With Sunday's Clasico almost upon us, the changing fortunes of football management have never been more apparent with Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid in a very happy place, while Tata Martino at Barcelona is thought to be considering his position, as El Confidencial reported (via InsideSpanishFootball.com).
When Ancelotti first arrived at the Bernabeu, his calmness and imperturbability were perceived by the Madrid media as a demonstration of a lack of belief and passion, even personality.
However, having just endured the battering that was the Jose Mourinho era, many others were prepared to wait and give him his chance as the Italian manager looked to find the balance he needed in his side.
Then the first Clasico arrived and, despite the defeat, the impression was that there was a bigger room for improvement for Real Madrid than for Barcelona, and that the tide could change during the season. Little by little, that is what has happened.
The return from injury of Xabi Alonso restored the balance to the Real side that was essential and then the injury to Sami Khedira forced Ancelotti into changing from a 4-2-3-1 system over to a 4-3-3, with Angel Di Maria operating as one of the midfielders. And it worked.
He’s now found his favourite XI, the team is growing in stature and confidence by the day and fringe players like Jese and Alvaro Morata, who were hungry for success, are finding a way in. It is sad that Jese will miss the rest of the season after his influential goals this season, and his injury in the Champions League match against Schalke is certainly a setback for both club and player.
Basically, though, everyone’s improving on the field, which is the sign of a good coach.
There were some tensions, specifically with sections of the media opposed to Florentino Perez’s "galactico" policy that favours the purchase of top names like Gareth Bale over the use of top Academy products like Jese.
And while the decision to play Bale over Jese is a marketing decision as well as a sporting one, the former Tottenham star will always play the big games, not just because it is politically expedient for him to do so, but also because he can make a difference.
Ancelotti has brought the best season to date out of Karim Benzema, while Luka Modric’s sublime control of games has, in my opinion, made him La Liga’s player of the season, in the process taking much of the pressure off the shoulders of Alonso, a player Madrid have relied on too heavily in recent times.
Meanwhile over in Catalonia, Tata Martino is not in a good place at the moment.
Constant spats with a very demanding media that he claims neither know what they are talking about nor have a clue about the feelings of the fans have worn him down.
In truth, I’m at a loss to understand how he could claim to have his finger on the pulse of what the fans were thinking. Perhaps he is merely saying that the media are provoking arguments to make sure they have a bigger influence over the running of the club. If that is the case, he is partly right.
What is certain is that Martino needs to be where he is happy, and Barcelona isn’t it.
His subtle, but constant, conflict with the media might well be his way of digging himself out of the very unhappy hole that he currently finds himself in.
Martino has never said he would be staying on at the club, which is creating media speculation as to his future, and while the Camp Nou directors would like him to renew his contract, the fact is he is seriously contemplating leaving Barcelona in the summer, according to my sources.
And there may well be a perfect "get out of jail free card" available to him after the World Cup.
Martino and Diego Simeone are thought to be in the running for the Argentina job, should Alex Sabella leave after the World Cup.
While Simeone previously stated in an interview with TyC Sports that he would love the job (h/t Tom Conn of InsideSpanishFootball.com), he has unfinished business at Atletico Madrid and would also like to coach in Italy and the Premier League before taking charge of the national side some time in the future.
On the other hand, Martino would, at the very least, give strong consideration to the offer to manage his country’s national side.