Ancelotti interview: Real Madrid, Benzema, Vinicius, PSG in the Champions League
The Real Madrid coach spoke to this newspaper about the current situation at the club, and his hopes for the future, including a tie against PSG.
He's on cloud nine after the successes of the first five months of his second spell in charge at Real Madrid. Carlo Ancelotti (62 years old) is enjoying a sublime moment with his team, who are leading the league and heading into the knock-out phase of the Champions League, where they face PSG.
Real Madrid finished the year on a high, how much of that is down to Ancelotti?
Maybe my experience after so many years in football, and knowing how to give the players confidence. Madrid has a talented, quality squad and the coach must give them confidence. It’s also the job of the coaching staff to find the right balance between the youngsters and the more experienced players, and we’ve managed that. But the fact is Madrid already had a core set of players, a team.
With the same set of players, or pretty similar, Madrid came pretty close last season. But this year they are finishing the first half as out and out leaders, miles ahead.
Yes, but last year the team was pretty much there. They were in the running right up to the end. They didn’t land any titles, but they were competitive and close to winning something in a spell where the pandemic made it hard for everyone.
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We know nobody can promise titles, but does it at least feel like they are close?
Promising titles is never the best idea, but we can promise what Real Madrid always does, which is to fight to the end. That’s what we’re doing, we’re competing well in every tournament, in every game. In the first part of the season we had a few lapses. We’ve only had two losses, against Espanyol in LaLiga and against Sheriff, in the Champions League. But that happened in a spell when we were missing players like Modric and Kroos. But when they came back you could see the team had a really clear identity.
In your Milan side there were stars like Gullet and Van Basten in the team, and players fighting for their place like Baresi and Ancelotti. Is Madrid like that right now?
A team is built exactly in that way, getting the most out of every player, whatever they can best bring to the team. Everyone needs to best work out what they can do and put it to the service of their teammates. It’s also the work of the coach, and at Real Madrid we’re getting that balance. Some players have more skill, others are more committed, and some put in more physical effort than the others. Everyone is vital and useful. A team is built by mixing the technical, physical and tactical abilities of each one of its players. That’s what Madrid is doing and that’s why they are competing so hard.
There are teams, a lot of them, who just go out to play, while others, like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, are clearly in the running for titles. Would you agree?
Madrid fight for titles because it’s in their DNA, that’s the story of this club. Real Madrid is different to other clubs. That’s not something you can say so easily about other teams, other clubs.
What Modric is doing is incredible. Not long ago it was impossible to be at that level past 32 or 33. What has Luka got? Love of the game, good genes, or a little bit of everything?
A little bit of everything, no doubt about it. Luka and all the current players take such good care of themselves during their entire careers. It’s the training, the diet, the personal care… a little bit of everything. That’s what players these days do, so although there are more games, they can play. Players who keep going to the age of Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic deserve huge plaudits, but it’s because they are complete professionals.
As well as Modric, do you think others will manage it, like Kroos or Benzema?
Yes, I’m sure of it because I see them working day in, day out and I know they are complete professionals. I think the three of them can still be playing into their 40s at the highest level. It’s true that it's harder for a striker, who wears out faster, than for a midfielder. But I think the three of them can do it.
If what Modric is doing is amazing, the same could be said of his teammates in the midfield: Kroos and Casemiro. Without boasting, does Ancelotti have the best midfield in the world right now?
Yes, I think so. Those three make up the best midfield in the world right now. Maybe the box-to-box midfielders are more what you think of, but Modric, Kroos and Casemiro have so much experience and are so good at the game that they are simply extraordinary. What’s more, it turns out they play so well together. When the three of them are together there’s nobody who can compare to them.
Is Benzema the best striker in the world right now?
I think so, because to his game he’s added a massive, regular ability to put the ball in the back of the net. He’s at the level of Cristiano Ronaldo or Haaland. Benzema is a player who makes a difference. We saw it once again in the game against Athletic, with two goals in quick succession. He’s in amazing form.
You just have to say the name Camavinga and any Madrid fan starts smiling. You too?
