Antonio Conte and Carlo Ancelotti could not have had more contrasting evenings in the Champions League on Wednesday.
At the same time that Chelsea’s current manager was pulling off arguably the best European result of his coaching career, a former Blues boss was watching his side slump to a 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain that cost him his job at Bayern Munich.
Ancelotti ultimately paid the price for losing the dressing room. The two-time Champions League winner had allowed dissension within his ranks to go unchecked and, after dropping Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mats Hummels for the game at the Parc des Princes, he was ultimately forced out by his own players.
“There were five players against Ancelotti,” Bayern president Uli Hoeness told Westfalenpost. “It was impossible to get out of that.”
Ancelotti has been here before, of course. He is affectionately known as ‘King Carlo’ at Stamford Bridge, after winning a domestic double in the first of his two seasons in charge, but he was ultimately dethroned by key figures within the Chelsea squad.
Harsh as it may sound, Conte would never have allowed a mutiny to develop, as underlined by the cut-throat way in which he ostracised Diego Costa before the striker’s inevitable return to Atletico Madrid.
This is a man who wants things done his way. If they’re not, either a player walks – or he does.
When he disagreed with Juventus’ transfer strategy in the summer of 2014, he sensationally quit. Conte almost always exits on his terms.
Compare this with Ancelotti: he has held some of the most prestigious positions in football – Bayern, Real Madrid and Chelsea – but he was, rightly or wrongly, discarded by all of those clubs.
When the going gets tough, Ancelotti is often sent packing. Conte, by contrast, has proven himself adept at dealing with adversity and conflict.
As former Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo – who also served under Ancelotti at AC Milan – said earlier this year: “I have nothing but respect and admiration for Conte.
“If he takes a job, any job, it has to be on his terms: the players he wants to sign; those he wants to get rid of; the style he wants to play.
“I have played under a lot of great managers. but I can say that Conte is a genius. And, like all men who possess genius, he is a little mad.
“The man can be a beast. A dressing room when he is angry is one of the most dangerous places you can be!”
Only this summer, Conte had to put his foot down regarding the Costa stand-off and what was, until deadline day, an unsatisfactory transfer market, as far as he was concerned.
Despite the undoubted disharmony at Stamford Bridge when the season began, which manifested itself in a shock opening-day loss to Burnley, Conte steadied the ship and navigated Chelsea safely through choppy waters.
Indeed, the Blues have now won seven of their last eight games in all competitions, drawing the other. They lie third in the Premier League, just three points behind the Manchester clubs, and sit top of their Champions League group, with a maximum six-point haul from two outings.
Conte deserves immense credit in this regard for handling arrivals as well as departures.
Alvaro Morata has made a fine start to his Premier League career and the Spaniard attributes his early success to his new boss: “I came to Chelsea because one club and one coach believed in me.”
Club icon John Terry has not been missed whatsoever and while Nemanja Matic is presently proving his worth to Manchester United, Conte’s decision to offload the Serb for a tidy sum is hardly hurting Chelsea, given the replacement, Tiemoue Bakayoko, is looking like the perfect midfield foil for N’Golo Kante.
Bayern also lost a couple of important players over the summer, Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso, but they were not adequately replaced, leaving a leadership void that Ancelotti failed to fill.
Indeed, while there are clearly issues within the Bavarian club itself, the Italian never looked capable of guiding through what was always likely to prove a tricky transitional period. In truth, as great a coach and classy a character as he is, transition has never been his forte.
Conte, by contrast, was the man who completely overhauled Juventus, transforming them from the seventh-best team in Serie A to champions in the space of a single season. He handles crises well, even making light of a four-month touchline ban during his time in Turin.
Unlike Ancelotti, he does not shy away from confrontations. His contract renewal destabilised Chelsea for a period as well but the Blues boss ultimately received the pay-rise he demanded for delivering a Premier League title.
The club’s transfer policy was central to those negotiations, so Conte will have great sympathy for Ancelotti, given Bayern’s refusal to spend big during the summer – a strategy that was publicly criticised by star striker Robert Lewandowski.
Certainly, Ancelotti could have done with acquiring players more loyal to him, as his supporters ultimately found themselves outnumbered in the Bayern dressing room.
The 58-year-old should still be regarded as a great coach but he may want to look to Conte for a few tips on how to survive in a crisis.
In return, Ancelotti could offer his compatriot a few pointers on how to win the Champions League. Although, Conte showed at Atletico on Wednesday night that he may no longer need any help in that regard.
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