Echoes in Eternity
Of all the great managers, which has been the most influential in inspiring future generations?
Velvet Underground’s status as one of the greatest rock groups ever rests securely on their trailblazing genius and the legend that every one of the 30,000 fans who bought their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, launched their own band. It’s a seductive idea, first suggested by Lou Reed in conversation with Brian Eno. Actually, the album sold around 50,000 copies in two years and, though it didn’t inspire 50,000 new bands, the Velvets have been acknowledged as a seminal influence by the likes of Beck, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, Morrissey, Nirvana, Orange Juice, The Pretenders, REM, Jonathan Richman, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads and U2.
So what has all this to do with football? Over lunch, the editor of The Blizzard, Jonathan Wilson, and I debated whether any football managers had been as inspirational. As Arsène Wenger has been managing for 30 years, why weren’t more of his former players in the dugout? The examples that immediately sprang to mind were Tony Adams, whose managerial career fizzled out after underwhelming stints at Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth and the Azerbaijani club Gabala, and David Platt, whose very name still makes Nottingham Forest fans wince. For a manager nicknamed the Professor, Wenger didn’t look to have galvanised many of his students.
Later, I brainstormed the point with Philippe Auclair – although, to be fair, Philippe’s brain did most of the storming. Ferguson’s record as managerial mentor begins with his first transfer. In 1974, as East Stirlingshire boss, he signed the 24-year-old inside-forward George Adams. After his knee gave out, Adams managed the Highland League team Fraserburgh before helping Ferguson develop the Aberdeen side that disrupted the Old Firm’s duopoly of Scottish football in the 1980s. Arguably Adams’s greatest success came when, as Ross County’s director of football – with his son Derek as manager – he led the Staggies to the 2010 Scottish Cup final. (The Adamses left County last August).
Adams was the first of 41 names on Auclair’s list. Some had achieved fame (Steve Bruce and Gordon Strachan), others infamy (Paul Ince and Clayton Blackmore, whose reign at Porthmadog lasted only four months in 2007), and many a bit of both (Roy Keane, Mark McGhee, Alex McLeish, Bryan Robson, Ole Gunnar Solskjær.)
Fergie’s enfants span Europe – with Jordi Cruyff technical director at Maccabi Tel Aviv, Henning Berg coaching Legia Warsaw, Laurent Blanc at Paris Saint-Germain and Andrei Kanchelskis managing Jurmala in Latvia.
Closer to home, Ferguson’s players have managed, assisted or trained at 33 clubs in England, 13 in Scotland, three in Wales and one apiece in Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the time of writing, Strachan and McGhee manage Scotland, Keane coaches Ireland with Martin O’Neill and Gary Neville is part of Roy Hodgson’s England coaching staff.
Five of Ferguson’s 41 protégés have won league titles: Berg (Legia Warsaw), Blanc (PSG), McLeish (Rangers), Solskjaer (Molde) and Strachan (Celtic). A decent strike rate even if it’s hard to know whether Blanc’s successive Ligue 1 triumphs owe more to PSG’s budget or Ferguson’s inspirational example. Similar caveats must apply to McLeish and Strachan, as the Old Firm have, between them, won 99 out of 118 Scottish titles.
The process by which players move into the dugout is full of incongruities. Great players – Diego Maradona, Bobby Charlton and Hristo Stoichkov – often turn out not to be great managers, whereas inferior footballers – Ferguson, Jack Charlton and José Mourinho – flourish. One known unknown we must factor in is the randomness of personal choice. Widely tipped as a future Liverpool boss while winning three European Cups as an elegant central defender, Alan Hansen told me he never wanted to manage: “I looked at Kenny Dalglish and Bobby Robson, their passion for the game was an addiction, they couldn’t live without it. I knew I never felt like that.” Yet Hansen’s view is no reflection on Bob Paisley, who signed Hansen from Partick Thistle.
Before we delve deeper to see if any other manager can match Ferguson’s record as mentor, it is necessary to add some historical context. When Ferguson moved into management in 1974, part-time at East Stirlingshire for £40 a week, the game was much less lucrative, broadcasters usually only supplied football punditry for special events (FA Cup finals, internationals, World Cups and so forth) and the principal career options for retiring footballers were: opening a sports shop, running a pub and becoming a manager.
