Stunned silence greeted the final whistle. Cristiano Ronaldo, standing with hands on hips, looked ruefully up into the clear evening sky. Players crouched, staring blankly at the green grass before them.
To say this wasn’t in the script is an understatement. Real Madrid did not expect to be eliminated; Juventus could scarcely believe they had made it through. Whilst Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri entered the pitch to congratulate his players, Carlo Ancelotti looked around, wondering what might have been.
The anticipation surrounding this tie given Barcelona’s stroll to the final in their match against Bayern Munich the previous evening was huge. The Madrid team bus could barely make its way down the Paseo de la Castellana due to the swathes of Los Blancos fans — many without tickets — lining the streets to greet their heroes.
A first ever Clasico European Cup Final was at stake and a chance for Real Madrid to be the first ever back-to-back champions since the European Cup was rebranded as the UEFA Champions League in 1992.
This was a performance and a team that was feeding off of the emotions of the crowd. The lead on the night — and the advantage via away goals rule — brought about by Ronaldo’s penalty midway through the first half, lifted some of the nerves of both the players and the fans. Once Alvaro Morata, formally a Real Madrid youth team product, equalised for Juventus in the second half, anxiety spread like wildfire around the Stantiago Bernabeu stadium.
The Madridistas can be difficult fans to please at the best of times, but the consistent jeers aimed at goalkeeper and club legend Iker Casillas, as well as the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, only served to translate the feelings of anxiety and nerves from the stands onto the pitch.
Ronaldo, a self-styled goal machine, was shy and looked to drop wider and deeper in search of the ball; a distinct change in tack from a man who has been playing in the central role this season. Bale was nervous and unsure in possession, an understandable response given the pressure surrounding his form in recent weeks. Nevertheless, it was not befitting of a player who scored a wonder goal in last season’s Copa Del Rey final and scored one of the decisive extra time goals in last season’s Champions League final.
Time Is Almost Up For Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid
This nervousness was most surprising. Carlo Ancelotti is a coach who exudes calm and control. His manner on the touchline is generally one of restraint and serenity. Real Madrid have for years prided themselves as a club whose playing style is smooth and everything gives the impression of being effortless and graceful. Usually, this is underpinned by a few key players, who aren’t Galacticos, the ones doing the hard graft and paddle furiously underneath the surface, leaving those above it to add the beauty and majesty.
In this game, there was no serenity. More crucially, there was no one paddling beneath the surface. The loss of Luka Modric to injury has been a cruel blow to Madrid in the second half of this season. The squad at Ancelotti’s disposal is no doubt talented, but he sees it as being limited.
It spoke volumes last night that the only substitute made was Javier Hernandez for the returning Karim Benzema. In Modric’s absence the centre of midfield consisted of Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Isco. All very good players, but one is a central midfielder, not a holding one, and the other two are number tens. With Sami Khederia leaving in the summer, the political powers have decreed that he will not feature for the team for the rest of the season. Assier Illarramendi is obviously not rated by Ancelotti and the January signing Lucas Silva is also one of those not trusted by the coach.
For Real Madrid only to be able to make one attacking substitute in the game is not acceptable to the Madrid public. Striker Jese, despite a long lay-off with an ACL injury at the end of last season, has failed to regain the support of the manager and remained on the bench. In addition to Jese and Illarramendi, that the other substitutes were goalkeeper Keylor Navas and defenders Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Alvaro Arebeloa, this only accentuates the lack of depth that Carlo Ancelotti has been able to build within his squad over the past two years.
All exits have appeared like for like: Angel Di Maria left for Manchester; Xabi Alonso joined Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and Juventus signed Morata. Their replacements were World Cup sensation James, Lucas Silva, signed from Brazilian side Cruzeiro and Toni Kroos from Bayern Munich.
The lack of any squad depth has to be levelled at Ancelotti. Even given Real Madrid’s penchant for hiring ‘head coaches’ and foisting players upon them, the coach has to take responsibility. Jose Mourinho in his time in charge was the only manager of recent times to rage against the machine and win.
The other main criticism of Ancelotti, which is related to the depth of playing talent, is that his team looked tired. Their sensational run of victories in the first half of the season that led them into the World Club Championship was extraordinary. However, even with riding the crest of a winning wave, this sapped the energy of the players. The lack of rotation early on in the season has lead to this slump in these final weeks, whilst Luis Enrique at Barcelona, who was lambasted by the Catalan press in the early months, has delivered his side in perfect physical condition. Since March Barcelona have made huge improvements, striding away in the league and playing some sensation football.
The life of a coach at Real Madrid is always effectively on life support. A club that can sack Vicente Del Bosque after being the most decorated coach in its modern history, fired days after clinching the title, means that even though Carlo Ancelotti delivered the coveted ‘La Decima’ — the club’s tenth European cup title — he is extremely vulnerable. Barring a miracle there will be no La Liga championship win and now there is no Champions League final to contest, he is staring at the exit door.
Florentino Perez, the Madrid president, will not hesitate to act especially as Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp is out of work in the summer, as well as the much talked about promotion of Zinedine Zidane from the Castilla academy team.
Ancelotti will not struggle to find a job, with a possible return to England with Manchester City on the cards. Being sacked from Real Madrid these days does not damage a reputation, in most cases it actually evokes a sense of sympathy as the footballing public knows that at Real Madrid nothing can ever quite be good enough. Something, it seems, that Ancelotti will soon find out.