As far as great managers go, Carlo Ancelotti is without doubt one of the finest managers to have ever graced football. Having just guided Real Madrid to their 10th European Cup on Saturday (4 of which under the new Champions League format), Ancelotti adds yet another trophy to his haul. The Italian coach steered his all star team to a famous 4-1 victory over neighbours Atletico Madrid in a thrilling final. Despite being seconds away from defeat before Sergio Ramos dramatic 93rd minutes bullet header leveled the game, Ancelotti remained calm, encourage his team forward in his usual composed way. Whilst his opposite number Diego Simeone was losing his head, Ancelotti remained calm and masterminded a comeback that will now live in Champions League folklore. Tactical changes made on the hour mark switched the balance of the game back in Real’s favour and gave them a renewed energy and focus. Sending on Marcelo and Isco for Fábio Coentrão and Sami Khedira changed the way Real were set up, giving Gareth Bale and more importantly Angel Di Maria more freedom to attack. It was Di Maria’s lofty cross into the box in the dying minutes of the game that led to Real winning the decisive corner from which Ramos would score. And it was Di Maria’s dazzling run and shot deep into extra time that would help Real Madrid take the lead for the first time, thanks to a Gareth Bale header. With the momentum now with the Los Blancos, Atletico crumbled and let Real score twice more through substitute Marcelo and a penalty from Ronaldo.
It was only as the third goal went in that Ancelotti started to celebrate, throwing his arms into the air before being embraced by assistant Zinedine Zidane. The realization on Ancelotti’s face that he had joined Bob Paisley as one of only two managers ever to lift three European Cups was evident. The only difference between the two men is how they did it. Paisley managed the feat with Liverpool during their glory days in the late 70’s/early 80’s whereas Ancelotti has managed it with two clubs, picking up two titles as AC Milan boss and the third on Saturday as Real Madrid boss. This trophy is added to the various others won by Ancelotti included league titles in England, Italy and France as well as several domestic and European cups like the Intertoto Cup won with Juventus and the UEFA Super cup and FIFA Club World Cups won with Milan.
Whilst trophies demonstrate success for a manager, it’s the day to day work and changes they make to their team and the way that they play that makes a manager great. Going into the match on Saturday, Ancelotti was well aware of the threat that Diego Simeone’s men presented and key players like Diego Costa, Diego Godin and David Villa offered. Despite a half fit Costa, who lasted only 9 minutes before limping off, Atletico were ready for Real and clung to the dream of winning their first ever Champions League trophy to cap a sensational year in which they had regained the La Liga title after an 18 year hiatus. Ancelotti knew that the game would be decided by the match ups in players but without the superb Xavi Alonso, who was suspended for the match, the Italian had a hole in the middle of the park that he needed to fill. Ancelotti turned to Sami Khedira and placed his faith in the German international, despite Khedira having spent the better part of this season out injured. In the first half Khedira poured his heart into the game, covering acres of grass as he nullified the threat from the Atletico midfield. As he tired, he was replaced by Spanish international Isco who added more pace to the game, often running at the now tired and weary Atletico midfield. The introduction of Marcelo and later in the game Morata for Benzema acted like an injection of energy, which was exactly what Real needed to eventually break down a stubborn Atletico defence.
In the end, Real and Ancelotti triumphed, much to the distain of Diego Simeone who lost his cool and was eventually sent off. The passionate Argentine could learn a thing or two from his opposite number, who remained as calm and collected as ever even as history was being made. Ancelotti will now focus on building his team back up to challenge for the La Liga crown next season, and in doing so will be hoping to add yet another trophy to his already glittering collection.