The financial imperative to coach is less urgent today, when many players retire as multi-millionaires or join the lucrative pro-celebrity circuit that surrounds the game. British football was also much more parochial, less globalised, in the early 1970s. The route from player to manager was simpler – no need for those Uefa coaching badges.
So measuring how much of Wenger and Ferguson’s impact as mentors reflects their personality, coaching style or inspirational quality – and how much is driven by the economic revolution that has transformed football since the 1970s – is hardly straightforward.
Wenger could well have influenced more enfants if he had stayed in France, where his approach is still admired, and not moved to England, where the rosy glow from his scientific revolution at Arsenal in the late 1990s has faded somewhat. Ferguson’s style – or the media portrayal of him as a ruthless, crockery-breaking, hairdryer-treating autocrat – seemed a more natural fit for British managerial mores and a football industry so steeped in the past that players still call managers “gaffer”, a term for a factory foreman in Victorian times.
It’s also true that some clubs simply have more clout than others. As the FA’s serial evasions during Ferguson’s reign attest, Manchester United are the most powerful club in England. Any player with United on his CV can be reasonably confident of becoming a coach. The same principle applies in the Netherlands and Spain where the massed ranks of Johan Cruyff’s players who became managers owes an unquantifiable something to the superpower status of Ajax and Barcelona.
Deciding who influenced whom can be tortuous. Ferguson’s most influential mentor was Jock Stein, who once tried to buy him but never managed him. Although Pep Guardiola was coached by Fabio Capello, José Antonio Camacho, Javier Clemente and Cruyff, the mentor he hails as “my maestro” is Juan Manuel Lillo1, for whom he played for six months at the Mexican club Dorados de Sinaloa in 2006.
With such caveats in mind, how does Wenger’s record compare to Ferguson’s? Of the 200 or so players the Frenchman has used at Arsenal – many of them still playing at some level – 22 have become directors, coaches, assistants and trainers. Yet the only one presently managing a league club is Fabián Caballero, the Argentinian striker who made three appearances for the Gunners in 1998-99 and coached Deportivo Recoleta in Paraguay’s fourth tier before stepping down late last year.
Apart from that, there are a few assistants (Steve Bould, Arsenal; Dennis Bergkamp, Ajax; Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Feyenoord; Scott Marshall, Aston Villa; Sylvinho, Corinthians) sporting directors (Marc Overmars, Ajax; Edu, Corinthians), the Manchester City reserve team boss Patrick Vieira, the Latvia Under-17 team coach Igor Stepanovs and Ömer Riza, player-manager of the Isthmian League Division One North side Cheshunt. And then there’s Rémi Garde, who won the French Cup with Olympique Lyonnais in 2012, and is enjoying a well-earned break after three years of trying to reconcile finite budgets and infinite expectations at Lyon.
This odd list doesn’t tell the whole story. Some of Wenger’s enfants have been unlucky or daft. Once a defensive coach at Blackburn, Nigel Winterburn was collateral damage as Paul Ince’s managerial career imploded. Two of Wenger’s enfants from Monaco were just as unfortunate: Sonny Anderson’s reign as coach of the Swiss club Neuchâtel Xamax, then owned by a Chechen oligarch, lasted two games in 2011. Enzo Scifo managed the Belgian club RE Mouscron, which went bust in 2009. The promising coaching career of the former Arsenal defender Nelson Vivas ended abruptly in October 2013: he quit as manager of the Argentinian club Quilmes after running into the stands and punching a vocal fan three times.
At Monaco, Wenger did inspire some trophy winners. The defensive midfielder Claude Puel was Wenger’s manager on the pitch then. Now coaching Nice, Puel won Ligue 1 with Monaco in 2000 and 10 years later led Lyon to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in their history. The low point of Rámon Díaz’s CV is an unpaid stint as Oxford United boss in 2004-05, but the former Monaco striker has won six league titles and the 1996 Copa Libertadores as River Plate boss.
