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Reviewing Carlo Ancelotti’s history with rotating goalkeepers

How often has the Italian rotated his men between the sticks at his former clubs?

Newcastle United v Everton FC - Premier League
Jordan Pickford has been Ancelotti’s number one goalkeeper at Everton
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

It’s not just pieces of silverware that have been plentiful for Carlo Ancelotti during his 25-year career in the dugout - it’s been goalkeepers, too.

Jordan Pickford had never missed a Premier League game for Everton since signing in June 2017 until November’s defeat at Newcastle, and sat out a second in last week’s win at Leicester City.

Pickford was not injured, just rested in favour of Robin Olsen. Yet Ancelotti couldn’t see the fuss, saying after the Newcastle game: “In my career, I am used to rotating the goalkeepers. It happened at Real Madrid, it happened also at Napoli. It will not be the last time, of course.”

But just how often, from all the way back at Reggiana to his more recent roles in management, has Ancelotti chopped and changed between the sticks?

1995 - 1996: Reggiana

Promoted to Serie A in his only season in charge

Reggiana: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Marco Ballotta 41

It was in northern Italy in the mid-1990s when Ancelotti cut his managerial teeth, taking over at second-tier Reggiana having spent the previous three years as assistant boss of the Italian national side.

Coinciding with a changing of the club’s presidency, Ancelotti instantly began an overhaul, shipping out 20 players and signing 12, including the experience goalkeeper Marco Ballotta from Brescia.

Ballotta, 31 at the time, would play in all of Reggiana’s 41 games in 1995-96, helping them to a fourth-placed finish in Serie B, which meant promotion back to Serie A. Indeed, not once did Ancelotti opt to call on reserve keeper Ettore Gandini.

1996 - 1998: Parma

Finished 2nd and 6th in Serie A and reached Coppa Italia semi-final during two years in charge

Parma: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Gianluigi Buffon 28 (1996-97)
Luca Bucci 9 (1996-97)
Gianluigi Buffon 46 (1997-98)
Matteo Guardalben 4 (1997-98)
Alessandro Nista 2 (1997-98)

After just one season at Reggiana, Ancelotti then moved to Parma, who had just enjoyed seven successful years under Nevio Scala, winning the Coppa Italia, European Cup Winners’ Cup, European Super Cup and UEFA Cup.

And after Gianluigi Buffon had been eased in with nine appearances under Scala, Ancelotti made the Italian legend, then in his teens, their outright number one.

Not straight away, though. For the first nine games of 1996-97, Ancelotti preferred the more experienced and former Italy international Luca Bucci, before Buffon’s potential became impossible to ignore.

After a 3-1 defeat at Inter Milan in October 1996, Bucci was dropped for Buffon, who would go on to play every minute of the remainder of Ancelotti’s debut campaign.

And after reportedly falling out with Ancelotti, Bucci moved on to Perugia in 1997, with Ancelotti’s other keeper that season, Alessandro Nista, reduced to 18 unused substitute appearances.

The following year, Buffon went from strength to strength, with his Champions League debut against Widzew Łódź one of 46 Parma outings in 1997-98.

Indeed, Nista and summer recruit Matteo Guardalben made just six appearances between them; Guardalben in the final two games of the Serie A season and in both legs of their Coppa Italia last 16 tie with Bari, and Nista twice as a substitute.

1999 - 2001: Juventus

Finished 2nd twice in Serie A and won Intertoto Cup during two full seasons in charge

Juventus: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Angelo Peruzzi 12 (1998-99 after CA appointed)
Michelangelo Rampulla 7 (1998-99 after CA appointed)
Morgan De Sanctis 1 (1998-99 after CA appointed)
Edwin van der Sar 46 (1999-00)
Michelangelo Rampulla 7 (1999-00)
Edwin van der Sar 42 (2000-01)
Michelangelo Rampulla 1 (2000-01)

Having been sacked from Parma, who fell from second in his first season to sixth in his second, Ancelotti replaced Marcello Lippi as Juventus manager in February 1999, where he would again be relatively loyal to a number one goalkeeper.

At first, probably wisely, he kept faith with one of Juventus’ greatest stoppers, Angelo Peruzzi. Though, Peruzzi had became increasingly injury-prone and Ancelotti still had to call on second-choice Michelangelo Rampulla seven times during the rest of that campaign, as well as Morgan De Sanctis once when Rampulla was sent off against Udinese in March 1993.

