Eden Hazard will stay, insists Carlo Ancelotti after fine second stint with Real Madrid
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Eden Hazard will stay, insists Carlo Ancelotti after fine second stint with Real Madrid


Ancelotti could need ‘everything in his suitcase’ to help save Eden Hazard’s another injury-hit career, but he already has a successful second stint with Real Madrid under his belt, which could get even better when they take on Liverpool in the 2022 UEFA Champions League final in Stade de France later this month

Ancelotti could need ‘everything in his suitcase’ to help save Eden Hazard’s another injury-hit career, but he already has a successful second stint with Real Madrid under his belt, which could get even better when they take on Liverpool in the 2022 UEFA Champions League final in Stade de France later this month

Eden Hazard will stay at Real Madrid next season as the Belgian is determined to prove his worth after a nightmare three years, Carlo Ancelotti said on Saturday.

Hazard was one of the best players in the world when he joined Real Madrid for an initial 100 million euros in 2019 but he has been plagued by injury problems since moving to Spain.

The 31-year-old underwent surgery on his right ankle at the end of March in the hope of solving the latest in a long line of fitness issues.

Even when available this season, Hazard has been reduced to a bit-part role in the team but Ancelotti insists the plan is not for him to leave this summer.

“We haven’t spoken about that, the plan is quite clear,” Ancelotti said in a press conference.

“He has a lot of motivation because he hasn’t had a good time these last few years and he wants to show all of his quality, which for many reasons he hasn’t been able to do.”

Hazard is available again and could face Cadiz on Sunday after his latest operation removed a metal plate that was inserted to stabilise his ankle in March 2020.

But he faces a fight to establish himself in Real Madrid’s starting line-up next season, with Vinicius Junior emerging as one of the team’s most explosive players this term and Kylian Mbappe expected to arrive from Paris Saint-Germain this summer.

“With a squad like Real Madrid’s you always play a lot of games,” Ancelotti said. “There’s tiredness and we will rotate, even if we haven’t much this year.

“I think the quantity of minutes isn’t so important, it’s about the quality,” Ancelotti added. “We have a clear example in Rodrygo. He hasn’t played a lot of minutes but he’s played with great quality and made the difference.”

Ancelotti said Karim Benzema will be rested against Cadiz, despite the Frenchman being one goal away from overtaking Raul in the list of Real Madrid’s all-time scorers.

Benzema and Raul are level on 323 goals for Madrid, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 450.

Vinicius and Thibaut Courtois will also sit out for the La Liga champions as Ancelotti looks to keep his players fresh for the Champions League final against Liverpool on May 28. “I will give them a rest because they deserve it,” Ancelotti said.

Don Carlo: balancer of stars, fixer of problems, winner of trophies

Carlo Ancelotti has a great line on the fickle, itinerant nature of the football manager’s life — “A coach’s suitcase is always ready,” he once told Italian reporters who wanted to know how he saw his tenure at Napoli playing out. His words proved prophetic; he was soon sacked, bringing an end to his time in Naples and clearing the way for a move to Everton.

And after a season and a half on Merseyside, Ancelotti had cause to reach for his suitcase again. A chance conversation with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez led to the idea of the manager’s return being floated. It quickly took shape, and Ancelotti replaced Zinedine Zidane after Real’s first trophy-less season in more than a decade.

Taking many by surprise

Magic wand: Ancelotti is an astute operator with a trick or two up his sleeve always.

Magic wand: Ancelotti is an astute operator with a trick or two up his sleeve always.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

The 62-year-old’s arrival in Madrid last summer took many by surprise — not least because Perez had fired Ancelotti in 2015, a year after he led Real to its 10th European Cup, the much-coveted and long-awaited La Decima. What’s more, Ancelotti appeared to have fallen out of the European coaching elite — his time in Bayern Munich was panned by critics who measured him by the standards his predecessor Pep Guardiola had set, while the fans at Napoli, enthralled by the exhilarating football Maurizio Sarri had coached, never really warmed to the Italian’s pragmatism.

Ancelotti’s stint at Everton was underwhelming, too. The side finished 12th and 10th in successive seasons, having its moments but not capturing the imagination of Toffees supporters. So Perez’s decision was seen as little more than a short-term move — a reflection of the market last summer, when there was a dearth of top coaches available. It was also an appointment that could be curtailed without much fuss or financial penalty when an exciting managerial opportunity came along.

And yet, less than a year later, Ancelotti — who might have thought his days of winning Europe’s biggest leagues were a thing of the past — has added LaLiga to his glittering list of honours.

On a roll

Inspirational: Ancelotti is also known for his ability to get the best out of attacking talent.

