Ancelotti's calm in adversity sets him apart as Europe's finest
Real Madrid 4 Atletico Madrid 1 (After extra-time)
Published 26/05/2014 | 02:30
On his first day as Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti made a bold sales pitch.
"When I went to the Santiago Bernabeu trophy room I said to the president that there was one cup missing and that we should try to get it this season," said the coach who drew level with Bob Paisley on three European Cup wins 10 months after succeeding Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea's decision to sack Ancelotti in a corridor at Everton's Goodison Park in 2011 appeared even more reckless as he became only the fifth manager to lift the game's most hallowed trophy with more than one club, joining Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Jupp Heynckes and Mourinho.
At both ends of Benfica's Estadio da Luz, we saw the immense value of Europe's elite managers: the ones who can guide the biggest clubs through the most pressurised games.
Manchester United have one now, in Louis van Gaal, and Real have found a leader who reflects in style and temperament their aristocratic tendencies.
Of the men who have raised the cup with the big ears both as a player and coach, Ancelotti is the most decorated, with five medals (two each as player and manager at Milan). Frank Rijkaard has four and Pep Guardiola three.
In an impassioned clash between two tribes from one Spanish city, we saw five goals, extra-time, big mistakes and a goal from Wales' Gareth Bale to add to a stunning solo run from his own half in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
The world's most expensive footballer scored with his head on 110 minutes to break Atletico's resistance after Diego Godin had put them ahead in the first half.
"The price tag means nothing to me," Bale said. "I would have come here for a penny if it meant I could play in the big tournaments and win the big titles.
"It's unbelievable to lift this trophy – it will be a memory which will live with me forever."
All the talk around Real's manic pursuit of La Decima – 12 years after their ninth win – has concentrated on the vast outlay on players, so it was satisfying to see managerial skill play such a decisive part.
Ancelotti told his players that Atletico's resilience would break in the end. He told them to keep riding the kicks and carry on attacking.
Since Florentino Perez's return as president in 2009, Real have spent €600m.
Atletico's starting XI cost around €40m; Real's came in at €420m.
Football's Robin Hood, as Atletico like to be known, were seconds away from adding the Champions League to their La Liga title when Sergio Ramos, that tireless agent provocateur, headed the ball past Thibaut Courtois to send the game into extra-time.
Ancelotti was not the only talented manager on show.
Diego Simeone's "error" in starting with Diego Costa (who limped off after nine minutes) only accentuated how impressive he has been in inspiring this Atletico side to depose Real and Barcelona in La Liga.
As their Portuguese midfielder, Tiago, said before the game: "They (Madrid) are made to win. We are made to fight."
And fight they did, until Courtois deflected an Angel di Maria shot to Bale at the far post.
Then, Marcelo ran through to score from 15 yards and Cristiano Ronaldo made sure he would not be upstaged by Bale when falling under light contact and winning a penalty, which he blasted home.
With his wild, shirt-shedding and pec-flexing goal celebration, Ronaldo demanded the limelight. Who could blame him, after 17 goals in this season's competition? He joins Lionel Messi on 67 in the competition, only four behind another Real idol, Raul.
Ancelotti's team scored 41 times in total to win the cup.
Another record set was for yellow cards in a Champions League final – 12 in all, which expressed Atletico's machismo and the feistiness of the crosstown duel.
As Bale said of Real's flirtation with defeat: "You have days where you just miss a few chances, but the most important thing is that you don't let it hit your confidence. You just keep going, keep trying, keep shooting."
This described his own contribution perfectly. "All season Gareth has been good and he will be better next year," Ancelotti said. "He is a great player and with experience he will learn because he has a big future ahead of him."
Again, though, the sums are hard to ignore. Real spent £80m on Ronaldo and £86m on Bale.
The counterpart to extravagance was Simeone's expert coaching. Mourinho now has a serious rival in the school of micromanaging and drawing love from his players.
The Atletico coach also shares Mourinho's appetite for conflict, as shown by his altercation with Real's Raphael Varane. Simeone thinks nothing of invading the pitch to make a point.
Simeone, though, has proved himself as a team builder, tactician and motivator, while Ancelotti has taken the side Mourinho guided to three semi-finals and cajoled it over the line for a 10th European conquest.
The five consecutive European Cup finals between 1956 and 1960 with a team containing Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento laid the foundations for the Decima obsession.
Now Real are three clear of AC Milan on seven and five ahead of Liverpool and Bayern Munich. Money got them to 10, but so did clever management. Ancelotti is Europe's best. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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