The following season, Peruzzi called time on eight years in Turin to reunite with Lippi at Inter Milan. Juventus, meanwhile, spent about £5 million on his replacement, Edwin van der Sar, who ended a spell at Ajax spanning nine years, four Eredivisies and one Champions League.

The first non-Italian Juventus goalkeeper, van der Sar was then regarded as one of the world’s best in his position, so probably understandably started 88 of Juventus’ 96 games across the next two campaigns.

De Sanctis left for Udinese in 1999, but Rampulla stuck around as van der Sar’s deputy, though was limited to just eight outings in those final two years under Ancelotti. For two of those, van der Sar was a substitute, while another two were in games which van der Sar received a second yellow card.

Ancelotti’s time at Juventus is widely seen as a disappointment, with just an Intertoto Cup to show for it in the trophy cabinet, though in his two full seasons at the helm they finished just one and two points respectively behind the Italian champions.

He was sacked at half-time of their final Serie A game of the season in June 2001, and also moving on was van der Sar. He left for Fulham, after being told by the returning Lippi that he would be playing second fiddle at Juve to their new signing - Buffon, of all people.

2001 - 2009: AC Milan

Won two Champions Leagues and one Serie A, Coppa Italia, UEFA Super Cup, Supercoppa Italia, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup each during seven full seasons in charge

AC Milan: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Christian Abbiati 34 (2001-02 after CA appointed)
Sebastiano Rossi 5 (2001-02 after CA appointed)
Dida 44 (2002-03)
Christian Abbiati 17 (2002-03)
Valerio Fiori 1 (2002-03)
Dida 45 (2003-04)
Christian Abbiati 8 (2003-04)
Valerio Fiori 1 (2003-04)
Dida 50 (2004-05)
Christian Abbiati 8 (2004-05)
Dida 48 (2005-06)
Zeljko Kalac 7 (2005-06)
Dida 41 (2006-07)
Zeljko Kalac 16 (2006-07)
Marco Storari 3 (2006-07)
Zeljko Kalac 32 (2007-08)
Dida 17 (2007-08)
Christian Abbiati 28 (2008-09)
Dida 16 (2008-09)
Zeljko Kalac 1 (2008-09)

Nowhere in his managerial career has Ancelotti enjoyed the same longevity as at AC Milan, where he won virtually everything there was to be won during eight trophy-laden years.

Inheriting a floundering side from the sacked Fatih Terim in November 2001, Ancelotti initially stood by the Turk’s first-choice, Christian Abbiati, starting him in 34 of their 39 games in 2001-02 which followed the Italian’s appointment. Abbiati’s deputy, the veteran Sebastiano Rossi, made just five outings that season under Ancelotti, all of which came in the Coppa Italia.

Meanwhile, Dida was suspended for that season by the Italian Football Federation after being embroiled in a false-passport scandal and had been loaned to Corinthians in his native Brazil. When he returned to Milan for 2002-03, he initially began as Abbiati’s number two - not for long, mind.

Abbiati started AC Milan’s first game of that season - a Champions League qualifier at home to Slovan Liberec. But injury forced him off at half-time, presenting Dida with the chance he seized.

Across the next three seasons, Dida made 139 AC Milan appearances, limiting Abbiati to just 33 outings (mostly in domestic cups, only eight in Serie A) and the older Valentino Fiori to merely two in that time.

Abbiati’s struggle for opportunities led to three loan spells between 2005 and 2008, at Juventus, Torino and Atletico Madrid. During that time, Dida further consolidated his place as Ancelotti’s first-choice, with his new rival, Zeljko Kalac, featuring just seven times (four of which were in the Coppa Italia) in 2005-06.

The following season was still dominated by Dida, if less emphatically. The Brazilian tore his knee ligaments in a Champions League group game with AEK Athens in November 2006, only for Kalac to suffer an injury of his own two months later. Rather than turning back to Fiori, then in his late 30s, Ancelotti signed Marco Storari from Messina, who filled in for two Serie A games until Dida was fit again.

That would be the last season of Dida’s dominance under Ancelotti, though. In 2007-08, persistent back problems and poor form saw him make just 17 appearances for AC Milan, compared to Kalac’s 32.