Inspirational: Ancelotti is also known for his ability to get the best out of attacking talent.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

Real’s triumph ensured he became the only coach to have clinched all five major European league titles. He also won the Premier League with Chelsea, Serie A with AC Milan, Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain and the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. And while Ancelotti’s Chelsea pipped Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United to the league by a single point in 2010, the others have all been won at a canter — Real’s latest LaLiga crown was guaranteed when there were still four games to spare.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, Ancelotti became the first manager in history to reach five Champions League finals after Real’s back-from-the-dead triumph over Manchester City. He is level with Liverpool legend Bob Paisley and ex-Madrid boss Zidane on three European Cups as a coach; victory on May 28 against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool would see him become the first manager to win the trophy four times.

Ancelotti won the Champions League twice as a coach with Milan before masterminding Madrid’s historic tenth.

He has a history with Liverpool in the Champions League: he was Milan manager during the heartbreaking defeat, on penalties, in the 2005 final in Istanbul, the Italians squandering a 3-0 half-time lead. However, Ancelotti’s Milan gained revenge two years later when it beat the Reds 2-1 in Athens. He last faced Liverpool during his spell at Everton, in which time he was unbeaten against the Reds in three Premier League meetings and notably oversaw a 2-0 win at Anfield.

Real has two league games remaining and the veteran Italian coach must perform the delicate balancing act of keeping his team in top competitive form while hoping to avoid any injuries to first-choice players in the run-up to the Champions League final in Paris.

Delicate balancing acts are something Ancelotti specialises in; it’s central to his coaching style, which is underpinned by flexibility, common sense and player empowerment.

He may have studied under Arrigo Sacchi, an innovator credited with revolutionising the game, but Ancelotti himself is not viewed as a pioneer.

This can sometimes hurt him when he faces a tactical ideologue, such as Xavi, whose Barcelona side swept Real 4-0 in the most recent Clasico. Ancelotti’s tactics were widely criticised as dated and directionless compared with Xavi’s strong philosophy of play.

“I tried to push up and it hasn’t come off, my fault,” Ancelotti said after the defeat. “When they advanced, we lost control. It’s a blow, we have lost a battle, but we don’t have to make a drama out of this match. We have to forget it and look forward.”

The defeat didn’t affect the title race. And while Ancelotti’s football may not always compare favourably with managers on the tactical frontier of the sport, nobody can deny that he is an astute operator with a long-forgotten trick or two up his sleeve.

Should Real win the Champions League this season, Ancelotti will have overseen wins over sides managed by Thomas Tuchel, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp — widely recognised as the most brilliant coaching minds in modern football. Not bad for a manager seemingly behind the times.

Ancelotti’s speciality lies in getting a group of world-class footballers to set their egos aside for long enough to gel together and express themselves on the pitch. Players who work under him talk about his emotional balance, sense of humour and genuine warmth.

“As a player you feel comfortable because you sense that the coach is ready to make his methods available,” former Germany and Bayern captain Philipp Lahm wrote in the Guardian. “That is why he is successful everywhere. As Real’s coach, he is aware that a debacle can happen, like the 4-0 defeat against Barcelona. Genius is simply not available in every game. Ancelotti knows that and the players know that he knows it. They support each other because he is one of them.”

Vinicius’ transformation

Adept at finding quick fixes, Ancelotti is also known for his ability to get the best out of attacking talent. At the top of Ancelotti’s successes this season has been the transformation of Vinicius Junior from an exciting but erratic young prospect to one of the world’s most clinical forwards.

Karim Benzema has hit a new, stratospheric level under Ancelotti, continuing his upward trajectory since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018. The Italian has also shored up the defence. The departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane broke up a long-established partnership but the performances of Eder Militao and David Alaba have ensured neither has been missed.

There has been criticism of Ancelotti — of Madrid’s counter-attacking style, his lack of rotation — but he has stayed in control of the narrative. The results have helped a great deal — the sheer technical quality of his players has bailed him out of many a spot — but equally he has shown he can evolve. His coaching staff is more modern. There is an increased emphasis on physical preparation — the performances of Luka Modric, the 36-year-old Croatian, has been the most resounding riposte to early concerns about Ancelotti’s lack of rotation.

A LaLiga-Champions League double should be enough to convince Perez that Ancelotti is worth a second season, especially with Kylian Mbappe expected to join in the summer. If there is a parting of ways, after defeat in the Champions League final, it is unlikely to be bitter. With the league title won, both parties would consider the appointment a success.

Ancelotti has said he will “probably stop” after his time in Madrid. He has, after all, achieved everything there is to achieve as a club manager. But he admitted he could be tempted by an opportunity to coach a national team at the World Cup. You can be sure his suitcase will be ready.



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