After an absence of decades, world-class soccer comes to St. Louis today for the second time in four months when Spanish giant Real Madrid faces Italian club Inter Milan at 1 p.m. at the Edward Jones Dome.
The two teams have won a combined 12 European Champions League titles – nine for Real Madrid, most recently in 2002, and three for Inter, the most recent in 2010.
Real Madrid has won the Spanish title 32 times, which makes them like the Yankees, or, more precisely, makes the Yankees like them. Inter has won the Italian title 18 times, so they’re no slouches either, even if they did finish ninth last season.
Already, 52,000 tickets have been sold for the game, which means it will exceed the crowd at Busch Stadium for the Chelsea-Manchester City match in May, though more than 10,000 seats are still available, and it will probably be the largest crowd for a soccer game ever in the state of Missouri.
This is the last of four preseason ma tches in America for Real Madrid. They’ve won the first three, most recently beating Chelsea 3-1 on Wednesday in Miami. The team will fly home after the game, and the Spanish season starts Aug. 18.
Real Madrid, which reached the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League last season, is under new leadership this year, with Carlo Ancelotti taking over for Jose Mourinho. Ancelotti was a midfielder with the Italian national team and with the club Roma. As a coach, he has worked with some of the top clubs in the world: Juventus and AC Milan in Italy, Chelsea in England and Paris St.-Germain in France, winning the Champions League with both Juventus and Milan. Just about every player on Ancelotti’s roster plays on a national team somewhere, from Cristiano Ronaldo, who usually can be found among the first names mentioned in any conversation of the world’s best player, with Portugal to Mesut Ozil from Germany, from Xabi Alonso of Spain to Karin Benzema of France.
Bef ore a team meeting Friday, Ancelotti sat down in a ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton with the Post-Dispatch to talk about coaching the sport’s most valuable club, worth an estimated $4.4 billion, and other soccer topics.
Q: You’ve coached at some of biggest clubs in the world. What’s the soccer culture like at Real Madrid?
A: The culture is the same. In this club we have the history and tradition. We like to play offensive football, we like to give a good image of the club and the team during the match.
Q: What’s the pressure like coaching at Real Madrid?
A: The pressure that I had in the other clubs, the pressure for the manager, is always the same. You have to do your best, you have to try to win if it’s possible. Clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea, the aim is to win and so the pressure is always the same.
Q: At Real, you have to win in Spain, in the Cham pions League and beat Barcelona …
A: (Laughs) You have to do your best. I think if you are better, you have to win. If the other team is better, this is the sport, this is football. You have to do maximum effort, to do your best.
Q: It’s a problem that most coaches would like to have, but how is it to deal with having so much talent?
A: From outside, everyone can say it would not be easy, but it’s easy when you put the rules, you put the discipline, when you give the player the responsibility, it will not be difficult. It was difficult for the manager to choose the lineup sometimes; some players will be happy, some players will be a little bit disappointed, but this is football, this is my job.
Q: What’s the toughest part of being coach at Real Madrid?
A: To give motivation to a squad that sometimes — every player wants to play. You put up the lineup, some player goes to play, others stay out. You have to be focused on those players. You lose motivation with players, the motivation of the team will not be good.
Q: How hard is that?
A: I have to speak with them, take care of them. I have to be focused on them every day.
Q: How good is Cristiano Ronaldo?
A: Cristiano Ronaldo is a fantastic player, a fantastic talent. He’s also really professional. It’s not easy to find a player with this quality, this ability, who is so professional, I’m very happy for this. He’s really a good example for the young of the behavior of one player that has to be the best.
Q: What do you think of the soccer culture in America?
A: I think it is improving because a lot of players come here from Europe, bringing experience and professional-ity. Also they are not so young, but the football in America is i mproving also for this.
Q: Does American soccer get noticed in Europe?
A: The national team, I think showed a good quality during the World Cup. American football, American soccer … showed good quality by winning at the World Cup.