Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible career with always evoke memories of coaching greats who have a similarly lofty status in football.
He was moulded and nurtured by the great Alex Ferguson at Manchester United before earning Galactico status with a 2009 move to Real Madrid.
Jose Mourinho joined him at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2010, meaning the two towering names of Portuguese football were working in tandem, if not perfect harmony.
Finally, Ronaldo inspired Madrid to three consecutive Champions League triumphs under Zinedine Zidane, another man who once had strong claims when it came to being known as the best player on the planet.
In terms of the coaches most associated with Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti is perhaps not the first to come to mind.
However, the men who will be reunited this weekend when Ancelotti’s Napoli travel to Juventus – the three-time Champions League winning tactician and five-time Ballon d’Or recipient Ronaldo – were arguably at their peaks when their paths crossed in the Spanish capital.
CR7 and Big Bear
In December 2015, half a year after Ancelotti’s Madrid demise and nearing the end of Rafael Benitez’s ill-fated time in charge, Ronaldo spoke to ESPN and seemed to be pining for his old boss.
“He’s like a big bear, I can say. He’s a cute guy, such a sensitive person. He spoke with us every day. Not just with me but with all the players. He had fun with us.
“He’s an unbelievable person. I just wish every player could have an opportunity to work with him because he’s a fantastic guy, a fantastic coach and I miss him a lot because we won many trophies together.”
Most notable among those was the 2013-14 Champions League. La Decima.
In these days of Madrid making Europe’s big trophy their personal possession, it is easy to forget how the club longed for their 10th continental title. Ronaldo’s remarkable haul of 17 goals in 11 matches was integral to ending the 12-year wait.
Overall, he scored 51 goals across 47 games under Ancelotti that season, revelling in the relaxed feel that followed Mourinho’s more dictatorial approach.
A barely plausible 48 in 35 LaLiga matches followed in 2014-15 – Ronaldo has never managed more in a single top-flight season – but it was not enough to deny the brilliant Barcelona of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar the title. Throw in a Champions League semi-final defeat to his old employers Juventus and Ancelotti’s fate was sealed.
Naples via Bavaria
Memories of their 5-0 aggregate evisceration at the hands of Ancelotti’s Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League semi-final undoubtedly had an influence when Bayern Munich appointed him as Pep Guardiola’s successor in 2016.
The 59-year-old’s mixed tenure at the Allianz Arena will regularly be used as a reference as his time at Napoli progresses. On both occasions, in Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri, he has been a man of flexibility and pragmatism replacing absolutist footballing idealists.
Initially, Bayern seemed liberated under Ancelotti and they collected their latest Bundesliga with the minimum of fuss. But the transition to stagnation, through to near mutiny happened at a staggering rate early in the 2017-18 season, with a crushing 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain – another of the decorated Italian’s former clubs – sealing his fate.
It might be to Ancelotti’s benefit that he faced adversity early on at Napoli.
Showing the fighting spirit that was a hallmark of the Sarri years, they came from behind to beat Lazio and AC Milan in their opening two Serie A games.
They pushed their luck too far in a 3-0 reverse at Sampdoria, after which the affable Ancelotti was noticeably angry. Giving a tongue-lashing to player in public is not his style, but it was as close as he might get.
Since then there have been two clean sheets in three games and a 0-0 draw at Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League. A flexibility in line-up and shape unfamiliar to the Sarri era has been noticeable. The initial impression is that Ancelotti’s decision to deploy captain Marek Hamsik in a deeper midfield role to offset the loss of Jorginho is inspired.
Despite expectations of a transition period, Napoli return to Turin as Juventus’ nearest rivals once again.
Ronaldo sought his former coach’s advice before embarking upon a Juve career that reads seven games, three goals and a Champions League red card so far. He knows well how potent an Ancelotti team can be in full flight, irrespective of whether it lasts the course in a title race.