Who is the better manager Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti? It is a question that underlines the fact that football managers’ fortunes are built on shifting sands.
At this point in time, most fans would plump for either boss currently resident in Manchester, no doubt backed up by reams of numbers and all sorts of evidence to back their claims. And if organised appropriately all of it would no doubt be completely legitimate, making a compelling case.
However, I’ve been thinking about this question a lot and here is my left-field answer.
And my answer is specifically left-field given the current cycle of fashion that sees Carlo Ancelotti plum out of favour.
So, forget trophies won at big clubs, forget PR hype, specious stats and let’s go back to first principles.
Imagine you have the brief to pick a first world team at random and you must ask one of these three amigos to occupy the managers office, regardless of which team you end up being allocated.
So out of the hat you might drop a top team from La Liga, the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, France, Belgium, the Netherlands.
Equally though you might pull out Elgin in League Two in Scotland, Rochdale, Malmo, Pescara, Carolina FC or Union Espanola in Chile. In short, any one of the thousands of clubs that populate the global game, totally at random.
Who would you choose to carry your colours and best fulfil a realistic time-set brief of appropriate success to the club’s size and resources? Say if, for example, a large cash prize was riding on the outcome.
With such a broad spectrum of potential sides to manage it could certainly get very interesting, a real game of high stakes jeopardy given the size of the reputations at stake.
Personally, in a blind test of managerial skill and versatility, I’d want Ancelotti precisely because of his ability to find the exact temperature of the challenges put in front of him and to apply an appropriate and effective solution.
But of course, Ancelotti’s stock is at an all-time low ebb following his sacking at Bayern Munich. Yet, even here he did a decent job consistent with a tricky brief.
Ancelotti was always the reconciliation candidate after the intensity of the Guardiola era. He has been able to create the conditions for peaceful evolution to the next stage of brand Bayern. The subtlety of this reality has been unremarked upon in the public realm because front of house, football only deals in the twin extremes of success and failure at a fan and press level. But Ancelotti, winner of domestic titles in Spain, England, Germany, France and Italy nonetheless did a decent shift as a sensitive placeholder for the next man to move things on again. It was a dirty, likely thankless job for any manager, but someone had to do it.
So, why would I now throw my lot in with the 58 year old Italian in this hypothetical challenge?
Firstly Ancelotti is a manager with sublime social skills. He is equally as likely to inspire a part-time playing journeyman as an international superstar. He is renowned as a manager that finds the correct level with players and people wherever he goes and that is both invaluable and essential if your canvas is the vast expanse 0f footballing ocean between Real Madrid and Barcelona at one extreme and obscure part-time outfits from football’s backwaters at the other.
Secondly, unlike Guardiola, Ancelotti will fit his tactics and playing style to the players at his disposal rather than the dictates of ‘his philosophy’. He doesn’t need a conveyor belt of identikit academy graduates, passing short, pressing high and dominating space without the ball. He can cut his coat according to his cloth.
Thirdly, unlike Mourinho, Ancelotti could flourish in the context of two 50p a mile scouts and a budget for part time wages and Bosman signings. As a pragmatic diplomat, Ancelloti wouldn’t rely on chequebook diplomacy and feuds and ultimatums to force his way. And, unlike either rival, what he’d leave behind at a lowly club would be significantly better than the situation he’d inherited.
Guardiola wouldn’t get the time he’d require and would likely struggle with inferior players. Mourinho always leaves an unexploded bomb waiting in the hot-seat for the next incumbent.
If we’re arguing who’d have the best 10-year plan at a major club, who’d win a league title in three seasons at an ambitious, moneybags side then you could make a case for Guardiola in the first instance and then Mourinho in the second. No question.
If the test is a pure test of people skills, team-building and ‘football managership’ or whatever you’d call it, then I am with Ancelotti. Every time.