Wenger’s other notable protégés from Monaco are Glenn Hoddle, a half-decent England manager who also helped transform Chelsea from flashy underachievers to perennial contenders for honours, and Jürgen Klinsmann, who has reached the last four of the World Cup with Germany and the last 16 with the USA. The “very technical and fast-paced game” (Klinsmann’s words) played by Wenger’s Monaco obviously influenced his Germany side. Eight of the players managed by Wenger at Nancy between 1984 and 1987 became coaches but only the defender Albert Cartier, now in charge of Metz, has enjoyed an enduring, successful career.
So in this heavyweight contest between Ferguson and Wenger, the Scot still has the edge, but how do they compare with other coaches?
A painstaking plotting of the enfants of Europe’s managerial greats suggests that Ferguson’s record stands alone in England. He certainly inspired more players to greater effect than Don Revie. None of Revie’s protégés won a league title as manager, although Jack Charlton did steer Ireland to four successive qualifications for major tournaments and the last eight of the 1990 World Cup.
Big Jack owed his start, at Middlesbrough in 1973, to Revie’s example. Invited for an interview, he handed the panel a list of a manager’s responsibilities drafted by his old boss and left the room, giving them 25 minutes to make up their minds.
Charlton’s managerial ruthlessness – urban legend suggested, erroneously, that he used his dogs to keep players in line – is often attributed to his former boss but he was also, in Revie’s words, a “one-man awkward squad”. Charlton was no Revie clone: his tactics as Ireland boss were, he insisted, “influenced by watching Northampton Town when they won the Second Division” in 1966. For all his tough guy image at centre-half, Charlton never really subscribed to the Peckinpahesque “if they move, kill ‘em” streak in Leeds’s play under Revie. His teams were combative, but not brutal.
Leeds United’s post-Revie history suggests that the mechanism by which managers pass on their magic to their players is deeply unpredictable. Between 1980 and 1988, four Revie greats – Allan Clarke, Eddie Gray, Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter – managed Leeds to little effect. Yet some club chairmen remain impervious to such disappointments. In 2006, the Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Allen hired Brian Laws as manager, saying, “I like him, he comes from the Clough camp. I’m a great admirer of the Clough camp.” Although Laws played at right-back for five years for Clough at Forest, such service didn’t stop Wednesday firing him within three years.
As manager of Hartlepool United, Derby County and Forest, Old Big ‘Ead inspired a legion of players to coach. Not all were successful – Gary Megson’s nickname as a player, ‘Suitcase’, also encapsulates his managerial career and Peter Withe is best remembered for a 105-day reign at Wimbledon in which he banned jeans and won one match – but Richie Barker (an African Champions League winner with Zamalek in 2006), Frank Clark, Alan Durban, Trevor Francis, Paul Hart, Roy Keane, Roy McFarland, Stuart Pearce and Colin Todd have all enjoyed respectable careers. Sean Dyche, who spent a year with Clough but never played for him, has led Burnley into the Premier League, possibly making him less of a ‘ginger Mourinho’ and more of a ‘ginger Clough’.
The most successful members of Clough’s camp are Martin O’Neill (who won two League Cups with Leicester and three league titles with Celtic, whom he led to the 2003 Uefa Cup final) and, ironically, Dave Mackay, who succeeded Clough at Derby in 1973, winning the league in his first full season.
As indebted as O’Neill is to Clough, he had a rambunctious relationship with his mentor. As Tony Balfe, the Grantham Town chairman who made O’Neill manager in 1987, said, “Martin seemed to believe that no matter what he did, Cloughie would find fault with it.” O’Neill’s nickname at Forest – ‘The Squire’ – reflected Clough’s suspicion that the player was, Balfe said, a “bit of a smart arse”.
One of Clough’s favourite Forest players and O’Neill’s assistant at Wycombe, Norwich, Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa, John Robertson felt the two managers shared “an innate ability to get players to want to play for him”, a willingness to dish out bollockings when necessary, a philosophy of how football should be played and a gift for simplifying the game’s complexities. Yet, in his autobiography, Robertson noted, “I genuinely don’t think there was any considered attempt by Martin to manufacture that likeness.”
