Two seismic events over the weekend have made those of us who love having Carlo Ancelotti in LaLiga shiver with anticipation of impending change. They are: Brazil being embarrassed 2-1 by Morocco and then declaring their intention to appoint Ancelotti, plus, by Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur and Antonio Conte parting ways.
Brazil have wanted Ancelotti to succeed Tite since they failed at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, having looked like he’d accept the job, turned them down. Somewhat humiliatingly for the “Pentacampeones” (“five-time world champions,”) they are hanging around, treading water with interim coach Ramon Menezes, resigned to looking increasingly needy, until they finally get a firm “Yes” or “No” from the Real Madrid coach.
Brazil’s fanatical footballing public, their haughty and ambitious football media and their often pompous ruling body, the CBF, do not regard defeats like that suffered in Tangier as an occupational hazard. They view losing any football match as an alien phenomenon: belittling, besmirching and, frankly, a concept that should be exclusively for the likes of Bolivia, San Marino or Luxembourg to cope with.
In other words, they believe losing is so far beneath them that it should induce vertigo. Therefore, to be knocked out of the World Cup at the quarterfinal stage by Croatia, who, from the Brazilian perspective were almost a star-footballer vacuum, and who were just three minutes from elimination … well, from Recife to Curitiba via Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, that was viewed as an utter humiliation.
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Worse, to witness arch-enemies Argentina not only lift “their” trophy but win the world’s affection in what was arguably the greatest World Cup final of all time, well, that was rubbing the contents of an entire salt mine in Brazil’s open, seeping wound. A wound first inflicted, remember, when they were beaten by a Lionel Messi-inspired Albiceleste in the Copa America final of 2021.
Now, after all that, to be defeated by Morocco … nightmare. Please don’t splutter and protest that Walid Regragui’s team went further (semifinals) than Brazil in Qatar. That’s the naive application of stark facts and hard truth. No time for those in Brazil right now.
This nation, which instinctively believes it owns international football, simply cannot endure any more of this humiliation. As such, efforts to lure Ancelotti to take over in June will now accelerate and soon reach ramming speed.
“We need a winning coach who plays attacking football which fits with the Brazil national team idea and one who’ll begin a cycle with us which will take us through, at least, until the next World Cup,” CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues told agency reporters. “I do admire Carlo Ancelotti, personally. He’s a coach who has unanimous respect from footballers. Not just Ronaldo Nazario or Vinicius Junior — everyone who’s played for him.
“And he’s the fans’ favourite, too, because at every stadium I go to, they ask me about him. Carlo’s a top coach, with a list of great successes behind him … and we hope he still has some to come. We have faith in God, we’ll wait until the right moment and then we shall see if we can make it happen as the fruition of our search for the next Brazil coach. We will be absolutely ethical in our process and we will respect any contract which is still in force.”
If it eventually transpires that Ancelotti or his agent had told Brazil: It’s time you made a public declaration of intent in order to help me negotiate this out with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez … then don’t colour me surprised.
Tottenham Hotspur, of course, are quite a different package.
Their urgency isn’t because they have temporarily stopped being kings of all they survey; it’s because they fear becoming court jesters. It’s also fundamentally because they yearn to lift a big trophy and because their most recently sacked manager made a hugely critical “The emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” fuss about his employers and staff before being expensively ushered out the door on Sunday.
And, in the only parallel between Tottenham and Brazil having to suffer the footballing migraine of Argentina’s love-in with most of the rest of the planet, Spurs have Arsenal just itching to mock them still further. The Gunners, eight points clear at the top the table with 10 games to go, are England’s champions-elect. It’s a petrifying thought to everyone of the Spurs persuasion — chairman Daniel Levy included.
Now, be under no illusions: Spurs want Mauricio Pochettino back, not Ancelotti. I’m crystal clear that Spurs, quite legitimately given that he’s not currently employed, have been murmuring to Pochettino and his staff for some months now. “Come back at the end of the season” has been Levy’s siren song to the much loved Argentinian who took Tottenham to a Champions League final in 2019.
I judge that it was this temptation, of returning to his old club in the summer, to have been the principal reason that, when offered a chance to interview for the Chelsea job ahead of Graham Potter, Pochettino’s representatives hemmed and hawed so much. So much, in fact, that Chelsea owner Todd Boehly abandoned his original instinct to prioritise the Argentinian and paid Brighton & Hove Albion‘s clause to take their manager.
However, Pochettino narrowly missed out on the Real Madrid job once before and will have no intention of letting that happen to him again if the opportunity arises.
It was summer 2018, just a few short weeks after he had extended his Spurs contract. Zinedine Zidane had walked out on Madrid, immediately after winning the Champions League in Kyiv, and Perez and CEO Jose Angel Sanchez wanted Pochettino to succeed him.
They discovered, to their disgust, that neither he nor his representatives had pushed to include a release clause in his new contract. Pochettino was “ungettable.” The three men met, by chance, at a society wedding in Madrid that summer and Pochettino was told that if he’d had a specified get-out clause, with either a price or a named club written into his new Spurs contract, then he’d already have been liberated from it and be in charge of Los Blancos.
So, here’s the state of play.
Perez has never before in his nearly quarter-century in charge of Madrid seen his team lose to Barcelona four times within the space of eight months of the same season — even if one of them was a friendly. Grave doubts about whether Ancelotti should see out the remaining 15 months of his contract will be gnawing at Perez’s mind.
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Vinicius Jr. speaks about the rumours linking Carlo Ancelotti to the vacant managerial role with Brazil.
Pochettino, unless Spurs pull off the most remarkable coup by persuading him to commit to them immediately, is currently free to join Madrid without any compensation being paid — and that’s not an immaterial fact by any means. The Argentinian will be waiting, impatiently, to see what happens to his Italian counterpart, balancing the need to answer Levy’s urgent entreaties to come back to Spurs with his own instinct to wait, until the last possible moment, to determine whether there’s a vacancy at the Bernabeu. It’s a job where winning trophies is, unlike at Spurs, almost a guaranteed part of the employment package.
Meanwhile, it’s now out in the open and fully on the record that Brazil want Ancelotti to liberate himself from his contract and join them.
It’s a gigantic poker game.
Brazil, Madrid, Spurs, Pochettino and Ancelotti: all have their hand of cards, there’s a smattering of aces, kings and queens between the players, and the wildcard can easily be the sudden arrival of a guy like former Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann at the table. But with the Brazilian FA having raised Real Madrid by openly declaring their, their players’ and their fans’ wishes to hire Ancelotti, there’s now no question that the dealer has done his work, the rivals are viewing each other warily over their fanned five-card spread and whoever plays the hand best has a huge pot to win.
We will undoubtedly now see a lot of great bluffing and deception before the winner(s) are declared, and please never discard the possibility of wildcards. But if by July, Brazil are coached by Ancelotti, Madrid by Pochettino and Spurs by Luis Enrique, then it shouldn’t greatly shock anyone.