#360debate: Should Ancelotti be sacked as Real Madrid coach?

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Under fire: Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.

 Real Madrid’s season may have finished on a seven-goal high this weekend, but the post-Christmas slump which saw the club lose control of La Liga to Barcelona and exit the Champions League to Juventus is the real story of recent weeks.

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President Florentino Perez is notoriously trigger-happy and pressure is mounting on head coach Carlo Ancelotti, with the Italian having failed to win the league title in two attempts with the Spanish giants.

A Champions League triumph in his first season would be enough to ensure long-term safety at many clubs, but this is Perez and Real Madrid.

Our #360debate today is: Should Carlo Ancelotti be sacked as Real Madrid head coach?

James Piercy, Deputy Editor, thinks YES.

Carlo Ancelotti is a gentleman and deserves more respect than he has been afforded by Florentino Perez, however the fact remains he has failed at Real Madrid.

Yes, there was the Copa del Rey and Champions League title last term but Real were just over a minute away from a 1-0 defeat in the latter, which would have cost Ancelotti his job 12 months ago.

The fact they won it, rather flatteringly in extra-time, merely prolonged the Italian’s existence in the Bernabeu dugout as it was evident then he wasn’t the right fit.

Ancelotti has come under much pressure this season.

Last season was a huge missed opportunity; Barcelona were average at best under Tata Martino and while Atletico Madrid’s title triumph was a remarkable feat, Real could and should have won it with the resources they had.

They were probably a better, certainly more balanced, side than this season. Nobody in Spain could have had any complaints that Atletico were worthy winners and that, in itself, speaks volumes of Madrid’s season. Martino, whose Barcelona finished on 87 points with Real, wasn’t given a second chance

But having been saved by the Champions League, Ancelotti was given €130m (Dh525m) worth of new players and again couldn’t do the job.

There are underlying issues in amongst all this, most notably how much Perez’s meddling in the market has undermined his manager. But Ancelotti, as he himself admits, knows what’s expected.

If he can’t operate with Perez’s scattergun transfer policy or try and provide opposition to it, there isn’t much point in sticking around.

He remains popular in the dressing room but notably he has been unable to coax consistent seasons out of Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane and Dani Carvajal, three younger players who have gone backwards.

His unwavering faith in Iker Casillas, while the World Cup’s best goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, sat on the bench, cost them points and his constant overlooking of Sami Khedira when Madrid were crying out for greater midfield stability is baffling.

There has been no development from last year, and it would be fruitless for the impatient Perez to afford him a third chance. 

Andy West, La Liga correspondent, thinks NO.

Even for a man as notoriously impatient as Madrid president Florentino Perez, sacking Carlo Ancelotti would be a terribly short-sighted move.

It is true that Ancelotti’s season has not been perfect, with Real’s poor performances in several big games – such as their Champions League semi-final with Juventus and a woeful La Liga thrashing against Atletico Madrid – falling well short of expected standards.

But there were extenuating circumstances, not the least of which was a string of injuries to key players – especially Luka Modric, whose absence for much of the season deprived the team of its chief link between midfield and attack.

It should not be forgotten that Ancelotti spent the autumn leading Madrid to a new Spanish record of 22 straight victories, finishing 2014 with victory in the FIFA Club World Cup to become the first manager in the club’s history to win four trophies in a calendar year.

The prospect of dumping the coach who masterminded those triumphs just a few months later is patently ridiculous and, rather than lapsing into such an overreaction, Perez needs to realise that his ‘Galacticos’ transfer strategy, which routinely recruits unnecessary players while ignoring more pressing needs, is the biggest obstacle to sustained success for Real Madrid.

Perez, indeed, only has to look within his own organisation to discover an example of how to build a successful squad.

In 2013 and 2014, Madrid’s basketball team fell agonisingly short of winning their most important trophy, suffering defeat in consecutive Euroleague finals.

Rather than axing coach Pablo Laso and foisting a batch of glamorous but unneeded new signings upon the team, Perez left the club’s basketball section in peace to make their own changes.

Laso stayed, recruited a string of unheralded but hard-nosed new players to toughen up his team, and was duly rewarded with a convincing triumph in last weekend’s Euroleague final against Olympiacos.

Perez should learn from the lesson of the basketball team, leave Ancelotti in place and give the coach the unhindered ability to make all recruitment decisions.

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Ancelotti in the dark as Real Madrid line up Rafa Benitez

Andy West 23/05/2015
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Embattled: Ancelotti.

Ahead of what could prove to be his last game as Real Madrid manager, Carlo Ancelotti revealed he still does not know whether he will be in charge at the Bernabeu next season.

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Despite leading Los Blancos to last season’s Champions League title, ending an agonising 12-year wait for the club’s coveted 10th European crown, Ancelotti’s future has been subjected to intense scrutiny over the last couple of weeks.