The following season, with Abbiati now back in contention, he became Ancelotti’s new number one after a particularly poor pre-season from Kalac, who went from first-choice to third-choice. Dida started all of AC Milan’s UEFA Cup games that year, but Abbiati played every minute in Serie A until a season-ending knee injury in March 2009. From then on, Dida became number one, with Kalac limited to only one appearance all campaign.

That was Ancelotti’s lot at Milan, moving on for Chelsea in June 2009 after spending eight years restoring AC Milan’s place at the peak of European game.

2009 - 2011: Chelsea

Won Premier League, FA Cup and Community Shield in his first of two seasons in charge

Chelsea: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Petr Cech 42 (2009-10)
Hilario 11 (2009-10)
Ross Turnbull 5 (2009-10)
Petr Cech 50 (2010-11)
Ross Turnbull 2 (2010-11)
Hilario 1 (2010-11)

During his two years at Chelsea, it was far more apparent throughout who Ancelotti’s first choice was, with Petr Cech making 92 appearances under him and the often-hilarious Hilario and Ross Turnbull afforded just 12 and seven games respectively in that time.

In 2009-10, Hilario only deputised in the Premier League if Cech was injured or suspended, and played Chelsea’s first games in the FA Cup before Cech took over in the semi-final. Turnbull was given just one EFL Cup appearance and two Premier League starts when both Cech and Hilario were sidelined by injury in March 2010.

The next season, Turnbull started a Champions League dead-rubber against MSK Zilina and the EFL Cup third round defeat to Newcastle, while Hilario’s only match came in the Community Shield loss to Manchester United, during which time Cech was injured anyway. Otherwise, the former Czech international didn’t miss a minute that term.

2011 - 2013: PSG

Won one Ligue 1 and reached Champions League quarter-final in one-and-a-half seasons in charge

PSG: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Salvatore Sirigu 21 (2011-12 after CA appointed)
Nicolas Douchez 2 (2011-12 after CA appointed)
Salvatore Sirigu 43 (2012-13)
Nicolas Douchez 10 (2012-13)
Alphonse Areola 2 (2012-13)
Ronan Le Crom 1 (2012-13)

After his sacking at Chelsea in May 2011 (in the Goodison Park corridors, of all places), Ancelotti was back in the game seven months later, taking over from Antoine Kombouaré at Paris Saint-Germain despite the newly-rich French club topping Ligue 1 at the time.

Ancelotti largely kept faith with Salvatore Sirigu, already PSG’s established number one, during his season-and-a-half in charge. In the 23 games he managed in 2011-12, Sirigu started 21, with Nicolas Douchez reduced to only two Coupe de France ties.

In 2012-13, Ancelotti’s only full season at the club, Sirigu remained his clear first choice, making 43 appearances, but was one of four goalkeepers used by the Italian.

Douchez started the first Ligue 1 game of the season with Sirigu benched, in one of four league games that season. He also started all six of PSG’s domestic cup games, with Sirigu an unused substitute in four of them.

Ancelotti also gave a professional debut to Alphonse Areola, now of Fulham, when he replaced Sirigu in their penultimate league game, a dead-rubber against Brest. Areola then started the final Ligue 1 match against Lorient, before being substituted for then-38-year-old Ronan Le Crom, who also made his first PSG appearance that day.

It didn’t go quite as well - Le Crom was sent off for a trip, reducing him to tears in his final game as a professional footballer. Centre-half Mamadou Sakho, currently at Crystal Palace, went in goal, but couldn’t stop the resulting penalty.

2013 - 2015: Real Madrid

Won one Champions League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup each during two seasons in charge

Real Madrid: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Diego Lopez 37 (2013-14)
Iker Casillas 24 (2013-14)
Iker Casillas 47 (2014-15)
Keylor Navas 11 (2014-15)
Fernando Pacheco 1 (2014-15)

At Real Madrid, though, it was as if Ancelotti had two number ones - Diego Lopez in La Liga, and Iker Casillas in the cups.

Lopez made 37 appearances in 2013-14, Ancelotti’s first season. All bar one of them came in the league - the other was as a substitute in a Champions League group match against Galatasaray, when Casillas was forced off with a rib injury after 15 minutes.

Aside from that, Casillas played every minute of Real Madrid’s cup games, as well as a late-season La Liga game, as Ancelotti admitted he would start rotating in the league to give Casillas more preparation for the Champions League final.

Real won that final, but finished third in the league, and the following season Casillas reverted back to being a more recognised number one, with 47 appearances. Lopez was sold to AC Milan in August 2014, with World Cup star Keylor Navas brought in as his replacement.

