Why wasn’t Avram (Grant)ed respect?

Avram Grant has guided Chelsea to a Champions League final and nearly won the holy grail, but he has never been held in the highest regard in world football, despite having a decent CV. Souvanik Seal at Goalden Times analyses the reason behind this.

Roberto di Matteo pulled off what may be regarded as one of the greatest miracles in football’s history- guiding a Chelsea side struggling to find consistency to the holy grail of European football, against all odds. Various commentators have thus described him as ‘the greatest caretaker manager of all time’. Even though he was sacked after just eight months in charge as first team manager, he was and still is viewed in the highest regard by Chelsea fans. Roberto di Matteo is considered by fans as a true Chelsea legend, not just for his brief yet successful tenure as the club’s manager but also for his contribution to Chelsea’s resurgence in the late 90s.

But his status brings home the question – If Di Matteo is held in such high regard by the Stamford Bridge faithful why doesn’t Avram Grant command the same respect? After all, Grant came close to winning the European Cup in 2007-08 after the departure of Jose Mourinho. It should be noted here that Mourinho’s Chelsea failed to reach the finals of the European cup in four attempts. In addition to guiding Chelsea to the finals of the UEFA Champions League, Grant also helped Chelsea to the finals of the League cup in the same season and finished runners up to champions Manchester United in the Premier League. So why is that the man who could well have led Chelsea to a potential treble forgotten not just by football fans in general but also by Chelsea fans?

“So near, yet so far.”
“So near, yet so far.”

The answer may lie in how Avram Grant managed to get the Chelsea job. Few months before Jose Mourinho left the club, he said, “There are only two ways for me to leave Chelsea, one is to finish the contract in 2010 and another is for Chelsea to sack me”. One thing is pretty clear, Jose was never asked to resign on performance grounds. He had the backing of his players. But despite being the manager, he lost control over transfers, a major reason why he couldn’t sign Samuel Eto’o back in 2006. So what could possibly be the reason behind this drift between him and the club? Avram Grant, who happened to be a personal friend of Abramovich was  appointed as Director of Football of the club in July 2007, and it certainly did not go down very well. There was a time when Mourinho was asked to sack one of his assistants and add Grant to his coaching staff, which he clearly refused, thus straining the relationship between him and the club, even further. Few in the camp labelled Grant as a ‘Spy’ from the onset. He’d go around calling players aside and ask them about their problems and the reason why they looked sad and whether they were being properly utilised. Many players complained to Mourinho regarding this and thus, the number of team meetings was drastically decreased. Shortly after Mourinho’s resignation, Grant was appointed as the new Chelsea manager,a move many senior players described as a ‘disgrace’. Supporters branded him as an ‘idiot’ with reference to his lack of top flight coaching certification from UEFA and his lack of expertise in the highest levels of football, though he had done some good work in Israel, both at country as well as club level with the likes of Hapoel Petah Tikva, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Haifa and Maccabi Haifa. Several unnamed Chelsea players have been quoted as saying that “Chelsea deserves a bigger coach”. There were many at the club who agreed to that. Club staff complained to Abramovich regarding Grant’s coaching methods; one of them labelled them as ‘25 years behind the times’. The Israeli did not help his cause either. He used training drills that many players believed to be outdated when compared to the cutting-edge methods they had become accustomed to under Mourinho.

Few in the camp labelled Grant as a ‘Spy’ from the onset. He’d go around calling players aside and ask them about their problems and the reason why they looked sad and whether they were being properly utilised.

In 2009, Grant appeared alongside John Barnes in Sky Sports’ Goals on a weekend and was still very vocal about Mourinho. “After two years [of Mourinho], the team was down,” he declared. “In any aspect: results, atmosphere, image, it was on the way down. When I took the team, it went up, each month was better, the result was very good, we played very good game, especially against the big club, first time we were in the Champions League final.

“I saw we needed to continue with this because every month was better and better. The philosophy had changed, it was completely [the] other way from the coach that was before me. I thought for the club and me it was good to continue in this direction.”

