They say never go back to your ex, but 2021 seems to be the summer of reunions in the world of football. Juventus have reappointed Massimiliano Allegri after three years of trying to replace him successfully, while over in Madrid, Real Madrid have called back Carlo Ancelotti to take over the team after Zinedine Zidane left at the end of the season. Of course, Zidane himself was in his second spell in charge of the club, having succeeded Ancelotti after having been his assistant for two seasons, and in a weird twist of fate, the veteran Italian manager is now succeeding him. While he famously ended Real’s long wait for a tenth Champions League crown, La Decima, in 2014, Ancelotti was fired the next season for failing to win a trophy, and he returns to a club which still has many of those stalwarts around, albeit seven years older, while financial issues mean they are unlikely to splash out on big signings as they did during his first spell in charge. In these circumstances, it is quite right to wonder whether he will be able to make a success of his second time in charge of Los Blancos.
The end of Zizou
Zidane managed to win La Liga last season, and although he came quite close to retaining the title this season, his exhausted and depleted squad was ultimately unable to push over the line. Despite these struggles, it is quite telling that Madrid are still joint favorites with Barcelona on https://www.betting.co.uk and other sites for next season’s La Liga, although this is more due to the state of the league rather than either side’s qualities. Madrid’s squad has several players who are past the age of 30 and will soon need to be replaced – Sergio Ramos (35), Toni Kroos (31), Karim Benzema (33), Luka Modric (35), Marcelo (33) and Gareth Bale (31), all of whom were key players under Ancelotti. Ramos’ contract is probably not going to be renewed, as club president Florentino Perez tries to get the club’s wage bill under control, but he is the captain of the side and their leader, both on the pitch and in the dressing-room. Kroos, Benzema and Modric were fantastic this season, literally dragging Madrid through many games on their own, but time seems to be catching up now, especially for Modric, while Benzema cannot be expected to take the majority of the goalscoring burden for a third season in a row. Marcelo’s performances, however, have fallen off a cliff, with Zidane only using him towards the end of the season due to the sheer number of injuries in the Madrid squad, while Bale has long been persona non grata in Madrid, spending this season on loan at former club Tottenham Hotspur. Ancelotti did get on well with the Welshman, and his arrival could yet signal a change in Bale’s attitude and performances, as he did not get along with Zidane, but this is not certain at all.
New signings can’t replace CR7
At the same time, the club’s investment in younger players has not paid out. Eden Hazard, the man who was supposed to replace Cristiano Ronaldo as Madrid’s icon, has barely played due to injury since his arrival two years ago, and has been very poor when he has got onto the pitch. The Belgian also turned 30 earlier this year, so he is certainly not getting any younger. The likes of Dani Ceballos, Jesus Vallejo, Martin Odegaard, Reinier, Brahim Diaz, Luka Jovic and Borja Mayoral all spent time out on loan during last season, either to gain experience or because they were not deemed good enough at the moment for Madrid. That is especially damning, given the fees that were spent on some of these players, and Ancelotti will certainly need to hope that he is able to get a better tune out of most of them, as Madrid are unlikely to be able to offload them for significant fees this summer.
All in all, Ancelotti’s task is a lot bleaker this time around, as the players are older, there is no Cristiano Ronaldo around anymore, and the club have no money. It will be fascinating to see how the veteran deals with this challenge, and whether he manages to restore Madrid to their perch at the top of European and world football again.