The Madrid coach is on borrowed time, and only a major trophy will be enough to keep him in a job beyond this season
“It is necessary to make changes from time to time, even in times of success,” said sporting director Jorge Valdano the day after Real Madrid had won a 29th La Liga title in 2003. That was the club’s explanation for sacking coach Vicente del Bosque after a trophy-laden three-and-a-half years in charge.
That day has lived long with many observers of the Blancos. The heartless severing of ties with a man who, only 12 months prior, had led them to a second Champions League in three attempts left critics denouncing Florentino Perez’s reckless pursuit of glory, while fans developed a detached relationship with every new coach thereafter. They know that Bernabeu bosses are kept on a short leash.
It is against this backdrop that Carlo Ancelotti’s future is now being discussed with increasing fervour.
“Anything that is not a victory seems like a crisis at Real Madrid,” former Blancos boss Juande Ramos told Goal.
“Three months ago, they won the Club World Cup after 22 wins in a row, and it seemed they were gods. Three months later things have turned a little and it seems they are despised.
“It’s what comes with the territory of that job. But there is no doubt that Carlo Ancelotti is a great coach and has enough experience to steady the ship.”
But regardless of Ancelotti’s experience, Sunday’s defeat to Barcelona in the season’s second La Liga Clasico leaves the capital club four points adrift of the Catalans at the top of the table, with their poor form in 2015 having also affected their status as favourites to lift the European title.
The very real possibility that the club could end the season with no further silverware means the club are already thinking of Plan B. There will be no mercy shown to Ancelotti unless the Champions League or La Liga is added to the bulging trophy cabinet.
Goal sources at Real Madrid have confirmed that no amount of second place finishes will be enough. Indeed it was only Sergio Ramos’ last-minute equaliser in last year’s European final which kept Ancelotti in a job. Defeat to Atletico Madrid in Lisbon would have seen the Italian shown the door and the same stipulations stand in 2015.
While Perez attempted to appease fans at a press conference recently, he failed to confirm that Ancelotti will be back in charge for 2015-16. Sources close to the club believe the president had more selfish motives behind that appearance since he had also been whistled by fans at the 4-3 home defeat to Schalke in the Champions League days earlier.
For his part, Ancelotti is considered too much of a soft touch by Perez and the Madrid board. Which is ironic, as previous boss Jose Mourinho was felt to be too dominant a character. While the players are huge fans of the Italian, reiterating their support for him whenever possible in media interviews, there is no such compassion held by the directors. The backing of the squad will only buy their coach time if they are collecting trophies on the pitch.
Victory at the Camp Nou might have been a lifeline, but the 55-year-old admitted his side had run out of ideas late in the game. And a similar shortage of clear direction over the rest of the campaign could well open the door for Zinedine Zidane.
The French legend is rapidly heading to the top of the wanted list having served as Ancelotti’s number two in 2013-14 and taken charge of Real Madrid Castilla this term. Perez remains a huge fan of the former World Cup winner following his five-year spell with the club as a player, and is willing to give him his first job in senior coaching sooner or later.
The 42-year-old wasn’t among the list of considerations when Jose Mourinho left the Bernabeu two years ago, with the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Joachim Low joining Ancelotti on the shortlist. Yet his increased hands-on experience in the intervening period, combined with a lack of outstanding candidates elsewhere, leave the former Ballon d’Or winner and three-times Fifa World Player of the Year as a clear favourite for the role.
Only victories will save Ancelotti now. Either an overhauling of Barcelona’s La Liga lead or a first ever back-to-back Champions League triumph is needed to keep the wolves from the door. He may have made a rod for his own back by collecting four major trophies in 2014, but Madrid’s standards have always been notoriously high.
It’s win or bust from here on in for the Italian.