He further added: “He believes in very organised football, not the creative football. The results are important, but also the way to the results, to produce good football.

“People did not look at the facts, we created history, first time in Champions League [final]. We lost against Liverpool [under Mourinho] which was a less better team than we played against. The atmosphere, the image of the team, everything, the performance of the players. Look at the facts, everything was better.”

This was clearly a one-sided account of Mourinho’s first tenure at Chelsea and to an extent, disrespectful which clearly echoed his contempt towards him. Well, Grant did grind out improved results, with an inherited squad full of superstars, but he was unable to surpass Mourinho’s overall winning ratio of 124 wins in 185 games in the latter’s first tenure at the club. Grant’s belief that he injected a more ‘entertaining’ and ‘better’ style of football into the club was again strictly confined to himself. Chelsea scored 58 times under Grant in 32 league games. Under Mourinho, during his first three full seasons at the helm, Chelsea scored 208 times in 114 matches. The scoring ratio achieved by the two managers were therefore, almost identical. Grant has also used the reference of a Champions league semi final; victory over Liverpool in an attempt to stamp his superiority over Mourinho as a manager. Yes, Mourinho failed to get the better of Liverpool in two Champions League semi-finals whereas Grant did it in his first attempt. But his team’s performance in the finals is an altogether different story. Mourinho played three and won three. Grant played two and lost two. At the end of the day, the most important ‘stat’, if any, is the trophy count. In terms of that, the scoreline is pretty emphatic between the two – Mourinho 5 Grant 0.

Avram-Grant-008
Not ‘The Special One’

Speaking of Di Matteo, he is a club legend in the true sense, not just for scoring in two Cup finals for the Blues as a player or for doing the unthinkable as caretaker manager, but also for the little things he did that strengthened his bonding with the players. Here is one such example: having known that Chelsea had lost a Champions League final four years back and with the likes of Cech, Terry, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Drogba, Malouda and Kalou involved in that rainy night in Moscow, he tried to relax the players before the final against Bayern Munich by arranging for their wives and children to talk and say how proud they were of their husbands and fathers. Matteo explained, “I needed something personal, to touch the players, Also, I wanted to take a bit of pressure away from them and it did exactly that.” John Terry, who was suspended for the Munich final due to his red card in the second leg of the semi-final against Barcelona said, “It was such a nice touch, it was one thing that will never leave me from that year. Even the younger players in the dressing room had their parents speaking and welcoming them and wishing them good luck.” Chelsea went on to win the final and after 12 long years of multiple ‘so near yet so far’ moments since he became the owner, Roman Abramovich finally realised his dream of seeing his beloved club lifting the holy grail of European football. The triumph also meant that Chelsea had become the first ever London based club to lift the Champions League, thus giving them the bragging rights over their city rivals.

Champions of Europe against all odds.
Champions of Europe against all odds.

Unfortunately, a slump in league form and a 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin that all but confirmed Chelsea’s elimination from the group stages of the following UEFA Champions League season saw Di Matteo lose his job. However, that does not tarnish his legacy, not even a single bit. From being ‘The man for the Old Wembley’ to ‘The greatest caretaker manager of all time’, he had already done enough to cement his place in the pantheon of Chelsea legends.

Di Matteo is currently at the helm of Schalke ,where he has done a steady job so far and nearly masterminded the great escape against Real Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League. Facing  a two-goal first leg deficit, his team eventually lost  5-4 on aggregate but not before his team heroically defeated the defending champions 3-4 in their own backyard.

Grant, since leaving Chelsea has managed Portsmouth and West Ham in England and couldn’t prevent  either of the two team’s relegation before moving to Serbia where he had a good but short stint at Partizan Belgrade. On November 2014, he was appointed as manager of the Ghana national football team. Grant guided them to the finals of the African Cup of Nations in 2015, where he was on the losing side, with his fate decided on penalties, not for the first time in his career.

