Ancelotti's future under spotlight

LONDON - Sometimes, when distracted by that comically rogue eyebrow or the smirk that accompanies his dry sense of humour, it is all too easy to forget Carlo Ancelotti’s pedigree.

Paul Clement had a reminder earlier this week. The Italian noticed his assistant at Real Madrid was experiencing a pang of apprehension ahead of tonight’s Champions League final and asked him if it was his first in the competition.

“I told him it was and he chuckled and said it’s his seventh,” offered the Englishman. “His seventh as player and coach … Fair play. It could be my last.”

Few managers in world football can challenge Ancelotti’s experience. There is intrigue at the emergence of Diego Simeone, and admiration for the disciplined and imposing Atlético Madrid side the Argentinian oversees, but the Italian who sends Real Madrid into the Estádio da Luz to confront city rivals might struggle to list all the honours he has chalked up over a 19-year coaching career.

There have been domestic titles in Italy, England and France, two Champions Leagues with Milan, two Uefa Super Cups and a Fifa Club World Cup with the Rossoneri, as well as domestic cup competitions in Italy, England and, this season, Spain.

The last was April’s Copa del Rey, a victory achieved against Barcelona to ensure that, regardless of how matters pan out in Lisbon, this will not be a trophy-less first season at Real. In that glittering context it is strange, then, to consider that, should Atlético deny Real their 10th European Cup, Ancelotti’s tenure might be jeopardised.

The volatile club president, Florentino Pérez, has apparently been chuntering again behind the scenes, his dissatisfaction with football managers in general – other than possibly José Mourinho, whose confrontational attitude he rather admired – having reared once more with a third-place finish in La Liga raising his heckles. Delivering la décima is his personal obsession.

Pérez has actually been questioning Ancelotti for some time, private disquiet which has inevitably found its way back to the manager.

The 54-year-old is worldly wise when it comes to major footballing institutions but, even if he remains publicly unruffled, it is fair to say he has been baffled by elements of Real life.

So unpredictable is the president that, should the team triumph in Portugal, it is far from implausible that Pérez emerges to praise the Italian to the rafters.

Yet it was notable that, in the wake of the Copa del Rey success – secured courtesy of a stunning winner from Gareth Bale, the president’s marquee signing – he had heaped plaudits on Real’s match-winners, even Barça’s players and fans, without once mentioning Ancelotti.

The manager was asked about the uncertainty at the club’s media day this week.

“I’m not thinking of my future,” he replied with a smile that felt familiar from his final year at Chelsea.

“It doesn’t depend on what happens in the final. I’m happy to stay with Real Madrid, whether we win la décima or not. I’m optimistic. I’m only thinking about how we’ll win.”

Yet he, more than anyone, will know any personal desire to remain at the Bernabéu is essentially irrelevant.

His future at the club will be determined by the whims of one notoriously impatient powerbroker. Potential suitors, whether back home in Italy or even north London, will be watching events with interest.

Even putting his curriculum vitae aside, the fact Ancelotti finds himself under pressure is merely a reminder of how ludicrous life at elite clubs can be.

This is a manager who had been aggressively pursued by Pérez last summer – the third time the Spaniard had sought out his services – and, once his head had been turned, was eventually prised from Paris Saint-Germain on a three-year contract.  – The Guardian

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid 8:45pm

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