Everton Should Not Be Seduced By Ancelotti
Despite being such a good fit on paper, it would be a mistake for Everton to proceed with it.
That might sound odd to say. Ancelotti was oft-praised for his tactical acumen as a player. In 1987, he was brought to Milan by Arrigo Sacchi to be his on-field conductor. His knees had deteriorated by that stage, but Sacchi appreciated his brain. During his five years as a player in Milan Ancelotti collected over half-a-dozen major trophies.
By 1995, he ventured into management with Reggiana. A year later he joined Parma. It was with the Crociati he learned one of his greatest lessons as a manager when he missed out on the chance to sign Roberto Baggio. The Italian playmaker wanted to serve as the team’s number 10. That position didn’t exist in Sacchi’s system.
Baggio opted instead to join Bologna and scored 22 goals that season. From that moment on, Ancelotti decided that in terms of importance, the players superseded the system.
His approach took him back to Milan (via Juventus) in 2001, and secured him his first Champions League title as a manager in 2003, and a scudetto in 2004.
While there he knew he had to work with a problematic owner in Silvio Berlusconi. Ancelotti was self-aware enough to know that the key to success was to please Berlusconi. That meant attacking football, and occasionally, like before the 2003 Champions League final against Juventus, a copy of the team-sheet.
“I handed out sheets of paper with the formation and the plays,” Ancelotti said in his autobiography. “He wanted copies for himself. (Later I saw them published in a book by Bruno Vespa; the chairman passed them off as his own).”
At Chelsea, Ancelotti guided the team to an FA Cup final against Portsmouth. He named the starting XI and then handed responsibility back to the players for the team-talk.
“Everyone said one thing,” he told the Financial Times in 2014. “For example, [goalkeeper Petr] Cech said, ‘You have to control the space behind, to avoid the counter-attack.’ That season we played 60 games, and 60 times I made the strategy. So I think the players understood very well what they had to do.
“I was sure the players followed the strategy because they made the strategy. Sometimes I make the strategy, but you don’t know if the players really understand. Sometimes I joke with the players: ‘Did you understand the strategy?’ ‘Yes, yes!’ ‘Repeat, please!’”
Such flexibility and pragmatism has not only served to Ancelotti’s advantage, (Chelsea beat Portsmouth 1-0 that day as part of a domestic double) but also, in part, his downfall.
He spent eight years at Milan and was allowed to build a team, but it remains far and away the longest single spell of his career. He has not repeated anything close to such longevity since. Ancelotti enjoyed two seasons at Chelsea, a season and a half in Paris, two seasons at Real Madrid and just over one season at both Bayern and Napoli.
Success has come to Ancelotti in some form at all of those clubs bar Napoli, but it is worth remembering the strong foundation that he often inherited. Only PSG required significant changes in personnel. While many of his sackings have seemed harsh, some have come with good reason.
At Bayern, there were (unconfirmed) reports that senior players had organised extra training sessions behind his back. They were said to view the transition from Pep Guardiola -- and his intensity -- to Ancelotti a comedown. His approach has also appeared to lean towards conservative in recent years, with his style a far departure from the Chelsea side that scored a Premier League record 103 goals.
The talent level at Goodison Park is also less than he is used to, and more than anything, the Toffees are in dire need of a concrete vision -- a project manager akin to Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola, or Jurgen Klopp (in longevity if not quality). The unfortunate truth is that Ancelotti does not seem built for that journey.
He has become a caretaker for Europe’s elite, not a visionary ready to lead the charge.
When he arrived at Real Madrid Ancelotti was seen as the antidote to Jose Mourinho. At Everton, the remedy to Marco Silva is a clear vision that not only incorporates the team’s best young players but also finds a balance between the different playing styles the squad are accustomed too.
That requires time and patience Ancelotti has not presented since his days in Milan. Ultimately, Everton needs someone to raise the level, not maintain it.