Calm Ancelotti quiets some of the drama

Posted by Rob Train

It has been interesting to keep an eye on Real Madrid's excursion to the United States this year. The difference in time zones had made watching the International Champions Cup Trophy somewhat problematic, but the resulting press has all been largely based on, well, football.

Of course, there has been the annual Madrid transfer-saga sideshow involving a certain Welsh Tottenham Hotspur winger-forward -- whose name Real president Florentino Perez carefully avoided mentioning Thursday when fielding questions about ongoing negotiations to secure the signature of said 24-year-old former Southampton player and current PFA Player of the Year. But then, Marca, Zinedine Zidane and half the first-team squad have already done that work for him.

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The annual hand-wringing over whether Cristiano Ronaldo is happy in Madrid and prepared to commit his future to the white shirt has also been filling Marca's pages in the slow months. This has largely been generated by the aforementioned pursuit of a player who operates largely in the same role that Ronaldo does, who may cost more than the world record-generating Portuguese, and may well get paid more than him, as well.

But thus far, with the trans-Atlantic leg of Real's preseason preparations almost completed with a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday in Florida, there has been something altogether unfamiliar for the Bernabeu outfit in recent times: peace and quiet.

The influence of incoming coach Carlo Ancelotti, about as far removed from Jose Mourinho's acerbic management style as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from the realities of holding public office, has already permeated the team. Ancelotti has taken a leaf from the ledger of the top tie in Spain in giving out as little as he possibly can.

When quizzed on allegations of illegal party financing and supplementary cash bonuses to top government officials via a slush fund paid for businessmen in return for public works contracts, the PM replied: "It's all lies. Except the bits that aren't." Hardly the biting rhetoric of a man in full control of the ship.

When Ancelotti speaks, he answers head-on and without histrionics. Where Mourinho bristled and blustered, Ancelotti exudes calm authority.

The Italian's post-match news conference after Real beat Mourinho's Chelsea on Wednesday was a study in understatement: On the goalkeeping situation, which was utilized by Mourinho entirely for his ends and to make a point that has had little result other than destroying the confidence of Antonio Adan, who may well be shunted out to Rayo, Ancelotti noted: "[Iker] Casillas made a great save in the second half and had a great match. Everyone did well. On Saturday [vs. Inter Milan in St. Louis, 2 p.m. ET, ESPNDeportes/ESPN3/WatchESPN] Diego Lopez will play and we will see what happens in the first official match [Aug. 18 vs. Real Betis]. It is not so important."

And it really isn't, although the pro-Madrid press would have its readers believe that the very fabric of the nation was being unraveled by the sight of Saint Iker catching a bit of bench time. Both keepers are professional football players. Both cannot play at the same time. One has to cool his heels on the sidelines. It's as simple as that.

And note the Italian's answer to the teeth-gnashing in some quarters about the potential ruffling of Ronaldo's considerable plumage over Bal- ... sorry, the possibility of a shiny new peacock strutting his stuff on the hallowed Bernabeu turf: "Cristiano needs to find the area where he wants to play. I'm not going to change his position. He needs to choose his position on the pitch."

Not an entirely unreasonable viewpoint considering Ronaldo's phenomenal scoring record, but also a little reminder if one were needed the Portuguese is still ruler in his roost.

Even Mourinho's carefully aimed jibes about Real only being in the U.S. tournament because he arranged it knowing he wouldn't be involved, and his comments about the "real" Ronaldo failed to find their mark. The Portuguese Ronaldo said he does his talking on the pitch, and he certainly did in a match-winning performance, while Marcelo also denied making any sort of gesture toward Mourinho after bagging the opener.

It was to be expected that the meeting of Chelsea and Real would generate a few lines about old wounds and long-harbored thoughts of sweet revenge, but the players did what they are paid to do; the game was won, the trophy, however insignificant, attained and a white flag planted on a little patch of moral high ground.

Mourinho praised Ronaldo after the match and only allowed himself one little footnote to the tournament: "If we play them in the Champions League and lose then it's a different story."

If that day comes, the pre-match buildup will doubtless focus on the history between Mourinho and Real. But under Ancelotti, the focus of the players will be entirely centered on the field, something that was rarely the case during the past three seasons.

Whoever Real does or doesn't sign in the next couple of weeks, the capture of the Italian's signature is surely their most significant of the summer. Things look good on the pitch, and off it the volume has been set to well below its previous levels of vitriol, a good sign for the coming season. That might be another one in the eye for Mourinho, but that's not Real Madrid's problem anymore.


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