Ancelotti exit proves Florentino Perez is Real's best asset and worst enemy
His players have spoken out: They want him to stay. Those fans polled by the Madrid media want him to stay, and by an overwhelming majority. The Bernabeu faithful, very rarely faithful when it comes right down to it, have used their voices in an informal plebiscite; they'd have him back next season. He, himself, wants to stay.
It's a serious question. The answer is that there are no direct football criteria with which to construct an answer that correlates to initial objectives.
When confronted by this question, some will say that it's because of Barcelona. After one dormant season, Barcelona haven't simply won the Spanish title, with the potential to add a Treble -- they've won back the hearts and minds of the world's footballing public.
That's a dangerous thing for any manager appointed by Real president Florentino Perez to have to face. As you may have guessed, Don Florentino won't come out well from this assessment; he doesn't simply crave big trophies for his club, he yearns for the kind of shock and awe which used to accompany the Real Madrid of his boyhood.
The era of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Francisco Gento and Jose Santamaria. The era in which people were just tuning in to live football on television en masse, so the impact of 11 bright white-shirted players brilliantly dancing around the opposition made them shimmering and magical, not just successful and marketable.
Clearly, there's another strata to Florentino's thinking; there always has been. Marketability. Monetising. His individual players, the bulk of the first XI en masse, the shirt, the badge, the stadium as an icon and as a money-making machine, Real Madrid's value on the road (aka summer tours) and the club's ability to lend Florentino's business transactions an extra cachet. In some instances, these things help his construction lieutenants win hard-fought contracts.
Marketability. Income. Revenue.
So when Barcelona are winning trophies, it's bad enough. But when the Blaugrana grab Neymar before Florentino can (something that still grates on him like having the permanent noise of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard), when Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez are the world's most-feared trident, and when the brand of football they play is once more revered ... well, it's time for a sacking around the Paseo de la Castellana.
Let's place all that to one side for a moment.
Is Ancelotti out because his team won only four trophies in two seasons? It's possible, because as all of us who work around Real Madrid have made abundantly clear as worldwide coverage of Spanish football over the past couple of decades has exploded, this club has a complicated Enigma code that dictates what "success" is.
Winning the Champions League or the league title is not automatically sufficient to be retained. Ask Jupp Heynckes, ask Vicente Del Bosque: rejects who went on to conquer nations, Europe and the world once discarded by Don Florentino.
Ancelotti's squad should have won the Spanish title in at least one, probably both, of his seasons in charge. That's a stain. But one we can come back to. His trophies should, for the large part, carry an extra sheen. Barcelona beaten, with immense panache, in the Copa del Rey final. Atlético tantalised with victory and then ripped to shreds in the Champions League final.
The European Super Cup win is a one-off match, lower in kudos but still won against Sevilla; it's nice revenge for their having put full banana skin under Los Blancos' La Liga charge last season with that smash-and-grab 2-1 win at the Nervion in the spring of 2014.
Was the FIFA World Club cup won against elite opposition? No. But is being world champion still held to be of massive spiritual and psychological importance around the corridors of power in Madrid? Yes. It is.
So with those two trophies on his CV, did the Italian know, for sure, that either he won the La Liga title or he was out?
I'd like to know for certain but I think the answer is no. To say that would imply that winning the title would have automatically made him safe -- yet this isn't the case at this feudally run club.
Retaining the Champions League would have been historic. It's never been done before. But it's also harsh to say to a second-season coach that he must do something no one's ever achieved before or he's fired.
So as Ancelotti faces a sabbatical year (by his own explanation), was it the Spanish title that cost him his job? Possibly.
This past season, there was a problem at the crucial moment that La Liga could have been tied up: something, whether physical or mental sharpness, dipped. Given what was on show and the vibes that were emanating from Madrid's Valdebebas training ground, it's fair to say that the emotional roller coaster of beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich over three gargantuan Cup matches took the edge off Ancelotti's squad.
What cost them the title was not taking, say, a perfectly reasonable total of seven points from three straight matches after those "highs" of Bayern and Barcelona.
Instead of drawing to Valencia and Valladolid and losing in Vigo, Madrid should have been perfectly equipped to win two and draw one of those. Those points would have set Madrid up to win the title at home to Espanyol as Barcelona and Atleti drew at the Camp Nou on the last day. Worse still was losing two points with three minutes left at Valladolid and being unable to turn a 2-1 deficit at home to Valencia into a win with 25 minutes and added time in hand.
At no stage this season was the league in the bag, but frankly, Madrid let go of a chokehold on the trophy. Barcelona have become merited champions, but they were let back in.
Those who like explanations clean-cut and simple will come back again to the two points dropped at home to Valencia in May. Ancelotti lost the league that way given that the final margin was just two points and Los Blancos had the head-to-head advantage.
Yet that's too simplistic. Would Barça have beaten Depor on the last day if more was riding on it? Yes.
Where Ancelotti has been most punished is that period of just over a month between early February and mid-March, a spell that will long rank as some of the darkest and daftest in the club's modern history.
Defeats -- make that total surrender in the Calderon -- to Atleti, Athletic, Barcelona and Schalke, and a draw at home to Villarreal. There was no confidence, not enough grit, not enough solutions and too little "remontada" (or "fight-back spirit").
This cost Madrid the title -- and, I'd say, cost Ancelotti his job.
If Real had drawn at Atleti and Athletic, beaten Barcelona (which they most certainly looked likely to do in that first half at the Camp Nou) and taken three home points to Villarreal, they'd be champions right now. Even three away draws and a home win would likely have done it.
The flaws were then echoed in the defeat to Juventus, particularly in losing the second leg. Madrid lacked power, fitness, sharpness, aggression and stamina. Bluntly, they began to look rather like Barcelona looked last season.
Add in their sizable and repetitive injury problems, and we must come to the conclusion that either their fitness strategy has some deficiencies or their daily working regime lacks the right degree of intensity.
But -- and this is where dear Florentino should pay attention -- Barcelona has shown this season that it is entirely correctable. A combination of better and more holistic fitness preparation, better rotation of higher-quality players, greater daily intensity every single day, and a change in the degree to which players are self-motivated can alter how competitive a squad is -- and for how much longer across an entire season.
Thus, you'd argue, since Ancelotti's reign has seen him win four trophies and get within touching distance of three more -- two leagues and the Spanish Super Cup this season -- while missing out on defending the Champions League by one goal and a successful penalty shootout, the easier solution would be to keep the manager and upgrade the fitness regime and medical rehab.
The trouble is that however you sift through all these arguments, the fact remains that Madrid is a fiefdom: Florentino's fiefdom. There is no long-term, clearly thought-out, all-encompassing football strategy against which the work of Ancelotti (or even Zinedine Zidane, for that matter) can be measured. Against which the sacking of Del Bosque or the hiring of Vanderlei Luxemburgo, or the hiring of Carlos Queiroz or the selling of Claude Makelele, can be measured.
What's the target, as Perez sees it? What are the parameters? What constitutes success? What defines failure? Moreover, what are the remedies?
In essence, to sack Ancelotti is to punish him for not giving Florentino what he craves: domination over Barcelona. Yet sacking Ancelotti also perpetuates the idea that Florentino really is, as Emilio Butragueno baptised him, a "ser superior" ("superior being"). It perpetuates the idea that the man who causes most of Madrid's problems (bar Messi), i.e. Florentino, is also the man who can solve them.
Sacking Ancelotti and simply appointing a successor is to tie Real Madrid to the work of that new man (plus his assistants) and to ignore what the majority of objective, well-informed and modern critics have been saying for over a decade.
Madrid need to look around. Right now, in Spain, there's a great deal of cruel humour at Madrid's expense, that they've won only one league title in the past seven attempts. In Florentino's 12-year reign, they've amassed two Champions League titles, three Ligas and two Copas. They are being mocked for that too. Or he is, anyway.
If they look aside -- not just to Barcelona, but to Sevilla and Atleti too -- then why can Florentino not learn that the route to adding more consistency and more trophies is either having a philosophy which is central to the club's DNA, or keeping one man (Monchi, in Sevilla's case) to ensure that stormy waters don't make the ship alter course with each change in the weather?
Atleti have been rewarded for staying the course with two Europa League trophies, one Copa and one Liga in the past five years. They're products of an owner, Miguel Angel Gil, who consistently trusts good directors of football to guide him. He'll set a template for what he wants to see, what kind of football he thinks the fans and sponsors will pay for, and he'll set budgetary limits.
But is there any question that the director of football is allowed to apply his skills? Is there any question that once appointed, the manager is master of his own destiny without interference from the board or owner?
Sevilla have been a turbulent club, but there has been a single guiding football philosophy since 2000, that of Ramon "Monchi" Rodriguez. He has made the club vast amounts of money (in tune with the Florentino mantra) and developed a successful youth system, and if Sevilla win the Europa League on May 27, it'll be their sixth major trophy (not counting Super Cups) in nine years. Pay. Attention. Florentino.
And finally, Barcelona. Their fortune was that Johan Cruyff took offence to being sold to Real Madrid without his permission in 1973, forcing a move to the Camp Nou instead. From his return in 1989 until now, the club has more or less lived and breathed his football vision, making the last 25 years by far their most successful and attractive. They are the club Florentino yearns to dwarf, but still he won't draw a lesson from them.
Has Carlo Ancelotti punched at his top weight this season? No.
Might he have stood up to the president more about who should be signed, who could be dropped, who needed to be sold? Certainly.
But will removing Ancelotti cure Madrid's underlying problems. No. Because that underlying problem, even when times are good, remains Florentino Perez. He is both their motor and the sugar in their petrol tank.
Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.