The Costa Rican started six La Liga games (with Casillas on the bench for all of them), two meaningless Champions League group matches and three Copa del Rey ties, with youngster Fernando Pacheco also handed only his second Real appearance in this competition.

2016 - 2017: Bayern Munich

Won Bundesliga and DFL-Supercup in first season, sacked in September of second season in charge

Bayern Munich: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Manuel Neuer 40 (2016-17)
Sven Ulreich 7 (2016-17)
Tom Starke 3 (2016-17)
Sven Ulreich 6 (2017-18 before CA sacked)
Manuel Neuer 4 (2017-18 before CA sacked)

After his sacking at Real Madrid, Ancelotti took a year out, before succeeding Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich. Inevitably, he stuck with one of the world’s greatest in Manuel Neuer, who made 40 Bayern outings in Ancelotti’s only full season in charge at the Allianz Arena.

Behind Neuer in the queue were Sven Ulreich, who played seven games - all of which Neuer was injured for - and Tom Starke, who was given the final three Bundesliga games after the title was wrapped up before retiring.

In the ten games Ancelotti took charge of Bayern in 2017-18 before his September sacking, Ulreich actually started more than Neuer (six to four), though that owes more to Neuer’s third foor fracture in six months which ended up forcing Starke, then 36, out of retirement a week before Ancelotti left.

A run of games for Ulreich did not seem to help Ancelotti endear himself to him, though - after Jupp Heynckes took over, Ulreich later said: “My good games started when Jupp Heynckes arrived. I immediately had his confidence - I didn’t have that feeling with his predecessor.”

2018 - 2019: Napoli

Finished 2nd in Serie A in first season, sacked in December of second season in charge

Napoli: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
David Ospina 24 (2018-19)
Alex Meret 21 (2018-19)
Orestis Karnezis 9 (2018-19)
Alex Meret 16 (2019-20 before CA sacked)
David Ospina 5 (2019-20 before CA sacked)

Once more, Ancelotti seemed undecided on his favourite goalkeeper during his year-and-a-half at Napoli, alternating regularly between the more experienced David Ospina the exciting young talent Alex Meret.

In 2018-19, Ospina, a summer signing from Arsenal, started all of their Champions League games until they were knocked out, with Meret given a go in their Europa League run to the quarter-finals.

And for most of the domestic campaigns, the two seemed to share their roles. Ospina and Meret started one each of their two Coppa Italia games, while Ospina played in 17 Serie A games compared to Meret’s 14. Meret missed much of the start of the season with a fractured arm, leading Orestis Karnezis to also feature - he would go on to play nine Napoli games that year.

In 2019-20, prior to Ancelotti’s December sacking, it was weighed much more heavily in Meret’s favour - he played in 16 of Ancelotti’s 21 games in charge last term.

But while Meret started all of their Champions League group games under him, Ospina still clocked up five Serie A appearances before the managerial change was made - all of which Meret was on the bench for.

2019 - present: Everton

Currently 4th and in EFL Cup quarter-final in first full season in charge

Everton: goalkeepers under Ancelotti

Goalkeepers Games Played
Goalkeepers Games Played
Jordan Pickford 21 (2019-20 after Ancelotti appointed)
Jordan Pickford 14 (2020-21)
Robin Olsen 2 (2020-21)
Joao Virginia 1 (2020-21)

For the most part, Ancelotti has been more consistent so far at Everton, with Pickford starting all bar three of the Italian’s 48 games at the Goodison helm.

Though, the unexpected introduction of Olsen at both Newcastle and Leicester perhaps suggest that this old habit certainly does die hard.


What can we learn from this?

It seems that, unless Ancelotti has been blessed with a first choice of genuine, undisputed quality (van der Sar, Cech and Neuer, for instance), he has been prone to a bit more mixing and matching.

Indeed, it’s when the disparity between two goalkeepers appear relatively small that he’s tended to alternate, like at Napoli, or indeed Real Madrid as Casillas approached the twilight of his career.

Then again, Pickford has certainly improved since Olsen was given his starting berth, so maybe the occasional change in personnel will prove more of a help than a hindrance.

Questions may still be asked as to whether either are viable long-term options for Everton but for now, with Olsen impressing particularly at Leicester and Pickford suddenly sparked into life, Ancelotti might just be getting the best of both worlds.