LISBON (Reuters) - Carlo Ancelotti promised a heady mix of spectacular football and trophies when he took over at Real Madrid, the holy grail for coaches handed the reins of the world’s richest club by income.
Although he has not consistently managed the former in his debut season at the Bernabeu, the Italian is on the verge of delivering the record-extending 10th European crown - that has eluded Real since their last continental triumph in 2002 - to add to this term’s King’s Cup success.
Real are through to the Champions League final - where they will play Atletico Madrid on Saturday in the only European showpiece to feature teams from the same city - for the first time since they were crowned European champions in Glasgow 12 years ago.
Obsessed with winning what is known as the “la decima” (the tenth), Real president Florentino Perez lured Ancelotti from Paris St Germain following the ignominious exit of Jose Mourinho, three years before the end of his contract, after a season without major silverware.
Ancelotti, labelled “the pacifier” in Spanish media, is an entirely different character from the combative Portuguese, who clashed with key players, divided fans and had a testy relationship with journalists.
With one quizzical eyebrow almost perpetually raised, Ancelotti deals with even the most brainless of media questions with a gruff charm and has been far more amenable to interviews than Mourinho, who rarely spoke outside his obligatory media commitments.
Perhaps one of Ancelotti’s most impressive achievements is the way he has united a dressing room that became bitterly divided under Mourinho.
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of several key performers who clashed with compatriot Mourinho, in particular has thrived under the new regime.
The Portugal captain has a chance to add to his record 16 goals for one edition of the continent’s elite club competition against Atletico in Lisbon.
“Ancelotti deserves all the credit,” Ronaldo said after Real thrashed holders Bayern Munich 4-0 in Germany last month to secure their place in the final.
“He has changed everything. He has altered the mentality of the players.”
A tough midfielder with clubs including AS Roma and AC Milan, Ancelotti, now 54, is one of only six people who have been European club champion as player and coach.
He won consecutive European Cups with Milan in 1989 and 1990 before beginning his coaching career with AC Reggiana.
After taking over at Milan in 2001, he led the club to Champions League triumphs in 2003 and 2007, also reaching the final in 2005, and went on to win an English Premier League and FA Cup double with Chelsea in 2009-10.
Dismissed after two seasons in London, he led PSG to their first Ligue 1 title in 19 years in 2012-13 before agreeing a three-year contract at Real.
He now has a chance to join former Liverpool coach Bob Paisley as the only man to win the European title three times as a coach.
Former Milan and Italy defender Paolo Maldini is one of many who has singled out Ancelotti’s ability to unify his players as what sets him apart.
“Of all the coaches I have had, he was the one who managed the dressing room with the most serenity,” Maldini said last year when Ancelotti was named Real coach.
”The secret of our success was his normality. He isn’t one of those who works alone and this shows great intelligence.
“For this reason he will win titles wherever he goes: with Milan, Chelsea or Real Madrid.”
Napoli coach Rafa Benitez, who has locked horns with Ancelotti several times including the Champions League finals in 2005 and 2007 when he was in charge at Liverpool, echoed Maldini in an interview with Spanish radio.
“He (Ancelotti) is a polite, educated person, a good professional who knows his work and does it well,” Benitez said.
“And he wins trophies as well,” added the Spaniard. “He is a great coach and a great person and Real Madrid will recover the values it has always had with his arrival.”
Editing by Justin Palmer