Of the few managers with two or more Uefa Champions League titles to their names, only four are active. And from that distinguished quartet, two — Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti — have recently taken charge of teams they wouldn’t have looked at a decade ago.
The pair have handled the biggest clubs in Milan, London, and Madrid; top European sides like Juventus, Napoli, Bayern Munich, and Porto have also been blessed with the managerial brilliance of one or the other. Between them, they share five Champions League triumphs and records that any manager would covet. Yet instead of only attracting more big clubs after leaving their last jobs, Mourinho signed up for Tottenham Hotspur in November and Ancelotti now takes the reins at Everton.
Spurs is a club that — thanks to the fine work of Mauricio Pochettino, Mourinho’s predecessor and buddy — stands taller than it has in recent years. But the Lilywhites still aren’t of the profile that would once have enticed the self-styled ‘Special One’. When Mourinho, as Chelsea boss in 2015, vowed he’d never manage the Blues’ city rivals, one could almost trace a hint of condescension and scorn in his voice. Much has been said about how trophies have followed Mourinho wherever he has been, and even though Spurs look a more prestigious side now after last season’s climax as Champions League finalists and strong finishes in recent Premier League campaigns, there are few guarantees that the Portuguese’s decorated path would stretch through the doors of his new home.
Over at Everton, Ancelotti would have even fewer assurances of silverware; Spurs have won nothing in 11 years, but the Toffees’ own barren spell dates back to 1995. ‘Carletto’ does have history with Everton, albeit not survived by very fond memories. It was at Goodison Park, on the last day of the 2010/11 league season, that Ancelotti was informed of his dismissal as Chelsea trainer — and it wouldn’t be the last time football’s most famous eyebrow was raised in surprise at being axed in the immediate aftermath of a game.
Napoli delivered another such blow after the three-time European champion successfully oversaw qualification to the knock-out phase of the Champions League earlier this month, but Everton haven’t kept him out of a job very long. Ancelotti returns to the very stadium where he made his unceremonious exit from the English game all those years ago. Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s ambitious and affluent owner, would guarantee some solid signings, but this isn’t exactly the kind of club you garnish your resumé with — unless, of course, you’re merely reaching out for European places and seeking a decent shot at winning domestic cups.
However you look at it, the latest moves by Mourinho and Ancelotti — though financially rewarding — are notches lower than is befitting of their status as elite managers, and the clubs that have them now appear more flattered by these hallowed presences in the dug-out. Don’t get it wrong, though; neither trainer has significantly diminished or lost much of the charm that once made them appealing solely to the upper bracket of European teams — they’re merely victims of how modern football works.
See, in the past, most managers would only earn their first high-profile jobs after spending a considerable while building their stock. Greats of yesteryear like Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), Marcello Lippi (Juventus), and Fabio Capello (AC Milan) didn’t secure their big breaks until they were well into their forties; these days — and, indeed, as happened in the cases of Mourinho and Ancelotti — that bar has dropped to the thirties and just a little older.
Then there is the demanding pace of today’s game which, coupled with the ridiculously trigger-happy nature of club executives and owners, doesn’t really hold out the possibility of the rare sort of longevity once enjoyed by the likes of Wenger and Ferguson. Managers, thus, move quickly from one A-list club to another and, before they know it, are out of top suitors while still relatively young (Mourinho is 56, Ancelotti 60); if they do care to uphold any loyalties carried over from their previous jobs, cancelling out rival clubs leaves an even shorter list of prospective privileged employers.
To the younger breed of darlings — the Pochettinos, Pep Guardiolas, Diego Simeones, Jurgen Klopps, and Julian Nagelsmanns — that now attract the juicier appointments, the harsh realities Mourinho and Ancelotti currently grapple would, at some point, become apparent, too.
“That’s life,” as Sinatra famously sung. It happens, even to the very best.
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH