The reappointment of Carlo Ancelotti shocked many this week, as he suddenly left the Everton post to fill the gap left by outgoing Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane.
The Italian is of course no stranger to the hotseat at the Santiago Bernabéu, having spent two seasons at the club between 2013 and 2015.
His first tenure
It would be fair to state that Ancelotti’s first experience at the helm of Real Madrid, despite his sacking, was an overwhelmingly positive one.
The 2013/14 season will always go down as one of the most successful in the club’s history, as Real Madrid won both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
La Décima was the club’s first European title since 2002, whilst it was only their second domestic cup triumph since 1992.
Incredibly, it still is.
Not only did Ancelotti win these aforementioned trophies, he was also able to bring back some calmness to the club after the craziness and controversy that taints the José Mourinho years.
It must also be acknowledged that Carlo Ancelotti’s squad, tactics and signings laid the blueprint for Zinedine Zidane to succeed and win the club another three Champions League titles.
Ancelotti is not the only manager to return to the club. Zidane, Welshman John Toshack and former Spanish national manager Vicente del Bosque also had a couple of cracks at one of the toughest and most demanding managerial jobs in world football.
Neither is he the only Italian to do so, as former England manager Fabio Capello also had two separate spells with the club.
Despite the success, Ancelotti’s first spell at the club was not entirely positive as he was sacked after finishing second in LaLiga, losing in the Champions League semi-finals against Juventus and being defeated against Atlético Madrid in the Copa del Rey round of 16.
The difficult challenge he faces in 2021
But Ancelotti, as Zidane has found out, has a much different challenge to what he faced when he took over in 2013.
No Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, not even Sergio Ramos. Probably.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, whilst two of Madrid’s stellar performers, are aging. This is not a criticism of their footballing ability, as they are still two very good players, but of the long-term future of the club.
Karim Benzema has had another outstanding season, but he cannot be the only regular source of goals.
Gareth Bale’s future has been questioned, though that is more likely to be solved after the upcoming European Championships.
Eden Hazard meanwhile is a different affair. Injuries mean he has never shown the Spanish side the quality he had when he was at Chelsea.
The signing of David Alaba, whom Ancelotti managed at Bayern Munich, is an inspired one.
But it is not enough. Not by half.
The ongoing fall-out from the European Super League could see Real Madrid banned from next season’s Champions League, whilst the club has been playing their home games at their training ground as they wait for the renovation of the Bernabéu to be completed.
A lot has indeed changed since the Italian held the reigns at the club.
What does Ancelotti need to do?
Win a trophy.
Whilst even the most optimistic of Madridistas might not demand a Champions League and LaLiga double, Los Blancos will still be hurting after finishing runners up to rivals Atlético Madrid in the league and losing in the semi-finals of the Champions League against eventual winners Chelsea.
The round of 16 defeat against Alcoyano, whilst an embarrassment, can be seen as a one-off, although the single-leg ties in the Copa del Rey has made the tournament increasingly competitive and exciting.
Although a Copa del Rey victory next season won’t be enough – it never is – Ancelotti will need to go all out to compete (and win) these trophies, especially considering their poor record in this tournament.
The Italian also needs to build a more stable side which is capable of winning every match as last season’s Real Madrid side paled in comparison to the great teams of the past.
For this to happen, Ancelotti either needs to invest in the squad, or somehow revert Hazard and Bale to the players they once were. He probably needs both.
Ancelotti also needs to stay out of politics. This not a personal opinion, but a comment considering that Florentino Pérez was after all one of the major proponents of this tournament.
As Everton boss, Ancelotti was openly critical of the plan. As Real Madrid manager, he can ill-afford to make those types of statements.
The Italian has an enormous task ahead of him if he is to make Real Madrid a successful team again.
But a couple of signings and suddenly this squad has a totally different dimension to it.
As it is, it probably is not enough, especially with the English domination of Europe, Barcelona’s transfer dealings, Atlético Madrid’s confidence from their title win and Sevilla’s continued improvement and competitiveness.
But if any manager can succeed in this type of role, it is Carlo Ancelotti.