By Adwaidh Rajan
While it will be superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr who hog the limelight during the world’s biggest sporting event in Russia this summer, equally under focus and intense scrutiny will be the gaffers sat at each team’s dugouts.
Merely assembling a group of galacticos does not ensure success in football. That is where football managers come in. A modern day coach is not just a tactician who shape his team’s playing style, decide the roles of his players and device plans to topple the opposition. He should motivate his wards to perform and lift them when things go wrong.
Over the years, the World Cup has seen revolutionary tactics — at either end of the spectrum. Renus Michel’s Netherlands of 1974, led by the brilliant Johan Cruyff and playing ‘Total Football’, is hailed as one of the greatest teams to have never lifted the trophy while Carlos Alberto Parreira’s Brazil of 1994 were called ‘anti-football’ and ‘beyond boring’ despite winning the ultimate prize in world football!
From Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez who has conducted his team’s training drills watching on from his mobility vehicle to Iceland’s Heimir Hallgrimsson, a dentist who is looking to take his fairytale run in world football to its grandest stage, the 21st edition of the World Cup also throws up a handful of interesting trainers, but we pick five who could outfox their opponents in Russia.
5. Fernando Santos
Former teams: AEK Athens, Sporting Lisbon, Greece
Portugal might be coming into the World Cup as the European champions, but they are way below in the pecking order in the list of favourites to win the title. However, that narrative is familiar for the Portuguese. After they weren’t anywhere in the picture before the start of the 2016 Euros, but were the party lifting the cup at the end of it all. Much of the credit for that triumph from two years ago goes to Fernando Santos who has transformed the team into a solid defensive side since taking over in 2014.
Portugal a one-man team?
Not according to Fernando Santos!
The coach says his side can fare perfectly well without star man Cristiano Ronaldo#Russia2018
— Omnisport (@OmnisportNews) June 3, 2018
Under him, Portugal has reduced its dependency on star attacker Cristiano Ronaldo and has played as a unit focussing on defensive stability and giving just about enough for Ronaldo to produce his match-winning qualities. Many pundits and even coaches at the opposite dugout at Euro 2016 praised the Portuguese tactician for his side’s showing as a collective as they pulled off the impossible in France
At Russia, Portugal will rely on Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva and Gelson Martin for falir with Ronaldo leading the attack. However, it is defence that will give headaches to Santos who is expected to line up in a conservative 4-4-2 formation. Their most lethal weapon once again will be the quick counters led by the team’s attacking talent.
4. Julen Lopetegui
Former teams: FC Porto, Real Madrid B
19 – Julen Lopetegui has not lost any of his first 19 games for Spain 🇪🇸 (W13 D6), the second best unbeaten start of any manager, after Luis Aragones in 2006 (25 – W17 D8 L0). Confidence. pic.twitter.com/oIDJ5Z4lmc
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) June 3, 2018
A former goalkeeper, Lopetegui has proved his doubters wrong by steering Spain through an undefeated qualifying campaign of nine wins and just one draw — a run which included a 3-0 victory over Italy. The relatively young and inexperienced coach took over the reigns of Spain with tremendous weight of expectation on his shoulder — which comes with being the successor of two legendary coaches in Luis Aragones and Vicente del Bosque. But he has warmed up to the job well if the results are anything to go by. And with the World Cup knocking on the doors and a squad as talented as Spain, Lopetegui will be seeing the summer as an opportunity to write his name among the legends of the game.
Having crashed out in their last two outings, Spain are playing some of their best football in years and will want to reestablish themselves in the top echelons of world football. The coach will be spoiled for choices as far as team selection. a team with David de Gea under the crossbar, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba manning the defence, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Isco as playmakers and Diego Costa leading the line is sure an envy for any football manager.
3. Adenor Bacchi a.k.a. Tite
Former teams: Gremio, Corinthians, Al Ain FC
Over the last few seasons, Tite, pronounced “Cheechee” has solved Brazil’s over-reliance on their star forward Neymar Jr which was their ultimate undoing under Carlos Dunga in the 2014 World Cup. The Selecaos suffered a disastrous 7-1 defeat at the hands of eventual champions Germany in the semifinal of their home World Cup which haunted everyone related to Brazilian football.
Tite has been charged with taking Brazil back to the promised land at this summer’s FIFA World Cup.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 19, 2018
However, the way the Latin American nation have conducted their business under Title since that debacle has reinstalled plenty of faith in them — most importantly in the players. The return of Neymar from injury will be good reading for the former Corinthians coach while others like Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Marcelo and Willian have also been in fine fettle during the club season.
Tite has made Brazil a group with organisation, flair and cohesion. They were the first side to qualify for Russia from the qualifiers and it is no surprise that they have been touted as firm favourites to lift the cup come July.
2. Jorge Sampaoli
Former teams: Universidad de Chile, Chile, Sevilla
Sampaoli has been linked with a number of top European clubs ever since guiding Chile to Copa America win in 2015. However, he returned to international duty with Argentina after a one-off season in Spain with Sevilla. However, his return hasn’t been all smooth sailing what with the Albiceleste unconvincingly qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and being blasted by pundits including Diego Maradona.
Ejercicio de 10 vs 7.
Conocé el progreso en Instagram ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/pqQACrzDwN
— Jorge Sampaoli (@SampaoliOficial) March 25, 2018
Relentless pressing and a fluid attacking line is part of Sampaoli’s style of play and he has been quite aptly compared to Argentine tactical genius Marcelo Bielsa. However, he is yet to get this Argentine team dance to his tunes and the World Cup could make or break his career as Argentina manager. While the attacking options consisting of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María is mouthwatering, the defensive options available to the coach is rather lightweight which could ultimately lead to their undoing in Russia.
1. Joachim Low
Former teams: VfB Stuttgart, Fenerbahçe
Germany’s marketing campaign ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup carries the catchphrase ‘Best Never Rest’. And they do have one of modern day’s best in their dugout who seems not willing to rest until a fifth world title is added to Die Mannschaft’s trophy cabinet this summer.
— Mercedes-Benz & Die Mannschaft (@mbfussball_en) June 4, 2018
Low has guided Germany to a World Cup and Confederations Cup win. Add to that a third-place finish in the 2010 World Cup, runner-up spot in Euro 2008 and semifinal appearances in Euro 2012 and 2016 and you will get one of the most consistent sides in the history of football.
Building from the back with a goalkeeper who is comfortable with the ball in his feet and defenders who can pick a pass or two, Low has revolutionised how the game is played around the globe. Teams at this World Cup too will find it hard to handle Low’s 4-2-3-1 that transitions into a 2-4-3-1 during attacks and they will be trying to avoid the Germans on their way forward in the tournament — which is in itself an ode to the side that Low has built.
Notable mentions; Oscar Tabarez (Uruguay), Jose Pekerman (Colombia), Didier Deschamps (France)