Serie A 2018-19 - Carlo Ancelotti Exclusive: Napoli are closing gap on Juventus; Pep, Jose not difficult to succeed
Carlo Ancelotti, the manager, has had his trysts with the UEFA Champions League - both good and bad. For the low and the sheer shock of that 2005 night at Istanbul, he has the highs of nights in Manchester, Athens and Lisbon to fondly look back on.
It was no surprise, then, that in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the current Napoli head coach pointed to his wins in Europe's premier club competition as the greatest in his managerial career. "It is the best and toughest competition in the world, so I have to say the three trophies will always be my cherished ones," Ancelotti said.
At the same time, the former AC Milan manager said that the worst defeat in his career was the 2005 final against Liverpool. "It was a great match and we lost, but it was important for us to bounce back from that.
"With the support of the club and the fans, we were able to motivate ourselves again. Luckily, we got the opportunity to beat Liverpool in the final two years later," Ancelotti said.
The former Real Madrid manager also said it was not unsurprising that Los Blancos are going through the kind of season that they are having this term. He said he was sure that Real Madrid would bounce back, but there is work to be done.
"This period for Real Madrid is very normal, it happens. They've had a superb recent period, winning four Champions League titles in five years, so they were going to have a period like this. They lost [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who was so important for them, so now they need to restart and Real Madrid will come back again to the top of European Football," he said.
Real Madrid's loss was Italian Football's gain in the summer, as Ronaldo left the Spanish capital to move to Juventus. Ancelotti said that such a high-profile signing was a necessity for Serie A, both as a brand and from the Footballing perspective.
"Since 2000, Italian Football has not really been on the top of Europe. Ronaldo is one of the best, maybe the best, player in the world. Of course it is good for Italian Football to have him playing in our league."
How much did Real Madrid err by not signing a direct replacement for Ronaldo? You don't directly replace Ronaldo, Ancelotti says. "He scores 50 goals a season, how do you replace that? It's only a process. They have trusted Vinicius [Junior], and now they have to provide him the platform to keep improving," he said.
Speaking of another of his former sides, Ancelotti said that Paris St. Germain's European struggles will continue until they manage to build a culture for the club. Money alone would not cut it for the French champions, according to Ancelotti.
"Look, the Champions League is not just about quality of the squad. You need a culture, you need experience, you need to know how to win knockout ties - and it's not just the players, but the whole club," he opined.
Ancelotti also said that, this year, the French champions could count themselves a touch unlucky to lose to Manchester United. "After leading 2-0, no one expected to see PSG lose, but I think they did not have any luck and Manchester United had that bit of luck, which you need in the Champions League, always," he said.
Enough about the Champions League, eh? Why would you talk to Carlo Ancelotti and not ask him about his own country?
What persuaded him to go back home, then, after spells in England, Spain, France and Germany? Well, it's not complicated. "I just felt it would finally be nice to speak to my players in Italian, again!" he said.
What are his plans for Napoli, though? Does he think it is possible for Juventus to be caught in the near future? Why not, he asks.
"Juventus are investing in players, building strong squads, but I think we can catch them very soon. We have got some good players, we will keep building, adding players to this squad to make ourselves better. I think we are close now, and we want to keep pushing," he said.
Ancelotti also said that it was important that the level of the Serie A kept improving, so that the Italian National Team could get itself out of the rut that it found itself in.
He said there are some hugely impressive young players in Italian football right now, and a manager of the National Team is capable of extracting the best out of them.
"There's [Gianluigi] Donnarumma, who is already one of the best goalkeepers in Europe. [Federico] Chiesa is doing so well at Fiorentina, [Nicolo] Zaniolo for Roma, there is talent in this country, and I'm sure Italian Football will come back to the high level we are known for.
"With the young talent we have, I have no doubt Italy will do really well in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar," he triumphantly added.
Throughout his career, Ancelotti has succeeded some impossible acts to follow. He replaced Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, then replaced Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Is that a hard job, then?
"Not at all," he says. "It's very easy in fact, to succeed managers like Guardiola and Mourinho. Tactically and technically, they leave the players at such a high level. All I had to do was come in and implement a few tweaks to suit my style, that's all.
"Both Guardiola and Mourinho are among the best managers in the world. So, the foundation that they set in both the clubs made my job easier, after I came in," Ancelotti says.
Who, then, was the best player he ever managed? Surely, Cristiano Ronaldo? Ancelotti himself is not quite sure. It's difficult to compare his own players, he says, just because of how individually different all of them are.
"I worked with brilliant goalkeepers like [Gianluigi] Buffon, Dida and [Petr] Cech. Then there was [Andriy] Shevchenko, [Filippo] Inzaghi, [Didier] Drogba and [Luis] Ronaldo, how do I compare all of them with Cristiano, now?
"I will only say I was lucky to manage some fantastic players throughout my career," Ancelotti said.
Is Ancelotti thinking long-term at Napoli, though? Does he want to correct his CV that doesn't have too many domestic league title victories?
"It's difficult. At clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea, you cannot think long-term, they want immediate success. I'm happy in Naples now, and we have a nice project with some fantastic young players, so we'll see where we go," Ancelotti says.
Where could Napoli go? Where could Italian Football go? The future is bright, if you are to believe Carlo Ancelotti. And, with his track record in the sport, why on earth would you not believe him?
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