When Carlo Ancelotti described Real Madrid’s three royal midfielders, ahead of Wednesday’s crucial Champions League game of revenge against Sheriff in Tiraspol, he was already speaking for every confused child asking his parents “Why are he wearing flashing racehorses?” or “Who is this guy with a little stick waving his arms in front of the orchestra?” At one point or another, as curious kids, we’ve all wondered why it was necessary to rein in natural talents.
A horse running like a wind, muscles undulating, ears buckled back, tail like a kite on a windy day, but wearing large leathery appendages on the side of his head that look disproportionately as if they might drive the creature with irritation. Brilliant, well-tuned Philharmonic orchestra made up of world-class violinists, flautists, pianists, vibrant strings and a brass section strong enough to blow a pint head of a Guinness from 50 meters high, drummers and percussionists. Crashing a cymbal can cause a concussion. Why the hell do they need someone whose arms are like Professor Nutty strutting in front of them and turning them on?
None of these ideas seem to make sense. Leave the purebred stallion alone and he will frolic home through the field, right? Let the musicians follow the sheet music and unaided beautiful sounds will reverberate throughout the concert hall. Unfortunately, life is not that simple.
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Great racehorses can be distracted by clamoring to either side. And if the strobes give them tunnel vision, they’re running straight – no energy wasted crossing back and forth across the track. Even the greatest musicians, without being prompted by the wand of the maestro, may slip into an explanation of how that they I think Mozart should be played. If the trumpet and piccolo go in one direction but the piano and drum go in the other, sooner or later there will be a very crucial requiem for Mozart.
However, Italian coach Ancelotti happily admits that he is a liberal footballer. It’s from the “If you don’t break, don’t fix it” school. He watched his heavenly trinity of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos destroy another domestic rival on Sunday, then argued that these three needed no blinking, ordering how to make sweet music or virtually no interference at all. Six goals and assists between them in the past three matches support his claim.
Ancelotti explained his position this way: “The level at which Kroos and Modric continue to play is very high. In my opinion they remain the best midfielders in the world. But at this point I must admit that all three, including Casemiro, are constantly doing things that surprise me; things that have not I never ask them, but they come with it instinctively.
“They have the kind of overall quality that’s hard to explain properly, especially the way they constantly swap positions and responsibilities during the match. Sometimes Luca drops to catch the ball, sometimes Kroos. Casemiro, in theory the defensive organizer, might push forward to help move forward – so I wouldn’t You step in and ask them how or where they are moving in the match.”
Beaten Granada coach Robert Moreno watched the spirited Real Madrid players tear his side to shreds and stressed: “Give Kroos and Modric the time and space to think and you’ll have already lost the match.”
If you watch eggs I stick Granada by four years, Ancelotti’s words make perfect sense. But if you’re a loyal disciple of coaches like Unai Emery, Luis Enrique, Rafa Benitez, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte or Julen Lopetegui, you’ll already be cynical. These six (who have won 77 trophies between them) and many others from the school of thought “my team, my rules” do not believe in Ancelotti, “you will not step in and ask them how or where to move in a match.”
Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane and Vicente del Bosque are the doves: give the big players the right environment and then let them do what they want. They rest the lightest of hands on the tiller.
Six-party? They are the hawks, those who believe that millimeters make a world of difference when it comes to winning or losing, who believe that they – and not the players – know better, that football is a game of systems.
They are coaches who not only interfere in training, yelling at the guy whose body position or tactical position is a few centimeters wrong, but who will also have any of their stars (even Kroos or Modric equivalent) and physically drag them into a position or almost flip them so that they face the ball or one of their teammates in the team exactly the way the coach actually instructed them to use. Guys like these theatrically demonstrate their belief that the more you shout, gesture, protest, cajole and control your players during the heat of battle, the more likely you are to win.
They jump up and down, as if the insides of their shoes have flipped their toenails, screaming and cheering players who, at best, pretend to listen and obey but, most likely, can’t hear the curse word “chief” trying to communicate via obsessive imitation and harsh words drowned out by 60,000 A fan’s voice.
Between these two camps there is no inherent right and wrong. However, it seems clear that “letting the big players do their thing”, an approach that has brought coaches like Zidane, Ancelotti and Del Bosque the junior title in 10 La Liga and Champions League titles only in Madrid, is not just a rare luxury. But art is dying.
Modric, Casemiro and Kroos have the privilege of countless football thinkers, years learning each other’s thinking patterns by heart and a fan base that craves not only victory but also style, ingenuity and five-star entertainment.
The (unnecessarily) debate about who is better: Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta or Modric, Casemiro and Kroos, is often sparked by fans or the football media. Vote the way you like it, but the fact is that despite the brilliance of the three Spaniards, they have played – for Barcelona, at least – a highly organized and intricately structured brand of football systems in which they can innovate and innovate.
One (Madrid’s midfield) is all Robin Williams, improvising a stream of consciousness; The other (the Barcelona trio) are the Marx brothers. It appears to be a daring invention of high wire, but everything is meticulously written and planned – although some hype is allowed.
One of the reasons Zidane would likely be the wrong choice for Manchester United – although anyone who loves football would be eager to get him back into the game soon – is that while he is talented and smart, Old Trafford is sorely in need of detail. Orders, a clear philosophy that will restore their confidence, rules that make pressing the tremendous talent on this team easier. What they need is an intrusive and intense coach. This is not the time for “light hand on the tiller and full steam ahead of you, boys!”
And although Ancelotti has strong justifications for transferring a huge responsibility to Modric, Casemiro and Kroos, there are problems. Just like an orchestra filled with solo brilliance but no conductor, there is no telling when a beautiful harmony will be torn by a wrong tone or someone who has not kept the exact rhythm.
Ancelotti also assumed that “the next ten years will cover the Madrid midfield” thanks to young, athletic and promising talents such as Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and Antonio Blanco. What they represent, and what the old guard doesn’t (considering their common age being 96), is the ability to marry formidable technical skills with relentlessly hungry athleticism. In time, thanks to their emerging talents, Real Madrid will be able to show muscle strength with and without the ball.
Now, however, eggs Not only do they rely excessively on these three giants, but Ancelotti allows them to dictate the way Madrid plays. Its personal importance is growing, but the importance of football systems, where premium players are at least close to interchangeability, is waning.
This week, Real Madrid have to go and win in Tiraspol: a five-and-a-half-hour journey each way to take on a team that has produced one of the biggest modern-day Champions League shocks with a victory at the Bernabéu in September. Winning inside the treasury of Madrid. Unless any of them – without our knowledge – suffer an injury this week, victory can be achieved by the Casemiro-Kroos-Modric trio.
But look at the next 15 days he faces Ancelotti and Co: after a grueling Tiraspol test, it’s Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao (at home), Real Sociedad (away) as well as Inter Milan and then Atletico Madrid (at home). While this midfield trio are all-time greats, they simply cannot carry Real Madrid through those crucial five games in 15 days without rest and rotation.
So when Ancelotti regains control of his midfield, with some or all of the Big Three on the bench, or completely relaxed, can he coordinate enough from clearly underutilized substitutes Isco, Camavinga, Valverde, Blanco, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio? Will he be penalized for the libertarian “Talent Knows” approach that brings such highs and lows? It would be great to know that.