Yes, same here. I see it on the faces of the fans (Ancelotti smiles). The youngsters, like Camavinga, Valverde and others, they need to know who is ahead of them, the players we’ve mentioned before: Modric, Kroos, Casemiro. They’re competing with the best in the world and they need to analyse and understand that in the future it’ll be them playing there. Camavinga has incredible ability and potential, but he needs to learn and pick up experience and know-how about the position he’s playing. He’s lacking that, but he’s 19! Every day he trains alongside Modric, Kroos and Casemiro is a Master’s for Camavinga. I’m sure he learns more from watching what his teammates do than from what I tell him!
Maybe that’s the case with Vinicius training with Benzema. Vini is clearly a better player than two seasons ago. He’s come on so much as a player.
Yeah, that’s definitely the case. Vinicius has improved because he does things in less of a rush than before. Vinicius has changed above all because he takes time to pause on the important moments of each move. The main thing about a player is that they can do the difficult things well, because they’ll end up being able to do the easy things. Vini knew how to do the difficult things, but struggled with the easy stuff. Now he takes more time over the easy things and it’s working well for him. But the main thing is that he always tried to do the difficult stuff and it would always work out for him - it either works or it doesn’t.
What’s more, Vinicius has really just come to life. Do you think he can get better?
Of course. Vinicius has amazing speed and skill. I’ve never seen a player so good dribbling, so good at beating his man. But he still has the capacity to get better, for example his play off the ball, attacking spaces and shooting, where he can get better.
It’s not just Vinicius. There are more youngsters coming through. Against Mallorca, for example, Madrid finished with seven players under 23 on the pitch. It’s also happened in the Champions League, in certain games in the group stage. Is that Ancelotti’s work to ensure the youngsters are coming through?
The primary obligation of Real Madrid is to win. But the progress of the youngsters is another goal. We work hand in hand with Castilla and there are so many players from the B team who end up playing for the first team. They’re the future, and little by little we have to include them. That’s obvious, Now, with the pandemic, opportunities are arising for them. What’s important is that those who come in do so with the possibility of fighting for their position, as we saw in the last game, in Bilbao with Peter Federico.
We still haven’t asked you about what happened in the recent Champions League draw…
It was a sad situation, a clear mistake. But there you go, it was a mistake and nothing more. Now we need to focus on the tie against PSG. The aim is to go into the tie with the team in the same state as it was before the recent covid outbreak. What I want is to get into February with no injuries and nobody infected.
Real Madrid are facing PSG, but there are also amazing teams such as Bayern or Liverpool. What can Madrid expect from such a demanding Champions League?
What I can promise is that Madrid will fight to the end. There’s no clear favourite for this edition of the Champions League. The teams you mentioned, like Bayern, Liverpool, PSG are. But so is Madrid. And Atlético. Yep. Atlético Madrid could do something big in this type of European tie. I think the Spanish sides can fight for every European competition because they play good football.
Has Madrid got LaLiga sewn up?
I don’t think so, no. We’ve got a small advantage and it’s true that some of our rivals, such as Atlético or Barça, are somewhat behind. But not Sevilla, for example. LaLiga is a tough competition because you can never say this is an easy game. There are so many good teams, and so much good football on offer.
We’re in the midst of a pandemic, teams are suffering financially, and on the pitch, and only the state-backed clubs are thriving… and Real Madrid are building a monumental stadium and a young side. Are you surprised by the strength of the club?
No, I’m not surprised because I know the club, its structure and its president, above all. It’s true that in an incredible tough time for society and for the economics of the clubs, with everything going on with the pandemic, it’s impressive to see Madrid entirely focused on creating this amazing stadium, which will doubtless be the best stadium in the world, with, what’s more, a team of the future competing at every level.
What do you think of the new Bernabéu, does it make you proud to be the coach in what will be an iconic stadium in the future?
What I want is to be there, in the dugout, on the day they open the new stadium.
Do you not think that in a stadium like this players such as Mbappé, Haaland would want to play… basically, the best?!
Of course, but the future of this team is already decided. I don’t know what the players will do… and hopefully the coach will be the same as he is today. But it’s all the same, because the future of Real Madrid is already worked out, with the current team and the youngsters who are coming in. There’s no doubt that Real Madrid will be competing for a long time to come.
Are you going to ask the Three Kings for something in the winter transfer market?
No, this winter I won’t ask for players. I’m going to ask for what everyone wants: an end to the pandemic and we can live a healthy live in the future. Merry Christmas and all best for the New Year to all the Real Madrid fans.