As populous as Clough’s camp is, they haven’t won as much silverware as the heirs of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. The most notable recruits in the Red army of coaches are Kenny Dalglish (one of only four managers to win the English league title with two clubs: Liverpool and Blackburn), Kevin Keegan, white-shoed Jimmy Melia (who led Brighton to the 1983 FA Cup final), Gordon Milne (who won three Turkish titles with Beşiktaş), Graeme Souness (three Scottish titles as Rangers player-manager and cups with Liverpool and Galatasaray) and John Toshack (a La Liga winner with Real Madrid in 1990). And then there’s Phil Neal, a four-time European Cup winner whose 11-year-career in management is best remembered for winning the Associate Members Cup with Bolton and the alacrity with which he said, “Yes, boss” to the England manager Graham Taylor.
Yet neither Ferguson nor Shankly nor Paisley have shaped a nation’s football culture as profoundly as Jock Stein. The great Scottish manager has inspired at least 46 of his former players to take significant roles in coaching. That tally doesn’t include players he capped as Scotland boss (the most notable of those, in a managerial sense, being George Burley, John Grieg, Mackay, McLeish, Maurice Malpas, McGhee, Souness, Strachan and Paul Sturrock). Nor does it reflect his impact on many managers who never played for him. As Pat Nevin wrote, “Sir Alex Ferguson says he was the biggest influence on him and Craig Brown, Walter Smith and Jim McLean say much the same.”
Judged purely on silverware, Stein’s most successful protégés are Dalglish, the Lisbon Lions’ skipper Billy McNeill (who won four league titles as Celtic boss) and David Hay (a league champion with Celtic in 1986 and with the Norwegian side Lillestrom in 1989). Other managerial stalwarts to emerge under Stein include Roy Aitken, Tommy Burns, John Gorman, Lou Macari and Pat Stanton, Ferguson’s first assistant at Aberdeen. At Dunfermline Athletic, where Stein won the Scottish Cup as manager in 1961, seven of his players have filled the hot seat with Harry Melrose steering the Pars into the top flight in 1979. In contrast, the full-back Freddie Pethard, who spent 1969 at Celtic without breaking through, later managed the Torbay Youth Offending team (he worked for the probation service; he wasn’t himself an offender).
The student Stein would probably be proudest of is Ferguson, briefly his assistant as Scotland manager in the 1980s, whose haul of 49 trophies – including 16 league titles (three at Aberdeen, 13 at Manchester United) two Champions Leagues and two Cup Winners’ Cups – makes him the most successful manager in British football history.
One of the few coaches whose influence on a nation’s football culture can be likened to Stein’s is Albert Batteux, who led Stade de Reims to the European Cup final in 1956 and 1959 and developed an attacking playing style hailed as “champagne football”. In 31 years as coach, Batteux won nine French titles (five with Reims and four with Saint-Étienne) and led les Bleus to the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup. When France won Euro 84, they were managed by Michel Hidalgo, a former Reims midfielder who had scored in the 1956 European Cup final. In 1998, France won the World Cup coached by Aimé Jacquet, a former defensive midfielder Batteux coached at Saint-Étienne.
Four of Batteux’s enfants have coached France – Hidalgo, Jacquet, Just Fontaine and Jacques Santini – and six have won league titles as managers: Jacquet (three times with Bordeaux), Santini (Lyon, 2001), Bram Appel (PSV, 1963), Robert Herbin (four times with Saint-Étienne, whom he led to the European Cup final in 1976), Pierre Sinibaldi (four with Anderlecht) and Jean Vincent (twice with Nantes). Other Batteux old boys to prosper in the dugout include Georges Peyroche (French Cup winner with PSG), José Anigo (Uefa Cup runner-up with Marseille in 2004) and Victor Zvunka (a French Cup winner with Guingamp). Jacquet was also a guiding spirit behind Clairefontaine, one of Europe’s most productive football academies.
Rinus Michels had a similar transformational impact to Batteux and Stein. He was the perfector of Total Football, who won four Eredivisie titles and one European Cup at Ajax before steering the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final and winning Euro 88. By developing Ajax’s revolutionary play – and shaping Cruyff’s philosophy of football – the General became the intellectual godfather of the modern game. Cruyff is the only one of Michels’s charges at club level to win European silverware as coach: the Cup Winners’ Cup (Ajax, 1987) and the European Cup (Barcelona, 1992) yet Velibor Vasović (Red Star Belgrade, 1988) and Arie Haan (Anderlecht, 1986) have won leagues. It is virtually impossible to disentangle the influences of Michels and Cruyff but the Dutch Euro 88 squad included Frank Rijkaard (a Champions League winner as Barça coach in 2006) and Ronald Koeman (who won three Eredivisie titles: two as Ajax coach and one at PSV). One of Michels’s most passionate admirers was a young Italian football fan called Arrigo Sacchi.
