Los Blancos are back on the throne as Real Madrid celebrate their 35th La Liga title thanks to a win over Espanyol Barcelona. For Carlo Ancelotti, it’s historic, for the team it’s remarkable. In fact, it is no longer suitable for modern football.
Real Madrid are Spanish champions. And for the 35th time. The royals have even more success than FC Bayern. The Munich team has 32 trophies, but they have just celebrated their tenth title in a row – and thought they were on a historic mission in Europe. But this assumption has long since been refuted. Teams from Gibraltar, Latvia and Norway have had longer streaks. In return, something historic has happened in Madrid. Italian rof phenomenon Carlo Ancelotti is in fact the first coach to win the national championship title in the top five leagues in Europe.
Well, how this historic success for the Madrilenians was possible is one of football’s biggest mysteries today. Because this team is actually no longer suitable for the demands of the modern game. Madrid is neither “Heavy Metal” (like Liverpool FC) nor “Mozart” (like Manchester City). What exactly is real can hardly be defined in these weeks. “Süddeutsche Zeitung” perceived the ensemble around the eternal heroes Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro and Karim Benzema as particularly secure on the abyss. However, the movements of the club icons are no longer as delicate as they once were, not as powerful and persistent. Some things seem wooded, some stressed, much no longer self-evident.
But suddenly, as the next step actually threatens to lead into the abyss, the players remember that they are in fact a royal ballet. “Ancelotti’s great gift is to make the soloists sound like an orchestra,” former Bayern technical director Michael Reschke told the online magazine “The Athletic” for an epic review of the master coach’s performance. And it’s like this: The players, the soloists, discover movements in themselves that result in great moments for the whole orchestra. Modric can still file any defense in the world with an ingenious outside wrist pass, such as in the quarter-final against Chelsea. Kroos still feels the ingenious strategist in himself, Casemiro the ubiquitous clearer. Only one in the squad opposes being a part-time legend with all the ferocity from his more than 600 matches for Madrid: Karim Benzema.
Completely addicted to Benzema
The Frenchman has never been as good as this season in this calendar year. He is considered the top favorite for the Ballon d’Or. That Real are champions four games before the end is closely linked to his performance. And no one in the kingdom bothers to claim otherwise. In the middle of the month, Ancelotti admitted with the calm of her inherent driving husband: “We are addicted to Benzema, that’s the reality. And I’m very happy about that.” He has scored 42 goals in 42 competitive matches, including one of course this Saturday as he scored the final goal in the 4-0 win over Espanyol Barcelona as a late substitute. Believe in the paraphrased wisdom: no Karim, no party. Where will this mantra take the team? On the throne of Europe?
That would be just as surprising as not. Because these old champions from Madrid have developed a very amazing ability on the edge of the abyss. Namely, always getting into the head of the opponent with their legend at the right time. There to create uncertainty. There to let the thought sink in that you can control a game completely, but that even the slightest mistake can be mercilessly punished by the genius and the aging class of the quadruple premier class triumphants. Seconds are enough for heroes. Small things spread over 90 minutes (or 180 as a two-legged game).
And it is not the error of the old men, but their absolute conviction. Mod Paris St. Germain, in the quarter-finals of the Premier League, Benzema is said to have said something in the locker room: don’t worry, they’re getting nervous. They were – and failed. The Qatar billionaire ensemble was once again Europe’s luxury idiot, Real smiled. And if there was one face that gave the greatest possible charm to this satisfaction at the moment, it was Ancelotti’s face. To happy for his chewing gum-coach, who since his turbulent time at FC Bayern had been denied that he was still able to master today’s challenges. Now he is a historical figure. And satisfied. “It makes me proud. I like what I do. The five championships mean I do a good job. I am proud to be here and I will continue to win titles with Real.”
The royal pleasure
Ancelotti led AC Milan to titles in Italy (2004), Chelsea FC in England (2010), Paris St. Germain in France (2013) and Bayern Munich (2017) in the Bundesliga. In his first period in Madrid (2013 to 2015) he had missed a championship title. He now enjoyed his triumph with sunglasses and a cigar. Like the eternal Hertha coach Pal Dardai last summer, only of course: more successful. An image for the football gods. He enjoyed the moment between his players. He had won it again. This understanding, caretaker, for whom the locker room (the support) is more important than the well-thought-out game, the tactical nuance. Philipp Lahm once said of Ancelotti that he would not say in a week what Pep Guardiola would say in three hours. Ancelotti gives players the quiet confidence they deliver. Football is easy sometimes. Ancelotti sees it that way.
The championship party on Sunday turned the cozy Signore into a party animal. This is how the newspaper “AS” saw the coach “in hooligan mode”. The 62-year-old danced excitedly on the champion bus, he sang a little off-key with the appendix and was not ashamed of his tears of joy. His father and grandfather had just built near the water, he reported blissfully, “it’s the genes”. “Gazzetta dello Sport” in his home country honored his “Grand Slam”, “Corriere della Sera” even elevated him to “Carlo V, King of Europe”. For “La Repubblica” one thing is certain: “Ancelotti V.” is “one of the greatest coaches in football history”.
In fact, the hasty obituaries of his work were not without truth. Ancelotti does not prescribe aggressive pressing (like Jürgen Klopp) or grueling possession (like Pep Guardiola). Ancelotti lets his team do what they are best at. That the element of “excellence” is sometimes lacking this season is probably only worth another raised eyebrow. “My style is to allow players to feel comfortable,” he said in an interview during his first stay at Real Madrid. It often worked. Most recently at Bayern, SSC Napoli and FC Everton not more and more often. In a football that is becoming more and more complex and complicated, tactical laissez-faire seemed lost.
And only found support again in Madrid. Ancelotti allowed his team to play the “heroic football” typical of Real Madrid, without complicated tactical twists and turns. This royal game is not admired. That the club’s operetta audience was not allowed to go to the stadium for a long time due to the pandemic, the coach and team spared him for troubled moments. There were victories instead of whispers. The basis for the title in a season where great rivals Atletico and FC Barcelona faltered and Sevilla FC lacked royal power in big matches. Really, the option. Although the Spanish record champions rarely seemed invulnerable, it is when it comes to titles. Ex-Bayern coach Karl-Heinz Rummenigge called these phases of a season “Ancelotti time”. Even though they waited in vain for it in Munich.
And now the handle pot?
In Madrid, the clocks are now ticking to “Carletto”. Because Thibous Courtois is a great goalkeeper, because David Alaba, who is intelligent in the game, orchestrates the defense, because the midfield with Modric, Kroos and Casemiro knows all the eventualities of a match and has solutions ready, because Benzema creates a danger with every move. Because Vinicus Junior is finally no longer just a part-time talent, but plays enthusiastically and efficiently. And because the Italian grand lord with his unshakable conviction can act valerian against budding unrest. He responds to criticism that the royals lack the royal in their game with his nonchalant charm: “Some clubs will play well, some will win titles,” he said a few weeks ago. And he did not need to add what Real Madrid wanted.
And the next title beckons gently. Again, it’s the handle pot. It could be Ancelotti’s fourth. This success – one would assume – would be historic. Real enter the second match against Guardiola’s City with a 3-4 deposit from the first match. Manchester City were clearly the better team there, and had at times offered football from a different universe. City had Real in stranglehold on the ground. But never before the knockout, it is this strange aura of the Madrilenians who are already gathering their forces again.