Tonight marks a meeting of two things closest to Carlo Ancelotti's heart: and two things that have defined the old master in European football.
The first of these two loves is the club that he left Everton for in the summer. Real Madrid was a call too strong to ignore, given the history was created between Ancelotti and Los Blancos in their first romance together. The second is the scene of Ancelotti's return to the Champions League tonight: the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, better known as the San Siro.
This is the ground that the Italian spent longer at than any other club - though not with tonight's opponents Inter Milan but rivals and housemates, AC. In an eight-year spell, Ancelotti won Old Big Ears twice with I Rossoneri, his first coming all the way back in 2003.
That night, Old Trafford was lit up with floating star balls, hovering over the pitch. But nowadays, it's not so much the icon of Champions League glory that hangs over Carlo's head: it's more the air of uncertainty of whether this current arrangement can hold up. Eyebrows were raised, and not just from the man himself, when Florentino Perez turned back to a manager he'd unceremoniously fired in 2015 despite winning a Champions League trophy just 12 months prior. It's safe to say the jury is out as to whether Ancelotti can achieve big things at the Bernabeu again.
"I personally adore him," says LaLigaTV's Graham Hunter. "He was an excellent footballer. He’s been an exceptional coach, everywhere he’s gone. I would say even at Paris Saint-Germain. And I just worry about whether it’s the most proficuous site for him to bring his talents. There’s just such a minuscule margin for error, here.
"Where I fear for him somewhat is that he’s working for a man who’s got trigger-happy about firing; a man who said he needed an ‘update’ last time he sacked Ancelotti. Ancelotti won four trophies in his first season at Real Madrid - and then, OK, nothing - but Ancelotti himself, if you read his book, talked about the way that Florentino Perez believed stats and numbers rather than what Ancelotti told him.
"So there was a breakdown of trust rapidly when Carlo had brought them the Club World Cup, Champions League, Super Cup and whatever else - and I didn’t understand that. Now Florentino hasn’t got any gentler or any more understanding over the years!
"So the thing I worry about Ancelotti this season is that I’m not certain either he or Florentino considers it a medium-term project - let alone a long-term project."
Despite the obvious concerns that one could have over Ancelotti returning Real, there are huge upsides, too. This is still a manager, after all, who brought a feel-good factor back to Everton in his last job and has proven time and time again that he can control big players and deliver results - not least in Europe. In an age in which players respond better to a more gentle touch, Graham says that Ancelotti is a master and still one of the best man managers around.
"It’s very rare now that at any top-class club in any high-performing league, you get managers who are martinets, who can yell at players," he says.
"At Athletic Bilbao, Marcelino is a coach who’s extremely talented but he’s undoubtedly one of these no-nonsense, tow-the-line, 'you’re going to do what I say' coaches who weighs his players twice a day. There will be fines if you’re a few ounces over your prescribed weight. There are very few places that you can impose that on multi-millionaire footballers anymore.
"Ancelotti typifies - a little bit like Zidane did - the type of manager who can come in and weave a spell, person to person. He’s very much a man manager. Typically, wherever he’s gone, Ancelotti, he builds an atmosphere where the players are convinced, rather than ordered. I think that’s one of the key parts of Ancelotti’s repertoire."
It all begins in Milan for Ancelotti - just as it perhaps did when his reputation sky-rocketed in 2003. This much-loved manager has no guarantee of job security this season but with high-risk comes high reward. What's certain, however, is just how excited fans and pundits alike are to see Carlo back in the big time.
"I wish him well though and I’m so glad to have him here, I really am," Graham says. It's not just players that Ancelotti can weave under his spell, after all.
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