Few coaches have inspired as many players to coach as Cruyff. Finding a player in his Barcelona squads between 1988 and 1996 who didn’t manage is the exception, rather than the rule. Two of his enfants have won the Champions League as Barça coach: Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola (2009 and 2011). Apart from Rijkaard and Guardiola, three other Cruyff protégés have won league titles as coaches: Ernesto Valverde (Olympiacos in 2009, 2011 and 2012), Óscar Garcia (Maccabi Tel Aviv, 2013) and Ronald Koeman. Although he loves to cast himself as a Camusian étranger in European football, Cruyff has also inspired the likes of Bakero, Danny Blind, Albert Ferrer, Gheorghe Hagi, Michael Laudrup, Robert Prosinečki, Stoichkov, Marco van Basten, Johnny van’t Schip, Aron Winter to coach and Frank Arnesen, Txiki Begiristain, Jordi Cruyff and Andoni Zubizaretta to become directors of football.
Guardiola learned a lot from Cruyff, partly by constantly questioning his mentor – as his former teammate Garcia recalled, “He wanted to know everything.” While acknowledging the Dutch master’s influence, Guardiola insists he is his own manager, declaring once, “Cruyff didn’t make me.” Sometimes, you learn as much from a mentor’s flaws as their strengths. After Barça’s complacent build up to the 1994 Champions League final, which Milan won even more comprehensively than the 4-0 scoreline suggests, Guardiola ensured that his players kept completely focused before the 2009 and 2011 finals.
The only German coach who comes close to Batteux, Cruyff, Michels and Stein as an inspirational influence is Hennes Weisweiler, architect of the legendary Borussia Mönchengladbach side of the 1970s. The most famous of Weisweiler’s alumni are Jupp Heynckes (who has won the Champions League twice – with Real Madrid and Bayern), Berti Vogts (Euro 96 winner with Germany), Winfried Schäfer (an African Cup of Nations winner with Cameroon in 2002), Christoph Daum (who has won five league titles: three in Turkey, and one apiece in Austria and Germany), Marcel Koller (who won the Swiss league with FC Gallen and Grasshoppers and now coaches Austria) and Horst Köppel (a German Cup winner with Borussia Dortmund in 1989).
Weisweiler was too inspirational for his own good. He trained hundreds of coaches at Cologne’s German Sports University between 1958 and 1970. One of his students, who played for him at Köln, was Zlatko Čajkovski. The Croatian won the German championship with Köln in 1962 and, as coach, laid the foundation for the Bayern side that won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967 and competed so thrillingly with Gladbach in the 1970s. Managers in the top three tiers of German football are still obliged to study in Cologne at the Weisweiler Academy, as it is now known. In the academy’s 44th class were Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw.
Yet Klinsmann and Löw also bear the imprint of a much more obscure figure: a construction engineer called Helmut Gross. Building bridges by day and managing amateur teams by night, Gross was the first German coach to teach players zonal marking and ball-oriented defending – at Geislingen in the fourth division in 1981. One of the youth players there was Markus Gisdol, whom Gross signed to coach Hoffenheim in 2009 and now manages the first team. In 1989, Gross took charge of VfB Stuttgart’s youth set-up, laying the foundation for a system that has since unearthed such talents as Mario Gomez, Sami Khedira and Timo Hildebrand. Among Gross’s colleagues at Stuttgart were Löw, Rainer Adrion (later Germany Under-21 coach) and Thomas Tuchel, manager of Stuttgart’s Under-19 team, whose success at Mainz led to him being reductively dubbed the ‘German Mourinho’.
In the words of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Gross “founded a highly innovative coaching philosophy in the south-west of Germany”, where many of the country’s most successful recent coaches – Klinsmann, Löw and Jürgen Klopp – have come from. Now 66, Gross advises Ralf Rangnick, sporting director of Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig. In the late 1980s, shortly after Rangnick and Gross met, they became obsessed with Sacchi’s Milan, buying the most expensive video player on the market and watching tapes of the Rossoneri’s matches so often the machine wore out.
