Hello again. The day Carlo Ancelotti returned to Real Madrid, a chance conversation about something completely different unexpectedly bringing him back to Spain six years later, he looked around Valdebebas and saw familiar faces everywhere, comforted by the no change. “The same physiotherapists, the same men in kit, the same journalists, the same vision, the same requirements for greatness”, as he said. âEverything is the same: the only thing that changes is the coach.
He’s there anyway. Since his departure, Madrid have known five: Rafa BenÃtez, Zinedine Zidane, Julen Lopetegui, Santi Solari and Zidane again. Barcelona have known six. In contrast, Sunday’s opponents across the capital – rivals who have proven to be as tall as Barcelona, ââat least for Ancelotti – have seen none. AtlÃ©tico Madrid have moved to a new home, leaving the Vicente CalderÃ³n and heading to the Metropolitano 22 km northeast, but not their coach. So it’s a familiar face that awaits Ancelotti at the Santiago BernabÃ©u.
Diego Simeone was in charge at AtlÃ©tico when Ancelotti first came and was responsible when he left. He was still in charge when Ancelotti came for the second time and it’s not a big step to suggest that he still will be when the Italian starts again. It’ll be a decade this month, not 14 like Ancelotti said, but Simeone is different, an outlier now. Not just in Spain but everywhere. And not only different, a “dream” to use the admiring words of Ancelotti on the eve of the first derby of his second spell. “God willing I would be here for 14 years like he has been at AtlÃ©tico,” he said, a smile showing he knows that won’t happen.
But Ancelotti didn’t think it would happen either. A phone call this summer about possible player signings ended in his. “A fantastic surprise”, as he put it in Corriere dello Sport. “There is no better place in the world to live or work.” No better place for a derby either. A second unexpected opportunity, a return to a place that he missed and that he believed had been neglected was a chance for the Italian to take advantage of it for the time it lasts, every day a bonus.
While Ancelotti says the defeats hurt him physically, leaving him unable to sleep, he’s a man at ease, beyond all the nonsense and noise now. âI’m in a phase of my life where I just want to be at peace with the world,â he said. âI have been in football since 1977, almost 46 years, including 30 coaches. I have neither the time nor the inclination to fight. When Florentin [PÃ©rez] wants to fire me, I won’t get angry.
There was comfort in the familiarity, but maybe not this time as he looks to his right, towards the visitor’s technical area. “What Simeone has done at AtlÃ©tico – to build something important, to place the club among the best in Europe, to fight every year, to win titles and to always do it impeccably – is something that all coaches want, âsaid Ancelotti. “Being in a club for a long time, leaving your mark, your signature, is the dream of all coaches.”
He speaks from experience. Simeone also left his mark on Ancelotti; he’s witnessing how AtlÃ©tico’s revolution rekindled the rivalry, taking it to heights it might never have reached. As managers, they couldn’t be more different, especially not now – at least on the surface. The Argentinian leaps, paces and shouts, waving frantically, leading the crowd, never still on the sideline until the moment he turns around and sprints into the tunnel. The Italian rarely does more than put gum down his throat and raise an eyebrow. Between themselves, however, they stirred up hell, engaging in the greatest battles.
Ancelotti was only in Madrid for two seasons, but he faced Simeone in 13 derbies, including a Copa del Rey semi-final and the first European Cup final between two teams from the same city, 70,000 fans se heading west on the road from Badajoz to Lisbon. No game was played more often, nor was it so important. None felt so important, not even the classics. Derby had probably never been so competitive and they weren’t always enjoyable either. “What a horrible team they are,” said a member of the Madrid backroom staff as he left the defeated CalderÃ³n one night. They knew they were in a real fight.
Ancelotti saw AtlÃ©tico win the championship – their first in 14 years, only second in 38 – perhaps the most unlikely there has ever been, a real reversal of the status quo, and perhaps the most great success of AtlÃ©tico. If only because seven days later, a goal from Sergio Ramos on 92.48, denied them the European Cup and made Madrid their 10th obsession. Without this, Ancelotti could have been fired; instead, he will always be the coach who won the decimates. While there, he suffered a 4-0 defeat and did not win in the league.
Winning here would not only be his first La Liga derby success; it would also be a big step towards this season’s title. And it would be Ancelotti’s first in Spain to go with those won in England, France, Italy and Germany. The position could hardly be better, much more than anyone expected when he arrived as a popular, stable and comfortable although improvised choice of trainer, a man with a calm class about everything he does. and say. Including the refusal to say it’s over, too much respect for his rival, for the familiar face that rules them.
Madrid have everyone available, Karim Benzema is back after an injury, they have nine unbeaten. But Ancelotti insisted: âWhat I can say is what happened – we did better than the other teams – but it speaks of the past. If the league ends today, it’s over. Unfortunately, it does not end today: we have to play another six months and I do not know what can happen next. “
He added: âA half-league title? I do not know. We would have three more points on a rival who will fight for the championship he won last season. But I don’t want to put more pressure on this game because the pressure is already there – and that’s a good thing.
They have a lot of players that I like. Griezmann, SuÃ¡rez is a fantastic striker. Rodrigo de Paul played very well. At the back, they have “pessimistic” players, and I like that about defenders. They have a great keeper.
âIt’s a complete team. It will be a naturally competitive match, with duels, against a team that is fighting for the same goal as us.