Friday, July 18 th, 2014
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Real Madrid vs Atletico, or Ancelotti vs Simeone: their first clash in 1991
Since their first clash in 1991- a lopsided Milan-Pisa- the two coaches developed their careers in quite opposite ways. Ancelotti was born ready for big clubs, while Simeone climbed up from the bottom. They meet tonight on the biggest stage: the UCL Final
by John Cavenaghi
El Cholo Simeone and Carletto Ancelotti, two of the strongest midfielders of the Serie A in the 80s and 90s, and two winning coaches, have less in common than what you might think. Other than their humble roots and the position they covered on the field, their footballing careers have taken two opposite, yet successful paths.


Opposing colors. As players, they were both leaders of the midfield. They could both defend and attack. They were both key players of their teams. Speaking of teams, this is where their careers differ the most. Don't get me wrong, they both have an elite resume. But if the Italian played for Roma and Milan, the Argentine defended the colors of Lazio and Inter, as well as Atletico Madrid's. Now as coaches they lead the two teams of Madrid: Real for Carlo, Atleti for Diego. As you can see, top, yet always opposing teams. One might even dare to see a pattern there: powerful, influential and already successful clubs for Sacchi's pupil; anti-power, underdog teams struggling to win for El Cholo.


Ancelotti won more silverware, but Simeone broke spells that lasted decades to get his: a Liga title after 19 years as a player and after 17 as a coach and a Scudetto with Lazio after 26. Now Ancelotti is in that elite club of coaches that teams hire when they have no other choice but winning, because their names are a synonym for victory: him, Mourinho, Guardiola, Capello and maybe a few more. Simeone has just filed his application to the club, and it shouldn't take long for him to get a positive response.


Up to now, though, he's been the man of the ‘Missions: impossible’. He had to climb up Mount Rushmore bare hand, unlike Ancelotti who was a 'chosen one', both as a player and as a coach. Infact, he joined Liedholm's Roma (probably the best Roma team ever), then Sacchi's Milan. As a coach, his first important job was at Parma (after a brief experience at Reggiana), the mid 1990s miracle Parma, and after that it was Juve, then Milan, then Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid. The most rich and influential teams of their respective leagues. He never had to climb from the bottom, as he was born at the top. Unlike Simeone, who encountered his first difficulties at the age of 20, when he left his continent to land in Pisa, a third-tier Serie A club, with which he was relegated to Serie B that same season. But he fought, and gained a call by Sevilla, which then brought him to Atletico, Inter and Lazio.


The playing styles Their style of play is the product of the teams they played for, and the teams they now lead are their leaders' portrait. More regal Carlo's style, that counts on ball posession, and has found a way to develop his unique style, by meshing Sacchi's fast, 4-4-2 football with what can be considered e precursor of Barca's tiki-taka, only quicker and more efficient. His turning point as a manager came when he abandoned the 4-4-2 for good, switching to the 'Christmas tree', that would hide so many gifts for the fans. The phlegmatic Italian’s ability however, is also that of reinventing himself, and readapting his scheme to the players, something that only great coaches can do. Finally, he transfers his tranquillity to the locker room, creating a family around him, not just a team.


Phlegm vs passion El Cholo developed his own football too. It is seemingly complementary to that of Ancelotti, or opposite if you will. He's a highly successful executor of a high speed, vertical, counterattacking football, which he probably first developed - improving it - while wearing the black and blue shirts of Pisa and Inter, who both played modern variations of catenaccio (i.e. defense and counterattack), despite playing for quite different goals (staying in Serie A vs. winning Serie A). However, like Ancelotti, he's able to mould the team in different ways if needed: take the return games against Barcelona and Chelsea in this year's Champions League.


His football however can't be just summed up by tactics or by the numbers of a scheme: his football requires alma, i.e. soul and spirit. And this is where his Argentinian roots come up: his teams are as passionate as him, and they never give up. He's very good at understanding his opponent's strengths and weaknesses, as well as his own team's, and he’s a great motivator.


Two opposing styles meet tonight, but not for the first time. Everything has been said about this year’s games, a win and a draw in the Liga for Atletico, two large wins in Copa del Rey for Real Madrid. Is this it? It surely isn’t. The two faced each other in the 1999-2000 season, when Carletto was coaching Juve and Simeone was leading Lazio’s midfield. It was the year of the Perugia rain, and Simeone’s team gave the first, huge disappointment to coach Ancelotti. This however was not a proper face to face, as the two had different roles.


For the first and only clash on the pitch (that is with both of them starting), we have to go back to 1991. It was January 23rd, and Milan hosted Pisa in front of 75.000 people. The Rossoneri were fighting for the Scudetto against Inter and Sampdoria, which would end up winning that year thanks to Mancini and Vialli. Pisa was struggling to leave the relegation zone. The game ended 1-0 for the home team, with a goal by Daniele Massaro in the first half.


Simeone and Ancelotti, at opposite stages of their careers, have forgettable performances. The Italian international is substituted by Sacchi in the 85th minute, and La Repubblica gave him a 5.5 grade, with an even more eloquent comment: “è alla frutta”- he’s finished. The Argentine, if possible, does even worse, as he incredibly misses the chance to equalize with an easy header in the second half, one of those that he would learn to score again and again during his career (minute 0:53 of the video).


He was just 20, and he could have scored in San Siro against il Grande Milan, defending title holders of the Champions Cup. Instead, the great Gianni Brera, the most important pen of Italian sports journalism, defined Simeone’s attempt as a “despicable lack of grace”.


Today, like back then, Ancelotti leads the team that is supposed to win, because they are Real Madrid, because they’re chasing La Decima (it would be the primera for Atletico), because they’ve always been the rich and famous cousins. On the other side stands El Cholo: a career spent on the losing side, only to transform it in the winning side, proving detractors wrong. Tonight, on the biggest stage of all that is the Champions League final in Lisbon, he’s got his second chance to take down the giants, as he had in 1991, but this time alongside the Spanish Champions, not Pisa. Is anyone really willing to bet against his team's grace this time? 

 

Saturday, May 24 th, 2014
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