In some ways, Giovanni Trapattoni’s record as a mentor is the antithesis of Gross’s. In a mostly glorious 41-year career as coach, Trap won every major Uefa club trophy and managed Juventus, Inter and Bayern. Around 50 of his enfants become coaches. Although his enfants include Michel Platini, Dino Zoff, Cesare Prandelli and Lothar Matthäus, only three of his former players – Antonio Conte, Ramon Diaz and Walter Zenga – have won the league as coach. Some of Trapattoni’s former charges, such as Klinsmann, Prandelli and Zoff, have thrived as managers but many – notably Dietmar Hamann, Paolo di Canio, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Mario Basler – have crashed, burned and given up.
The influence of Ferguson, Wenger, Revie, Clough, Shankly, Stein, Batteux, Michels, Cruyff and Weisweiler manifested itself in similar ways: they made their name at one or two clubs where, during enduring golden eras, they instilled their values in their players. In contrast, Marcelo Bielsa has never coached a club for more than two years. His longest managerial reign came with Argentina, from 1998 to 2004. Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo may have won the World Cup with the Albiceleste, but Bielsa has probably inspired more players to coach.
Let’s start with his Newell’s Old Boys squad that reached the 1992 Copa Libertadores final. 10 of the 23 players to feature in that campaign became coaches: Eduardo Berizzo (now at Celta Vigo), Alfredo Berti (Newell’s), Fernando Gamboa (Club Atlético Colón), Fabián Garfagnoli (a youth coach at Tiro Federal in Rosario), Juan Manuel Llop (most successfully at the Argentinian club Godoy Cruz), Ricardo Lunari (Millonarios), Gerardo Martino (Argentina), Mauricio Pochettino (now at Spurs, assisted by his Newell’s teammate Miguel D’Agostino), Julio Zamora (Sportivo Huracán in Peru). Bielsa casts such a long shadow over Newell’s that their past four coaches have all played for him: Lunari, Berti, Martino and now Gustavo Raggio.
Bielsa’s first major tournament as Argentina boss was the 2002 World Cup. His squad for the finals included Juan Sebastián Verón (now an unpaid sporting director at Estudiantes), Matías Almeyda (managing Banfield), José Chamot (assisting Almeyda), Germán Burgos (assistant at Atlético Madrid) and Diego Simeone (who has won the Europa League twice and La Liga once in three years as Rojiblancos coach).
The most remarkable aspect of Bielsa’s legacy is that his most successful students – Martino, Pochettino and Simeone – have applied so much of his teaching.
Bielsa’s manager on the pitch at Newell’s, Martino won the Primera Division with the Old Boys in 2013, with a team whose high tempo, quick vertical passing style and collective pressing and defending came straight out of Bielsa’s play book. At Southampton, Pochettino adopted his mentor’s principles, looking to have at least one man spare when building from defence, varying the play with vertical passes, and using an attacking midfielder with three players ahead of him in the final third. During Atlético’s run to the Champions League final, Simeone’s side were Bielsaesque, playing with collective resolve, industrious intensity and an eye for the telling long pass.
Guardiola has long admired Bielsa’s style, commenting on the Argentinian’s Athletic side, “They all run up … then they run down again. Up, down, up, down, it’s fascinating.” Once, when Guardiola toured Argentina, he and Bielsa talked football for 12 hours at an asado, with the Argentinian using salt pots, ketchup bottles, chairs and tables to demonstrate his theories. On the same trip, Guardiola met Menotti and Ricardo la Volpe, then manager of Mexico, and was particularly struck by the latter’s emphasis on defenders starting attacks and his insistence that they practise this so intently “they understand each other as if they were lovers”.
Guardiola never enjoyed such free-ranging discussions with Arrigo Sacchi, but that didn’t stop him learning from him. His move to Brescia in 2003 was spurred partly by his belief that Sacchi’s Milan had made Serie A the most tactically intriguing league in Europe.
