Why Arsenal should push for Carlo Ancelotti next year
OPINION | By Editor
As come-and-get-me pleas go, it was less than subtle.
“I enjoy my time now but of course I want to come back to manage – to work – because it is my passion.
“I want to take my time to rest, but next season I am ready.”
The words belonged to Carlo Ancelotti earlier in the week as he dismissed suggestions that Liverpool or any other team could persuade him to cut short his year-long sabbatical and return to management.
The Merseysiders, of course, had already tied up a deal with Jurgen Klopp in what seems a fairly snug fit between historically high-achieving club in transition and dynamic, proven manager who is energised by a medium-term rebuilding project.
In contrast with Klopp, Ancelotti has become renowned as a big-club manager able to coax the best out of elite-level squads with considerable trophy-winning potential. In other words, clubs like Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, the last three he has managed.
Ancelotti’s speciality is in taking teams from B to A, not C to A as Klopp will attempt to do at Liverpool.
This is where Arsenal come in. Arsene Wenger, the manager for 19 years, is in the second year of a three-year deal although there is the strong possibility he could say ‘au revoir’ and walk away next summer.
He did not sign his last contract until one month before the previous one was due to expire and not before he had ended a nine-year trophy drought by lifting the first of two consecutive FA Cup trophies.
This only partly placated supporters who yearn for a return to the days when Wenger provided a cast-iron guarantee of a title triumph or runners-up spot.
In recent years, Arsenal’s seasons have seemed to merge into one. They either start strongly and fade or amble along before finishing with a gallop. The net result is that the major trophies, the Champions League and the Premier League, remain way out of reach.
There are major doubts as to whether Wenger can realise the potential of the squad he has assembled.
The Arsenal board will never sack Wenger but, should they receive indications that he will call time on his tenure over the next eight months, contact should be made with Ancelotti.
The Italian is a serial winner with a CV that includes a record-equalling three Champions League titles as well as domestic League titles at AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.
He appears to be a perfect fit for nearly-but-not-quite Arsenal. The club have money – Wenger has ensured the piggy bank remains enticingly full – are well run and have a fine squad of proven Premier League players studded with three world-class stars in Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Petr Cech.
Ideal for someone like Ancelotti, who is far more hands-off than Wenger but is an astute man-manager and commands the total respect of those he works with. Top players like him and want to play for him. He also speaks good English and already has a Premier League and FA Cup double on his CV.
Where else could Ancelotti go next summer? Spain and France can be ruled out, which leaves the Premier League, Germany (realistically, Bayern Munich) or his native Italy.
Former club Chelsea is a possibility (we know Roman Abramovich is not averse to re-hiring managers he has sacked), as are both Manchester clubs. Beyond these shores, there is Bayern, Milan or Juventus, two of whom he has already managed.
Much will depend upon the ambitions of Pep Guardiola, who will have his pick of future employers should he decide to not extend his Bayern tenure.
It is wrong to characterise Ancelotti as a coaching gun-for-hire who never sticks around. He was, after all, manager of Milan for eight years before joining Chelsea.
Yet, he will be 57 by the next time he sits in a dugout. Ancelotti will want a team who can immediately challenge for the most significant trophies. Arsenal are that team. Liverpool are currently not and neither are Milan.
Ancelotti held talks with Milan last summer but, like Liverpool, the Italian giants are way below the top teams in their league. Discussions never reached the advanced stage and even someone as persuasive as charismatic chief executive Adriano Galliani could not change Ancelotti’s mind about a lengthy rest.
“When Adriano Galliani learned I wouldn’t be staying in Madrid , he came to test the waters,” recalled Ancelotti in an interview this week.
“He showed me all his affection, but I told him right away: ‘no thanks’. We spent some nice days together, Galliani is nice, and he’s intelligent but after two years at Real I had no energy.
“Real is very draining. We didn’t even talk about money. That said, if it had been another time I would have come back.”
Milan will doubtless make another move for Ancelotti next summer but that should not put off Arsenal, who can offer the Italian a bigger salary, greater trophy-winning potential and a more competitive league.
It would be foolish to at least not try to entice such a high calibre manager.