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It has been widely reported in Italy that Juventus have been in contact with Carlo Ancelotti. On many levels, this is unsurprising news and undeniably a wise move by the Bianconeri, not least of all because there have been similar rumours that Massimiliano Allegri may decide to leave the club this summer after four years at the helm.
Furthermore, given the Old Lady’s burning desire to win the Champions League, could there be a more suitable coach to target than the man who has lifted the famous trophy on three occasions and whose name is almost synonymous with the competition?
Ancelotti’s Champions League pedigree needs little explanation, guiding AC Milan to victory in both 2003 and 2007, following up those triumphs by sealing La Decima for Real Madrid as they won UEFA’s elite competition for the tenth time in 2014. Each time, his ability to manage a dressing room filled with huge egos and mould a plethora of star players into a cohesive unit was seen as instrumental to success.
Meanwhile, Juventus have won the Serie A title in each of the last six seasons and are once again sitting top of table. Yet for all their domestic dominance, they have consistently failed to carry that form onto the European stage, unable to overcome the continent’s truly giant clubs when it matters most.
Yes, they have enjoyed success over two legs against Real Madrid (in the 2014/15 semifinals) and Barcelona (2016/17 quarterfinals) during Allegri’s tenure, but it must be noted that every time they have reached the knockout stages in the current era, it has been the Spanish duo or Bayern Munich who have ended their campaign. The Bavarian giants saw them off in the 2013 quarterfinals and the last 16 three years later, Barca won the 2015 final while Real Madrid emerged victorious in last season’s final and in the quarterfinals this term.
All of which is to say the Bianconeri are close, much closer than they have been since they last won the tournament back in 1996, and ready to take that last step.
There is arguably nobody better placed to get them over the proverbial hump than Ancelotti, whose Milan side in 2007 overcame Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Liverpool in the knockout rounds before helping Madrid past Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich – who had played each other in the previous final – before beating neighbours Atlético Madrid to clinch their long-awaited tenth crown.
That ended a twelve-year wait for the trophy at the Bernabeu, something Juve fans can certainly sympathise with as their current drought careens headlong towards double that amount of time. However, it is those same supporters who will raise the first question mark over these links to Ancelotti, as many will remember his previous stint on the Bianconeri bench.
Indeed, the 58-year-old is not remembered fondly in Turin where he took over from Marcello Lippi in 1999. The club had followed up their aforementioned victory in ’96 by reaching the final in each of the next two seasons, but never came close to replicating that under Ancelotti who was deemed unfit for the job from the very beginning.
“A pig cannot coach. Ancelotti, get out” was daubed on a wall near Juve’s headquarters when he arrived, with fans at the Stadio delle Alpi singing that same sentiment at him even during his first game in charge. Despite boasting a squad that contained Zinedine Zidane, Pippo Inzaghi, Thierry Henry and Alessandro Del Piero, he achieved the only pair of second place finishes in Serie A – both confirmed in heartbreaking circumstances on the last day of the season – and was on the losing side in Manchester United’s famous 1999 semi-final triumph.
The situation was deemed untenable and he was sacked at half-time of his final game in charge against Atalanta two years later, a decision that club patron Umberto Agnelli found extremely difficult to make. “Ancelotti leaves us and we are sorry,” he said in an official statement. “The reason for his departure is that it is difficult to work in a city where the majority of supporters and the press are against you.”
That sentiment is echoed even today, as a season ticket holder in the Curva Sud explains. “Words are not enough to describe how I still feel today when I think back to that time,” lifelong supporter and Turin native Andrea Merlino told Football Whispers. “It was unreal….a nightmare. Carletto was hated by Juve fans for his past with Milan and Roma so he had to struggle every day against Juventini themselves.”
Ancelotti clearly learned from his mistakes, becoming a much tougher character behind the scenes and especially when facing the Bianconeri. He was in charge of the Milan side that beat Juve in the 2003 Champions League final and was fined for aiming an offensive gesture towards Juve’s Ultras five years later. “Yes I did raise my little finger and it was my response to a few ignorant people,” he told RAI Sport at the time.
“With hindsight, I think that I would do the same thing again and there’s no need to look for video evidence because I’m not scared to admit what I did. It’s the first time that I have reacted like that and perhaps the last, but I couldn’t accept those insults.”
Despite possessing a vastly superior coaching resume when he was appointed, Allegri was similarly maligned upon his arrival at Juve, but won over the supporters with much-improved results in Europe. Should he opt to move on this summer, it appears the club hope Ancelotti can do the same, with Umberto Agnelli’s son Andrea now in charge and seemingly already assessing his options.
“Ancelotti has been sought out by many clubs, even if not with definitive offers,” Alessandro Alciato – who co-wrote Ancelotti’s autobiography – told Sky Italia earlier this week. “It’s a suggestive hypothesis regarding Juventus. It would be a return, it’s an idea. There’s an excellent relationship with Agnelli, and a good relationship with the current directors.”
Now all they need to do is convince the supporters, and there’s only one way of doing that. The first time he came they called him a pig, but if he ends their 23 year wait for a Champions League trophy, the supporters on the Curva Sud might be forced to rethink. Ancelotti can certainly coach, but can he do it at Juventus?