Now, whether Grant has prospered in his career post-Chelsea is clearly subject to individual opinions but one point is almost ubiquitous: at Stamford Bridge and for everyone associated with Chelsea, he will just be remembered as ‘The man who pushed aside Mourinho’.

MAXIMUS TACTICUS: Chelsea

It is homecoming for the Special One. He might have become the Happy One but José Mourinho’s tongue-in-cheek attitude has not deserted him. Back in Chelsea with a much younger squad, Mourinho has started to put his stamp on the team. These might be early days, but signs are promising and silverware does not look to be a very far-fetched target. Debojyoti Chakraborty dissects Chelsea under José Mourinho – (happily) re-loaded

Chelsea, under José Mourinho, created history as they won the domestic league after more than half a century. But Mourinho departed after failing to win the continental glory for Roman Abramovich. He returns after six years at Stamford Bridge to complete some unfinished business. Is his squad good enough? Has he evolved enough in these years to rectify his earlier mistakes? Let us have a look.

Last season, Chelsea looked awesome going forward with their array of attacking midfielders. Even with a misfiring front man Fernando Torres, Chelsea were able to create havoc with their three attacking midfielders – Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar. But they looked quite vulnerable in the back. This was largely due to the indecisiveness in the centre-back pairing. John Terry looked clueless at times, Gary Cahill simply not able to handle the pressure of playing in a club like Chelsea where every minute mistake is magnified, and with David Luiz – you are just a whisker away from disaster. Nothing much has changed this season, except the captain looking more assured of him. Petr Čech is not the same goalkeeper following his head injury – especially his outing remains questionable – but is still one of the better shot-stoppers in business. Two side-backs have been exceptional – Branislav Ivanović has played in all the games for Chelsea this season while Ashley Cole seems to run the clock behind with every performance. Their effectiveness is not a mere coincidence; it owes a lot to Mourinho’s midfield shape, but more on that later.

Mourinho has always thrived for a midfield supremo to dictate the terms in the middle of the park. He started his Chelsea days with Claude Makélélé who was soon replaced by an incredible Michael Essien. Not sure if he has managed to get a similar sort of player in this Chelsea team. Ramires offers great stamina up and down the pitch. But Ramires is more of a ball player, a box-to-box midfielder than an engine room, and is rightfully playing a bit higher in the double pivot system to utilize his driving runs from deep to greater effect. Frank Lampard is deployed in regista role, but he is yet to make the place his own. John Obi Mikel has been used sparingly in the holding midfielder role, but he certainly lacks the quality.

Mourinho wants his teams to be compact even at the cost of sacrificing his attacking edge. In his previous reign in London, he masterminded numerous 1-0 wins. While people criticized his team’s lack of goals, his defensive stubbornness cannot be neglected. In Inter (Italy) and Real Madrid (playing against Barcelona) Mourinho cherished his counter-attacking style and he looks to implement the same in Chelsea. After tinkering with 4-3-3, Chelsea looks settled in a 4-2-1-3 formation. Oscar is given the pivotal role playing as Number 10. Hazard is tucked in the right while André Schürrle is preferred over Mata in the other flank. Part of the reason might be José wants his wingers to provide width and track back giving cover to his fullbacks. Mata is not exactly proficient at either – even if deployed at the flanks, he tends to cut inside. This makes his side-backs vulnerable against the opposition where they can create a 2-vs-1 situation with a winger and overlapping fullback. One might argue, Mata would have been perfectly suited to play behind the striker, but there is a saying – Boss is always right!

 

Chelsea – looking compact under Mourinho
Chelsea – looking compact under Mourinho

Up front, it has been a strange season so far for Mourinho. He feels, and he might be right, Demba Ba is not able to carry a team to championship on his own shoulders. Fernando Torres has shown glimpses of form but he is far from his own devastating best. So the most likely starter should have been the young and raring-to-go Romelu Lukaku. But he gets loaned out and in comes an ageing Samuel Eto’o. Maybe Mourinho was certain of adding a top striker to his squad before the transfer window closes but now he has to make the best of what he has got.