Sacchi’s attacking 4-4-2, with its emphasis on pressing, shape and work-rate, destroyed calcio’s defensively-minded tactical orthodoxy. The former shoe salesman’s most distinguished alumni from Milan are two Champions League-winning coaches (Rijkaard and Carlo Ancelotti), three national coaches (Roberto Donadoni, Italy; Marco van Basten, Netherlands; and Dejan Savicevic, Yugoslavia) and Ruud Gullitt, who taught Chelsea to play “sexy football” and won the FA Cup. Many of Sacchi’s enfants have moved into coaching – Franco Baresi was briefly technical director at Fulham – but few have done well.
Among the notable Azzurri capped by Sacchi are Conte, Gianfranco Zola and Roberto di Matteo. Sacchi welcomed Conte’s appointment as Azzurri coach, while sounding as if he was praising himself: “Antonio’s philosophy of football is modern. He has great abilities to instruct as well as an elevated sensitivity that allows him to correct things like the small mistakes players make in training.”
Yet Marcello Lippi is clearly the greatest influence on Conte. In his autobiography, the former midfielder admits he learned about motivation and preparation from his mentor. One humiliating episode showed him that players must never put their interests ahead of the team’s. When Lippi moved him from central midfield to the flanks, Conte bemoaned the switch in the Gazzetta Dello Sport. Incensed, Lippi assembled the players and admonished Conte for his egotism. Conte’s emphasis on the collective good is one of the most striking aspects of his managerial style so, the message clearly hit home.
In Ukraine, Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who built, honed and drilled Dynamo Kyiv, still casts a long shadow. Career paths were very different in the old Soviet sports system so it is hard to make direct comparisons with the likes of Batteux, Ferguson, Michels and Stein, but his enfants can still be found in dugouts across Ukraine.
Seven of the eight men to have managed the national side since he left in 2001 played for him: Leonid Buryak, Oleh Blokhin, Oleksiy Mykhailychenko, Yuriy Kalitvintsev, Andry Bal, Oleksandr Zavarov and present incumbent Mykhalo Fomenko. (The exception is Myron Markevych, who quit after four games in 2010.) Three of his protégés have won the league as Dynamo Kyiv boss: Fomenko, Mykhailychenko and Anatoliy Demanyenko.
If you look at Lobanovskiy’s three great Dinamo sides – the teams that won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975 and 1986 and reached the Champions League semi-final in 1999 – 34 of the players have become coaches, youth coaches or scouts. Yet the most notable – apart from those already mentioned – are probably Oleh Kuznetsov (who helped Blokhin steer Ukraine to the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup), Serhiy Rebrov, (a Ukrainian Cup winner with Dynamo Kyiv), Anatoliy Konkov (who has managed Shakhtar and Ukraine) and Sergei Baltacha (now a youth coach at Charlton Athletic, who managed Inverness Caledonian Thistle from 1993 to 1995 but is probably best known in the UK because of his tennis-star daughter Elena, who died of cancer at the age of 30 in 2014).
Assessing the impact of the coach known to his players as ‘the Colonel’ is particularly problematic because so many of his enfants stayed in Ukraine. There are only two proper trophies at stake – the league and the cup – and, since 2003-04, the Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu has won 13 of them. Lobanovskyi’s intellectual influence is finally waning with Dinamo and Ukraine are departing from his model without developing a distinct identity.
To an extent, every successful manager is metaphorically standing on the shoulders of giants but only they can know how much of their success is owed to which particular giant. Rock stars, poets and football managers are all reluctant to identify their influences, insisting on their originality. Given the battering managers’ egos take, such delusions – their equivalent of Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field” – may be a professional necessity. Almost 20 years ago, I interviewed a Scottish Premier League manager who told me he didn’t want to talk about tactics because he had, he insisted, spotted something in midfield nobody else had. His subsequent career does not suggest this secret knowledge has yielded any enduring competitive advantage.
So we are left counting numbers. If we do that, it’s clear that Batteux, Bielsa, Clough, Cruyff, Ferguson and Paisley/Shankly all inspired many of their players to become managers – and Wenger not so much. This is certainly not conclusive proof that Ferguson is a better manager than Wenger but it is truly mysterious.
The Arsenal boss is renowned – even ridiculed – for telling players to go out and express themselves. So why have so few of them successfully expressed themselves in the dugout?
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