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Carlo Ancelotti—The Italian Alex Ferguson? Not Quite

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Carlo Ancelotti—The Italian Alex Ferguson? Not Quite
(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Carlo Ancelotti and Alex Ferguson have much in common. Both are the longest tenured managers in their respective top flight football tournaments. Both have won the Champions League twice.

Both started off with modest managerial jobs, Reggiana for Ancelotti and St. Mirren for Ferguson, only to move on and up to more established clubs and find success.

Ancelotti is even often referred to as the Italian Ferguson. This was perhaps initiated by Milan’s own club director Adriano Galliani who has been quoted as saying he wanted Ancelotti to emulate the fiery Scot by staying on at the club for many years.

However, this is where comparisons end. The truth is Ancelotti and Ferguson, as managers, couldn’t be more different.

And other than sharing an affinity for fine wines- Ancelotti gave Ferguson a crate of Guidalberto after their complete annihilation of Manchester United in 2007—the mentalities of the respective managers are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

It is true that Ancelotti has had tremendous success recently, but the tides at Milan are changing. Milan hasn’t won a league title since 2004, and although they won the Champions League in 2007 they failed to qualify for 2008 edition.

As a revolution is set to occur, many believe “Carletto’s” time at the club is up, as he seemingly can’t ring anymore motivation out of this Milan team.

Ferguson has been a top manager for many years and will continue to be in the foreseeable future, and it seems that no matter how many years go by his Manchester United sides are always in the running for titles domestically and in Europe. Affinity for fine wine aside, it’s a totally separate vice that sets the two apart the most; gambling.

In an April 5 league match versus Champions League hopefuls Aston Villa, down 2 goals to one and with other title chasers Liverpool and Chelsea virtually breathing down their neck; Ferguson decided to gamble.

He threw on an Italian striker called Kiko by his mates who was 17 years old, lanky, inexperienced, and barely grasping the native language. What happened next will no doubt live in the folklore of Ferguson and Manchester United if they go on to win the league for the third time in a row.

In injury time the surprisingly physically gifted Roman native showed himself in the penalty area for Ryan Giggs' pass, pulled the ball back underneath his body with one touch, pirouetted, and with the second curled the ball waist-high past the American in goal. 3-2.

Another 17 year old Ferguson gamble you may have heard of, Ronaldo, had tied the game at 2-2 after scoring the first as well.

Alex Ferguson has a certain footballing mentality. English managers are generally more adventurous than their Italian counterparts. But, even then, that would be doing a disservice to Ferguson’s particular brand of football.

While breaking down the wings, with a cross into the box almost inevitable most managers would tell their central midfielders to sort out which of the two will offer a late run and which will stay and defend.

Ferguson, it seems, would rather they both crash the box…and his center back too if just up from a corner kick! He takes chances. He believes in overwhelming the opposition with speed and bluster and aggression, inundating the box and his flooding his team with chances to score.

He takes a lot of risks, because the reward of a goal and/or winning is often times worth it.

The day after Federico "Kiko" Macheda’s instant stardom, Carlo Ancelotti must have been pleased when his AC Milan side won their match in the 90th minute versus Lecce.

Substitute Philippe Senderos arrowing a header goal-ward which deflected off Ronaldinho and into the net. Ronaldinho himself had only come on as a sub for Clarence Seedorf as Milan adopted an offensive formation in the last 20 minutes of the game.

Pleased as well was Galliani, showing praise for the Milan coach afterward saying, "Tonight the game was won by Ancelotti, who decided to play the second half with a 4-2-4 formation, placing Pato on the right and Ronaldinho on the left.

It opened things up on the offensive front. We suffered for the first 45, but then in the second period everything changed. In defence, there is always some risks because of the absences of [Alessandro] Nesta, [Kakhaber] Kaladze, and [Daniele Bonera]."

One has to look closely at the circumstances surrounding Ancelotti’s match winning decisions to find skepticism in such praise. Lecce is almost certain to be relegated and have shipped 50 goals this term, the most in Serie A.

To throw on two former World Players of the Year isn’t genius, its desperation. Milan struggled to break down Lecce for 90 minutes because their attack was slow and unadventurous, so much so that even the worst defense in the league looked like the famous early '90s Milan defense.

Milan is 14 points away from league leaders Inter, and out of contention for the league title. The last time they truly challenged for the title was in the 2006. The club is getting on in age, and has been past its peak for possibly two years now, yet Ancelotti refuses to change the team.

He has reportedly asked for two players next season, a powerful striker and a defensive stalwart. He conveniently chooses to ignore the need for new players in midfield where Andrea Pirlo, Seedorf, Gattuso, and Ambrosini are all reaching Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs status.

Players like Giggs and Scholes still feature regularly when fit, but lack dynamism and have been replaced as starters by the likes of Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, and Ronaldo. Look at the players Manchester United have lost in the past 10 years and there is a capable replacement in the current team.

Japp Stam left and Rio Ferdinand was bought, Nemanja Vidic has even been compared to the towering Dutch defender. Louis Saha was exchanged for Rooney, Ole Gunnar Solskjær for Tevez, Van Nistelrooy for Berbatov. 

Beckham was famously kicked out of United—or at least a boot was famously kicked—so United found a new means of creating goals in blooding a young Portuguese winger named Ronaldo.

Meanwhile Milan’s old warhorses soldier on and are expected to compete with players younger, faster, and hungrier. The situation is made even more maddening when considering the talents that Ancelotti chose to overlook.

Talents like Lazio winger Pasquale Foggia who was recently called into the Italian National Team, striker Alberto Paloschi who is now playing and scoring regularly on loan at Parma in Serie B, and playmaker Yoann Gourcuff the young French international on loan at Bordeaux who is a favorite for Ligue 1’s top player award.

What is true is that Ancelotti is a manager with definite quality, but what he lacks is the breadth of invention, longevity, and pure testicular fortitude to be compared to Alex Ferguson.

His tenure at Milan has been a long and relatively successful one, but Milan fans have to wonder where the club might have been if they had formed a system that relied on teamwork and attacking play and shown faith in some of its young talents.  

Responding to questions about the reverse versus Aston Villa Ferguson replied, “I was always going to gamble…Winning is the name of the game at this club. We deserved the result as we gambled and tried to win the game.

"We take terrible risks and don’t defend properly but there’s always more goals in this team.” If Ferguson is any example, fortune truly favors the brave.

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