Despite all the nostalgia swirling around Real Madrid on Tuesday when Carlo Ancelotti made his express return to the club, it wasn’t long before reality broke through.
Okay, so he won the club’s 10th European Cup the last time he was in charge, but the team he has at his disposal in 2014 is a world away from the group he inherits now and there may be no new signings on the way to amplify it.
When Ancelotti won his third European Cup and Madrid longed for 10th in Lisbon, he had Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Angel Di Maria, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo all in their prime.
Carlo Ancelotti won Real Madrid’s 10th European Cup the last time he was in charge
The Italian had Gareth Bale (left) and Cristiano Ronaldo (right) in their prime
When he takes charge of his first session this summer, Ramos will probably not be there with his contract now in its final month. Marcelo will still be playing but he is entering his final year at the club and has not been at his best for a number of seasons. Di Maria and Ronaldo are long gone and Bale will have returned from Tottenham, but like Marcelo, to play out the final year of his contract.
Madrid still has some star quality, but it’s dormant at the moment. Ancelotti will have to revive Eden Hazard after his two false starts as a Madrid player.
He will also have to forge a new defense, perhaps around the partnership of David Alaba and Eder Militao. He will have to hope that Uruguayan midfielder Fede Valverde continues to develop and that at least one of Madrid’s three young forwards Vinicius, Rodrygo and Marco Asensio can really continue.
And perhaps his biggest hope is that the club can sell so they can somehow save a major asset from the financial turmoil they find themselves in at the end of August.
But the current group that will inherit Ancelotti is a world away from that victorious side
Ancelotti will have to revive Eden Hazard and Luka Jovic after their false start as Madrid players
With the squad so bereft of top players in their prime, the other question asked in Madrid was, once the hazy memories of Ancelotti signing the club anthem to a packed Santiago Bernabeu after winning the Champions League, was he really the right man for the task in hand?
Ancelotti is Zidane only 13 years older than him. Both have won three Champions League as coaches, both found it harder to win leagues (Zidane two and Ancelotti just four), both are masters of man management and promoting unified locker rooms, but neither is particularly adept at bringing in young players or tactical intervention when the individual talent of the team falls short.
If Zidane wasn’t to the liking of President Florentino Perez, why hire someone like him? And besides, why when he fired him already in 2015? Perez was asked in the press conference after that resignation why he was leaving Ancelotti and said he didn’t know.
Chances are he did know, but he preferred not to let the dirty laundry hang out in the air so publicly. The Madrid administration felt that Ancelotti had become complacent. The workouts were too lax.
Ancelotti (left) is Zinedine Zidane (right), just 13 years his senior, and both have won three Champions Leagues
The players’ fitness was not at the level that would allow them to compete in the Champions League and it was frowned upon that he seemed to rely heavily on old friends and relatives in his ample coaching staff.
His son Davide Ancelotti will once again take his place as assistant coach, but the experienced assistants of six years ago Giovanni Mauri and Villiam Vecchi are no longer part of the Italian’s trunk.
Zidane’s fitness coach Antonio Pintus is greatly respected at the club and will remain. And a new number two will have to be found.
The idea that team Ancelotti had been a little too relaxed in his last stint at Madrid followed him to Bayern Munich, where smoking cigarettes ascending from training fields not far from the players’ changing rooms was frowned upon.
The plan is to sell centre-back Raphael Varane (centre), who is entering the final year of his contract
All eyes will be on Valdebebas when the preseason kicks off. Firstly to see how Ancelotti is shaping up this time, and secondly to see what players he has at his disposal.
There are currently 33 players at the club, including loaned players. The plan is to sell Raphael Varane and not renew Ramos’ deal, leaving Alaba, Militao, Nacho and youth team captain Victor Chust as the four centre-backs.
The club are keen for Isco to continue, although there are currently no candidates for the 29-year-old former Spain international.
Elsewhere in midfield, Ancelotti must decide whether he wants Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos back from Arsenal. The decision would be taken out of his hands if Arsenal make an offer for the Norwegian and Madrid think they should accept it.
The club would like Isco to continue, although there are currently no buyers for the 29-year-old
The 19-year-old Japanese international Take Kubo is again on loan. Brahim Diaz could stay with Milan permanently if the clubs can set a fee. Likewise, Roma will keep Borja Mayoral if they can meet Madrid’s price demands.
It is quite possible that Luka Jovic will return with Ancelotti tasked with bringing out the best in a player who has cost more (€60 million) than anyone would pay for him now.
And it’s on offense where Ancelotti immediately sees the respective shortage of options. With Benzema appearing to be back in the international fold, will Benzema be as able to play every game for Madrid as he has been in recent seasons? And how will the club fare without him if Jovic is probably the only alternative?
If Real Madrid get a good price for Varane – they want around €45m for a player in the last year of his contract – then that money, coupled with Ramos’ loss of wage bill, could make room for a new recruit, but Paris Saint-Germain look set to keep Kylian Mbappe whether or not he signs a new contract, so any hopes of signing him may have to be pushed back to next season, when he could be available on a free transfer.
Ancelotti must decide whether he wants Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos back from Arsenal
As a result, Madrid will look for fewer mortals to enter and excite the crowds as they prepare to flow back through the gates of the Santiago Bernabeu.
Ancelotti should have the advantage of 80,000 supporters behind the team when the season starts – something Zidane has been denied for the past year and a half.
Of course, a noisy arena only works in his favor when things go right. Memories of the 2013-14 season, when the Copa del Rey and Champions League were won, are fun now, but they won’t sustain him in his second stint. The requirements are the same, the tools he has to do the job are very different.
PSG look set to keep Kylian Mbappe whether or not he signs a new deal