In a career full of blunders, firing Carlo Ancelotti is Florentino Perez’s worst mistake yet


Today, Florentino Perez fired Carlo Ancelotti. Everybody agrees that’s awful.

That no one is surprised may be an even bigger issue.

In one calendar year, the 55-year-old Italian manager went from Champions League winner to the 12th man fired by Perez over a 12 year span. That group includes Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini, Fabio Capello, and Bernd Schuster. That list also includes a whopping seven managers who didn’t last a calendar year. Something is clearly wrong.

It is possible to discuss the player recruitment strengths Of Florentino Perez. It is also very possible to discuss the shortcomings of his ability to run a stable club. I just did that in the last paragraph. But it’s also shockingly easy to illustrate how historically bad this firing is.

Jose Mourinho had just been sacked (that’s also a doozy of a decision), and his three-year tenure seems like an eternity under Perez. So the man with a plan snags Ancelotti from Paris Saint-Germain, which right there screams stability (I need a sarcasm font).

Ancelotti’s job seemed simple: take a Jose Mourinho squad that won three trophies and don’t screw it up. Easy, right? Well, nothing is easy with Florentino Perez. He decided to shake things up by completely overhauling the squad, because three straight Champions League semifinals isn’t good enough. Gone are Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, and the most disappointing of all, Mesut Ozil. In comes Isco, Asier Illarramendi, Dani Carvajal, and the $110 million man Gareth Bale, plus a host of youth team players including Jese and Alvaro Morata.

But Ancelotti took all the player turnover and performed admirably. He won the Copa del Rey by knocking over Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, and brought the club its 10th European championship and first in 12 years.

Last season, there were no trophies. That tends to happen when your direct competition ends up with Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez. And yet, Carlo Ancelotti’s two seasons at Real Madrid ended with an 89-14-15 record – the second-best win percentage of any Real Madrid manager ever and the best of any manager that lasted longer than a calendar year. He won more trophies than anyone since Vicente del Bosque – ironically the first manager Florentino Perez let go in 2003.

The circus continues. The only thing that matters to Perez is a full trophy case. He lusts for silverware as a werewolf lusts for blood; the turnover he requires is an uncontrollable, insatiable appetite that must be fed. One that unfortunately supercedes the need for long-term stability. No one painted that picture better than AS journalist Artiz Gabilondo: “The problem at Real Madrid is that Florentino Perez calls for ‘maximum demands’ of players and coaches, but never of himself.”

The problem at Real Madrid isn’t Carlo Ancelotti. Trophy-less seasons will happen, especially in one of the most top-heavy leagues in the world where the direct competition is some of the best in the world, and the outside competition provides little threat to your best opponents.

The players supported Ancelotti. The fans supported Ancelotti. But Perez didn’t, so he goes. As long as the buck continues to stop with the managers and not the president, Real Madrid will never escape the maelstrom of instability and change that continues to handicap the glitzy, world-class squad it repeatedly displays onto the Bernabeu pitch.

Jota takes super sub to new level in Wolves win

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Sometimes the phrase “game changer” is used a bit too loosely, but there’s no debating Diogo Jota fit the bill to a ‘t’ on Thursday.

Wolves scored four times in 11 minutes, three coming courtesy Jota, as the Premier League side buried Besiktas 4-0 in Europa League play on Thursday.

Jota entered in the 56th minute, scored in the 57th, and completed his hat trick in the 68th.

[ MORE: Who can Wolves draw in UEL? ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men had already clinched a place in the knockout rounds before the match day, and finish one point below Braga in Group K.

Jota has five goals in five days after scoring twice against Brighton on Sunday. The 23-year-old had an up-and-down season to start but has been mostly good over the past half-dozen games.

He has 37 goals in 107 matches with Wolves, including nine in all competitions this season. He scored nine times last season after a 17-goal campaign in the Championship.

Leander Dendoncker had Wolves’ other goal, with the day’s assists going to Oskar Buur, Joao Moutinho, and Pedro Neto.


Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

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Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
Manchester United
Red Bull Salzburg

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.