Madrid’s semi-final Champions League exit against Juventus and their failure to overhaul Barcelona in La Liga means Ancelotti will finish the season without a major trophy, and club president Florentino Perez is believed to have lost patience following a disappointing few months.

Perez has not spoken publicly on Ancelotti’s future, but Napoli coach Rafa Benitez – who started both his playing career and coaching career with the club – has reportedly been lined up to take over.

The former Liverpool and Valencia boss’s agent Manuel Garcia Quilon has added further fuel to the fire by admitting his client would be “truly happy” to accept the job, with Benitez also yet to sign a new contract with Napoli.

Ancelotti, who also insisted his relationship with Perez remains “good”, added: “I am the manager of Real Madrid until the club tells me something different.

“On Sunday or Monday we’ll get together and see what the future is. I haven’t spoken to the club and the club hasn’t spoken to me, but I don’t mind that other people are linked – it’s normal.

“I think that the club is evaluating things and I want to stay here. I like this club and its players.”

Ancelotti, who was given a warm round of applause by the media as he departed his press conference on Friday, also reiterated that his preference would be to keep hold of his job, adding: “If I stay, fantastic, because that’s what I want. And if I don’t, I will have the memory of the two years I spent here.”

One matter that has been seized upon in the dissection of Madrid’s season has been the number of injuries they have suffered, with physical conditioning coach Giovanni Mauri set to be axed even in the unlikely scenario that Ancelotti stays.

But the Italian backed his colleague and insisted it is too easy to second-guess the team’s physical preparations.

“I came here with my staff, who are the best in the world,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in them. I have already said that we were harmed by injuries, but some people think the players did too much work, and others that they didn’t do enough.”

The subject of Ancelotti’s future is enormously overshadowing Saturday’s final game of the season against mid-table Getafe.

But it could prove to be a highly significant occasion for another of the club’s leading figures, Iker Casillas, who also faces an uncertain future with Los Blancos heavily linked with a move for Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.

Ancelotti confirmed that Casillas will start tonight but insisted that should not be regarded as a chance for the veteran to say farewell.

He said: “Iker didn’t ask me to play, we decided together. He wants to stay and everyone would be happy with that.”

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Al Sadd-bound Xavi the heart of Barca

Andy West 21/05/2015
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Iconic: Xavi.

When Xavi Hernandez steps onto the Nou Camp turf for Barcelona’s meeting with Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, it will be the final league appearance for the most important player in the club’s history.

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With the likes of Lionel Messi, Johan Cruyff and 1950s legend Laszlo Kubala for company, being regarded as the greatest of them all is no mean feat.

The statistics, however, speak for themselves. Last weekend’s La Liga’s title triumph gave Xavi the 23rd trophy of his club career – a haul which includes eight Spanish championships and three Champions League crowns. During that period, he has 764 appearances in the Blaugrana colours, beating the next best on the list – his great friend Carles Puyol – by more than 150.

Xavi’s importance is not measured by numbers alone, however, because his biggest contribution was serving as the basis for the short-passing game which became synonymous with Barca. Nobody epitomised their tactical approach more than Xavi, whose peerless ball distribution skills, stamina and game awareness made ‘tiki-taka’ possible.

Messi, of course, has dominated the headlines during their time together, and the Argentine is the cherry on Barca’s cake (perhaps the sweetest, most delectable cherry ever tasted). But the cake itself was Xavi: he was the foundation upon which everything else rested.

Without him to set the tempo and run the show, the whole thing would have risked disintegrating into chaotic, unstructured crumbs.

We have seen exactly that happen, in fact, during his recent decline, and it could be said that the effective end of Xavi’s Barcelona career came two years ago when he was powerless to prevent a 7-0 aggregate thrashing by Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League semi-finals.

Even then, it was apparent Xavi’s legs could no longer carry him as they used to, removing his ability to dictate a game and making him increasingly a defensive liability.

It is notable, indeed, that he has only been picked to start one major game this season: the Clasico league trip to Real Madrid, which Barca comprehensively lost 3-1 after, tellingly, being overrun in midfield.

Xavi’s time as a truly great player, therefore, is long past and Ivan Rakitic’s fundamental role in this season’s successes demonstrate that the team has already left him behind. But it would be churlish to focus too much on the last two years when we should be remembering the previous 15.

Re-watching Barca’s Champions League final win over Manchester United in 2011 is the perfect reminder of just how good Xavi was.

He was the absolute master of that encounter, making 148 passes – more than the entire United midfield combined. The other 21 players on the pitch often appeared to be little more than inanimate puppets, controlled by the great string-master in the No 6 shirt.

The goals might have been scored by others (Pedro, Messi and David Villa), but Xavi was the true motoring force.

His Barca career is nearly over, but not before he has two more chances to add more silverware to his glittering collection. And Xavi only needs one of those to overtake Real Madrid legend Gento as the most-decorated player in Spanish football history.

When that happens, as it surely will, nobody should begrudge him.

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