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So Carlo Ancelotti looks to be packing his bags for Spain. It has been inevitable ever since Real Madrid first made it crystal clear that they wanted the Italian to succeed Jose Mourinho and finally end a 12-year wait for a 10th European Cup.
‘Carletto’ is everything Los Blancos want in a coach. He is humble, charismatic, dignified, intelligent and is a genuine winner. What is Paris Saint-Germain’s loss is certainly their gain. So it leaves us scratching our heads as to where to turn next. How can we replace a coach who has won a first league title for the club in nearly two decades in his first full season in charge? Whoever is appointed is surely going to be an underwhelming choice, right? Well, it remains to be seen but one thing that seems clear is the three names that are at the forefront for the role. Laurent Blanc, Rafael Benitez and surprisingly – although not really when you think about it – Leonardo.
It looks as if it will be one out of that trio to take over the reins at the Parc des Princes and continue the good work done by the soon to be predecessor. Ancelotti is still in charge of course but not for much longer it seems. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi is adamant that he has one-year left on his contract and that there is an offer of an extension but there is no turning back it seems. The meeting between Nasser, Carlo and Leonardo on Sunday afternoon was a frosty one, subsequently leading to Ancelotti going on live TV (Canal +) and revealing his desire to leave. It was bold but he made his point. It is disappointing that his tenure is going to end with some sort of animosity but he has had to do what he felt was best to get that dream job in Madrid. It clearly means an awful lot to him.
The worrying thing for me, in a general sense, is that the club have been ill prepared for this scenario which is strange as it has been mooted for some time. As soon as Real made any such whispers and Ancelotti started being cagey with his future, the club should have come up with a contingency plan. Now we are left with no real target in mind to succeed the coach and we have been picking names at will. But, in the last day or two, Benitez, Blanc and Leonardo look to be the front runners to step in according to Le Parisien and other sources in France.
All three have their appeal in one form or another and I will go into the reasons why:
If ever a man has proved people wrong in the last six months then it is Rafael Benitez. He took on a job at Chelsea where he 99% of the fans did not want him, did not take to him and wanted him out of the door as fast as he arrived through it. But, he has got them back in the top four, they are in the Champions League next season automatically and he guided them to a Europa League win, the first in the club’s history. Whatever way you look at it, he has done exceptionally well in testing circumstances and you cannot help but be impressed by that.
There is no doubt that his brief spell at Internazionale in 2010 dented his reputation as he was cascaded by the shadow of Jose Mourinho who departed for Spain – just after winning the treble. But, the work he has done at Chelsea has repaired most of that damage and he now has a queue of clubs looking to snap him up, including PSG. His contract at Chelsea is up and is free to talk to potential suitors.
Canal+ reported on Tuesday that the Spaniard will meet with Al Khelaifi in Doha in the coming days for discussions. I have no doubt in my mind that Benitez will make an impression on the president. He is professional, astute and has the CV to complement his abilities as a top European coach.
The World Cup winner fits the bill. He is French, understands Ligue 1, has won it, dealt with huge personalities as coach of the French national team and has a revered reputation in the game. It makes perfect sense.
Blanc would be a very shrewd appointment in my opinion. There is no doubt that he is capable of undertaking this job. He has the persona, presents a good image for the club and will look to keep a strong French core in the team which is imperative. The likes of Mamadou Sakho and Blaise Matuidi would perhaps get even better under his potential tenure.
His style of play is not too dissimilar to that of our current counter-attacking foray. Attractive football is his ethos and he would love to get his teeth into a team with the calibre of ours. That is a major factor in any decision as we do not want to appoint someone who is going to strip everything back. Blanc would make a more than ideal transition.
This would be a convenient move by the club but a risky one at that. To go from director of football to a coach would be difficult but it would only be for the short term. If reports are true that QSI are determined to lure Arsene Wenger at the end of his Arsenal contract next year, then you can start putting two and two together if Leo is appointed. He would essentially keep the seat warm for the Frenchman to park his rear in next summer.
But, Leonardo is not shy to coaching. He has coached the two Milanese clubs and had a very successful stint at Internazionale, winning the Coppa Italia. President Massimo Moratti was disappointed when he left in the summer of 2011 to start a new life in Paris as director of football. Leo made a real impression at the Nerazzurri but decided not to honour his 18-month contract and resigned.
He has the capabilities as a coach, there is no doubt about that. But, would it work at PSG? The irony continues as it was he who succeeded Ancelotti at Milan when he was technical director in 2009. Carlo went to England and Silvio Berlusconi had no hesitation in installing the Brazilian. In the end though the two had a major fallout leading to Leo’s departure.
So there you have it, the three frontrunners for the job it seems. All have their qualities. Pros and cons. Now it is just up to the club to make the right decision.