Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti are the two modern football managers with the best records. Who's best, and who rules over the other? We examine their records and their management styles and come to a judgement.
Mourinho, since beginning his coaching career as an assistant to Bobby Robson at Barcelona, has taken to new environments like a duck to water. Fluent in five languages, Mourinho is the epitome of a dynamic global leader. One of the reasons he usually manages to win over his players is his mastery of languages; Zlatan Ibrahimovic described the Portuguese as the one manager he would be willing to die for.
It's not just players that Mourinho wins over. The media in England has been charmed by his knowledge of idioms and jokes in English; he recognizes that if you can make a questioner laugh, he is a lot less likely to take a critical view of his subject. It's not all been plain sailing, though. In Spain, Mourinho's perceived arrogance towards the media turned a portion of the national press against the then-Real Madrid coach. In Italy, the famously tough press gave him numerous grillings.
Ancelotti, like Mourinho, has shown his ability to move between countries in a fluid and purposeful way. The Italian does not change his personality to suit others, or impose himself on a club in the way Mourinho does; Ancelotti plays to his strengths. He's been very good, thus far, in identifying clubs and environments that suit his placid, easy-going personality.
Although Italian football managers are often stereotyped as flamboyant, Ancelotti proves this conception wrong through his unflappable nature. It was said that he signed a contract with Chelsea only after checking out London's top restaurants to ensure that his dining needs were met. Much more than Mourinho, Ancelotti is a man of routine, and a man with specific needs.
Mourinho: 2 Champions Leagues, 1 UEFA Cup, 8 domestic leagues, 4 domestic cups
Ancelotti: 3 Champions Leagues, 3 domestic leagues, 3 domestic cups.
A comprehensive smackdown for Ancelotti here, as Mourinho has easily the better trophy haul, and after a shorter coaching career. If you want success, and money is no object, Mourinho will bring trophies. He takes clubs to levels other managers cannot. We saw this at Inter, where Roberto Mancini had brought domestic success but had stumbled in European football. Mourinho brought the Champions League to the club in 2009-10, the same year he won Serie A and the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup).
Ancelotti deserves praise for winning trophies in every country in which he has managed, including Chelsea's only modern-era domestic league title that did not involve Mourinho. He made Milan, Inter's bitter local rivals, a major force in Italian football, but was crucially able to take them to two Champions Leagues - the top European title being the trophy that owners really want for their clubs.
Working With Staff
Mourinho has had some high-profile run-ins with players; Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas at Real Madrid were cold-shouldered by their coach after they began to question his often unusual training methods. They were said to be major contributors in his eventual dismissal by Real president Florentino Perez.
Before that, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had forced Mourinho to resign when he refused to allow the Russian a say in tactics and team selection, with the main flashpoint being the owner's signing of his friend, striker Andriy Shevchenko from Milan. Mourinho takes a "with me or against me" approach to management, only working with those who are 100% supportive of him. This inspires huge commitment from his chosen players, but also anger from those on the outside.
Ancelotti and Mourinho treated Casillas in contrasting ways; the Italian made the goalkeeper feel he was needed and wanted, and coaxed great performances from him. Ancelotti is also the master of working around interfering owners. In spite of having had Silvio Berlusconi, Abramovich and Perez, as well as the Qatari royal family, as his clubs' owners in his career, he has sustained a cordial relationship in each case.
He has a certain way of listening to what owners have to say about the team, and then still following his own plan, without offending the plutocrat in question. As a political manipulator, Ancelotti is second only to Machiavelli, and is a gifted politician. This has led to Perez, usually a tough man to please, almost apologizing for sacking Ancelotti - his speech, in which he said "this will always be [Ancelotti's] house and he is welcome back any time," shocked many, but showed what a great man Ancelotti is to work with.
Mourinho has a record of improving clubs everywhere he has gone. He brings in players who are committed to the cause, he fashions a tactical system that is purpose-built for winning games, and he delivers on trophies. However, the "Special One" has never been a man for worrying about the legacy he leaves.
At Chelsea, he left a strong band of players who continued his success under subsequent managers. However at Inter and Real Madrid, after Mourinho left, there was a vacuum of leadership. Key players left or were not replaced by footballers of the same caliber, and there has been a considerable decline at Inter, partly brought on by Mourinho's spending spree as coach, and the need afterwards to cut costs. Mourinho is also well-known for not fielding young players in key matches, preferring experienced, expensive players.
Ancelotti is perhaps more a manager for the long term, although he has a similarly conservative outlook when it comes to giving youth a chance - even when asked to use the academy more at Chelsea, he resisted doing so. Ancelotti has improved each club he has been at, but crucially, the club remains at the same level even after he leaves. We see this at Paris Saint Germain, where Laurent Blanc, a coach who lacks the international reputation of his predecessor, has been able to build on Ancelotti's title-winning achievements.
Conclusion: Who's Best?
Ancelotti seems like the more sympathetic and understanding coach, and the better person to have around at a club - he's a gentleman and a nice man, and almost never raises his voice. However, for clubs, Ancelotti is like a dietician, working on improving things over a long period of time, getting better bit-by-bit, and that requires more patience than many in the modern football world, Perez and Abramovich included, have.
Mourinho is more like a personal trainer or a surgeon - he comes in, makes instant changes, gets a club running superbly, but then, as quickly as he came, he leaves, and that club will usually not taste the same success after he does so. In the final verdict of Mourinho vs. Ancelotti, Ancelotti is the better builder of clubs, but Mourinho is an unrivaled winner.