to renew its chances of success.
In his favour, of course, Carletto can look back over his tenure with Milan and count the trophies on more than one hand. The Coppa Italia in 2003, Serie A a year later, the glittering Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2007, not to mention the FIFA showpieces of the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup in 2007.
That’s fine. But success is fleeting and the Rossoneri faithful have every right to ask “What have you done for me lately?” The man himself is fully aware that things at the club are a little stagnant. Responding in a press conference to the boos he received during the recent Milan-Cagliari match, he said: “Perhaps these jeers are a sign they are getting a little fed up with me….When you see the same face for many years, you need a little more patience.”
Today, Ancelotti’s Milan is played out. They haven’t won the league for nearly six years and missed out on Champions League qualification altogether last season. They were out of this year’s title race by February after losing the derby. These facts hit the club hard and even a victorious UEFA Cup campaign will do little to convince detractors that this season has been anything other than a third successive failure.
The incredible – and slightly out-of-proportion – frenzy David Beckham’s arrival has stirred within the squad goes some way to revealing how stale things have become. It’s almost as if the players are having an affair, distracted for a moment from their plump old maid, excited by the blonde bombshell (albeit one with a sweet right-foot).
Most worrying of all, Milan is not best placed to succeed next season either. Whether or not the squad is too old is irrelevant. The reality is, it’s not good enough. Giuseppe Favalli, Dida, Andriy Shevchenko, Daniele Bonera, Philippe Senderos, Emerson and Zeljko Kalac have very little to offer a team gunning for top spot.
Ancelotti must shoulder some of the blame, specifically in his handling of the French wizard Yoann Gourcuff. All of a sudden he looks like a world beater, but the Milan Coach never had time for him. Where once he looked nervous, he now appears fearless. And he’s set to stay with Bordeaux for the measly sum of €16m. The one that got away from Carlo could turn out to be a genius. This inability to nurture young talent has been a defining feature of Ancelotti’s Milan team. Gone too is the promising Alberto Paloschi, who burst onto the scene so spectacularly in 2007/8 and who is now co-owned with Parma.
However, let us not forget what assets he does have at the club. In Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka, Gianluca Zambrotta, Ronaldinho, Alexandre Pato and (in all likelihood) Beckham – they have the backbone of a squad still capable of achieving something special in the game. But does this collection of champions still have the requisite level of motivation to scrap for the Scudetto?
Admittedly, Milan has invested in the very promising 24 year-old Thiago Silva. A defender who may go some way towards bridging the gap between Paolo Maldini and the next world class Italian defender Milan must sign. But this is scant compensation for Ancelotti’s failure to look beyond his own tenure at the club. The Coach has made a never ending series of short term moves. Why else would a clapped-out player like Emerson be there?
But at their very best, Ancelotti still has Milan playing with a hypnotic, lapping tempo – passing and possessing the ball with conniving guile and liquid instinct. They remain a sight to behold, in full flow. In the recent Derby della Madonnina they were one sharp striker (Kaka) away from victory, decimating Inter in the last 20 minutes, running them into the ground.
Few teams in the world can boast the fluidity of Milan. At times they are completely unplayable. And for this Carlo deserves more than a little credit. It’s hard to imagine that a new man could come in and play “better” football, even if he were to win more games. Ancelotti’s high point in this style must surely have been the second-leg of the Champions League semi-final destruction of Manchester United at the San Siro in 2007. One of the all-time great European Cup performances, Carletto strummed his team into perfect pitch. But that was two years ago. And football forgets. Now, Ancelotti’s preferred style is also his curse. Their insinuating, tippy-tap football has no cutting-edge. The Coach is stuck in the paradox of managing a team “better” than his opponents, but who lose more often.
It will be a pity if Ancelotti leaves Milan as he found them – trophyless – but he seems incapable of providing that all-important consistent spark of inspiration that Jose Mourinho has ignited across the halls at Inter. The Special One’s arrival has produced big performances from players already accustomed to league success. Not an easy task, even if he makes it look so. Coincidentally enough, Chelsea seems Ancelotti’s most likely destination. Surely no one is better placed that he to deal with the pressure from a billionaire boss and maximizing the talents of an ageing clutch of international players.
So, is there really any room left in the hot seat for the oldest young manager in Italian football?
Sorry Carlo, but the cab is waiting by the exit, gunning his motor, and Galliani is tapping his watch. It’s time to go. But for once in football, it doesn’t have to be an ugly affair. The man from Reggiolo has done a great job and the club owes him a respectful departure. Ancelotti, however, may feel that he might have done more with the players at his disposal during his near-decade reign. He had the opportunity to build a team as successful and dazzling as that in which he played in the late 80s and early 90s. But that chance has now gone.