The former Parma midfielder won the Champions League with AC Milan on two occasions.
At Napoli, Carlo Ancelotti will look to rebuild. Not the team, but his career which, after his controversial spells at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, is in serious need of a revival. When Neymar stroked the ball into the net, the man on the sidelines looked distraught and clueless. Paris Saint-Germain fans were cheering hard for their team. The Bavarians had no idea what hit them.
For the major part of the game, Bayern were left chasing the lightning front three of PSG – Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani – to no avail. Niklas Sule and Javi Martinez tasked with centre-back duties for the night looked worn out and exhausted as PSG mercilessly slotted three past the best team in Germany. Come next morning and Ancelotti was without a job.
The night of 27th September 2018 was a new low for the Italian. His team looked lost on the field, with an inability to comprehend the quick, pacy game of the PSG forwards. This was not the side Bayern fans were used to watching. This was not the Bayern that had torn through teams and won five consecutive Bundesliga titles with their mind-blowing attack and solid defense.
But, more importantly, this was not the Ancelotti that took AC Milan to two Champions League titles. This was not the Ancelotti that had pried the Premier League trophy from the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson. On the sidelines, he looked weak and exposed, like a fallen warrior.
Wherever Ancelotti goes, he has been known to create a good atmosphere in the dressing room. His players have the right to be opinionated and he has always been ready to lend a ear to anyone who wants to express ideas. However, his last few weeks at Bayern were turbulent. He had lost his hold over the dressing room, with players turning against him. His tactical decisions and team selection were continuously questioned, as he repeatedly prioritized the wrong matches.
The roots of this can be traced back to the 2016-17 season. For Bayern Munich, winning the league is no big deal. They were German champions for four years consecutively under both Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola. The first signs of a waning Bayern under Ancelotti came in the Champions League campaign, when the Germans finished second in the group stages behind Atletico Madrid, losing surprisingly to Russian team Rostov in the process.
They bowed out uncharacteristically in the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal and also got knocked out in a tense quarterfinal tie against Real Madrid in the Champions League. However, they still went on to win the league by a comfortable margin. But, six gameweeks into the following campaign, Bayern were third in the table, with a style of play that immediately raised questions. With discontent on the rise, Ancelotti was sacked.
His Real Madrid tenure was also riddled with extremes. Despite taking the talented and expensive squad to the ‘La Decima’ in his first season in-charge, his form in the league was questioned. Finishing third behind Barcelona and eventual champions Atletico Madrid was quickly forgotten after the Champions League victory. His second campaign started brightly with six wins in all six matches of the Champions League group stage and after 21 matches in the league, they were on the top of the table.
But, a 4-0 thumping at the hands of their city rivals started a run of three losses in seven games that saw them give away the lead to their fierce rivals Barcelona. A Round of 16 exit in the Copa Del Rey and semi-final heartbreak in the Champions League fastened his exit. After Rafael Benitez’s brief tenure, when Zinedine Zidane took over the squad and, with minimal changes, managed to win three consecutive Champions League titles and a Spanish league crown, Ancelotti’s reputation took a hit.
Being criticised for his methods is not new to Ancelotti. Back in 1997, when he was at Parma, he was criticized heavily for his inflexibility and his unwillingness to change his formation to suit his players. This resulted in a lot of players leaving the club. However, “Carletto” realized the error of his ways and this allowed him to reap huge success with AC Milan.
Now, at Napoli, Ancelotti will not be looking to emulate Maurizio Sarri, but to go one step further by winning the Scudetto. With the talent at his disposal, Ancelotti’s Napoli could prove to be the answer to Juventus’ dominance in Italy, now fuelled further by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Credited with moulding the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Alessandro Nesta, his talents are not foreign to Italian fans. Ancelotti’s experience will be a key factor in the race for the Serie A title this season. It is also a chance at redemption for the Italian, an opportunity to get back to his glory days.