There are times when appointing a new manager can feel like a lottery, but that doesn’t mean a club shouldn’t at least try to plan. A manager who has won trophies throughout his career may have failed to move on with the game, or it may be that with the chemistry between a particular group of players the circumstances don't quite work. It’s difficult. The skill is to find a manager to fit the given circumstances, and, with that in mind, it’s hard to understand the logic in the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as Everton manager, which was confirmed Saturday prior to the Toffees' home match vs. Arsenal.
Maybe he interviewed well. Maybe he laid down detailed plans of how he intends to construct a midfield that doesn’t involve Tom Davies covering about 18 positions simultaneously. Maybe he has interesting ideas about making the most of Jordan Pickford’s accurate long kicking. Maybe he can make Richarlison and Bernard consistent. Maybe he can be the man who finally unleashes Theo Walcott’s full potential. But nothing in Ancelotti’s past suggests he is equipped for the sort of major overhaul and construction job Everton requires.
Ancelotti has spoken of his desire, at 60, for another long-term project. He managed 423 games over seven-and-a-half years at Milan, but subsequent jobs at Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Napoli have never lasted more than two years. That is an extraordinary string of elite cubs. Even his time at Parma, before he got the Milan job, was in the cash-soaked days of Hernan Crespo, Enrico Chiesa and Gianfranco Zola.
What is certainly true is that Ancelotti brings glamour. He is one of only three managers to have won the European Cup/Champions League three times; Everton’s only European success came in lifting the Cup-Winners Cup in 1985. Ancelotti feels, in that sense, slightly too big for a club that has spent most of the past decade bobbing around seventh place.
The positive way of considering the appointment is that it immediately elevates Everton, makes the club of interest to potential signings who would perhaps previously not have given it a second thought. It’s a sign of the ambition shown by majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri both in his transfer splurges and, perhaps more importantly, in finally getting the long-delayed stadium move underway.
But there remains the nagging doubt that Ancelotti has been appointed because of his status and the status he brings. Even leaving aside the doubts as to whether he is what Everton needs, assessing Ancelotti’s record, for all on his glittering résumé, is far from straightforward.
He has the three Champions Leagues, yet in 16 completed seasons at elite-level clubs he has won only four league titles. He was the PSG manager when Montpellier won the title. He was Real Madrid manager when Atletico won the title. At Bayern, the players, initially relieved by his laid-back approach after the intensity of Pep Guardiola, ended up complaining that training sessions were too relaxed.
Ancelotti can change, of course, just as football and circumstances can, but the suspicion that has dogged him throughout his career is that he is very good at putting elite players (and overbearing directors) at their ease, that he can inspire them and organize in the short term, but that he lacks the drive to sustain excellence over the long haul. Where Ancelotti has excelled has been in taking sides that were almost fully formed and polishing that talent. Everton certainly is not that.
Moshiri has spent a lot of money on players–just under $250 million net since buying his stake in February 2016–but the problem has been that the money has not necessarily been well-spent. There is a surfeit of inconsistent, technically gifted players such as Richarlison, Bernard, Walcott and Alex Iwobi, while nobody has entirely convinced at center forward. Injuries, meanwhile, have ravaged the midfield, which had been weakened anyway by the departure of Idrissa Gana Gueye for PSG in the summer.
A string of ill-advised managerial appointments has left a confused squad with very little obvious plan. Ancelotti’s method has always been to give a lot of responsibility to senior players, but, other than the two fullbacks, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, Everton doesn’t really have any senior players.
Where that gap may be filled is by Duncan Ferguson, the cult hero who was such an eye-catching figure as interim manager after the dismissal of Marco Silva. Nobody at his best better embodies the spirit of Everton at its best: passionate and aggressive. His impact on the mood in his three games as manager was clear, and it may be that his qualities and Ancelotti’s are ideally complementary.
If Ferguson offers the drive and the discipline, while Ancelotti charms everybody and deals with strategy, it could be the perfect pairing. But this is a huge gamble. At 60, Ancelotti has been employed to do something he has never done before.