And it seems, Mourinho is starting to get things right. He started a few games with Demba Ba – especially where his physical presence would be essential (against Norwich). But he has zeroed in on Torres to be his main front man and has tweaked Chelsea’s play to suit the Spaniard’s play. More through balls are being played from the deep so that Torres can run onto them like his Liverpool days and take on defenders on the run. And more often than not, he will find young wingers from both flanks racing with enthusiasm in his support. So much emphasis has been given, quick passing and playing through balls that Oscar, most advanced among the central midfielders, often drops back to control the pace of the match.

A few things have been quite eminent in Mourinho’s tactics so far. His fullbacks are not serving as an attacking option; they are merely the supporting cast. Both Ivanović and Cole are hardly overlapping their respective flank men, rather staying back to keep the shape intact. This adds stability to a shaky centre-half pairing. This in turn frees up Ramires as he has to bother little about spaces vacated by one of his defensive teammates and hence we are seeing a much improved and effective play from the Brazilian. Only thing, he needs to be a bit more consistent with his passing in the final third as shown below.

Ramires against Manchester City (2-1)
Ramires against Manchester City (2-1)

Another aspect of Chelsea’s play has been their discipline. Even though Mourinho has awesome attacking midfielders at his disposal – it would be interesting to see if he jampacks his starting XI with them sacrificing an out-and-out striker somewhere down the line in the season – he has restrained himself from floating them around. Look at Hazard’s movement in the following graphic. He started on the left flank, hogged the touchline and seldom floated elsewhere in the pitch. It was against a weak opposition (Cardiff) – but José’s instructions paid dividends as Hazard scored a brace.

Hazard sticking to the touchline
Hazard sticking to the touchline

There are still a few problems. Defence is not oozing with confidence and any team – like Newcastle – looking to take the game to Chelsea could trouble them. But it cannot be denied that Chelsea is a great team, especially in the attacking sense. Such has been their squad depth that players like Juan Mata, Willian and Samuel Eto’o are warming the benches. José Mourinho is a seasoned campaigner and he knows how to win a trophy. It is no coincidence that Chelsea have started strongly both in the league and in Europe – they mean business this time.

English Premier League 2013-14: Season Preview

EPL 2013-14 season is all set to roll. The top three clubs from last season are starting with a new coach. Debojyoti Chakraborty takes a sneak peek and explores the possibilities

Any EPL preview this season would bring David Moyes in the limelight. Essentially for two reasons: the man he is replacing and that his future will pave the way to determining how young and aspiring British managers are to be promoted in the coming years.

Not everyone is expecting him to deliver right away and the cynics would be boosted by his lacklustre performance (statements) during the ongoing transfer window. Moyes has a couple of problems already with the ongoing Wayne Rooney saga and lack of quality wingers leading the chart. He has a six-year contract and one would assume the men in charge in The Red Devils‘ camp would give him a fair go. It would be interesting to see whether Moyes retains United’s wing play in a 4-4-2 style or uses his own more direct attack-through-outlets style of 4-4-1-1. That said, the Old Trafford faithful would still like to see another success. But they might have to settle for a podium finish, in more realistic terms.

 

The Special One returns as The Happy One. He has a settled squad, with a plethora of talent at his disposal, especially in the attacking midfield option. The man credited with the advancement of the 4-2-3-1 system, will however have to decide whether to start with the misfiring Fernando Torres or the misfit Demba Ba, or groom Romelu Lukaku should he fail to bring in any marquee striker before the transfer window closes. This season could be the most competitive of them all at the top of the table, and José Mourinho’s been-there-done-that experience might just win him the race.

Manuel Pellegrini is the latest occupant of the revolving chair of hot seats at Manchester City. He is not as collaborated as his predecessor – but for a season at the Santiago Bernabéu – but brings with him a brand of football that made Malaga a European darling last year. A tactical genius; be rest assured to see him experiment a lot with tinkering formations, even through the course of a match. Pellegrini would dearly like to take a dig at his old friend who replaced him at Real Madrid.

Gareth Bale’s supposed valuation of £100 mn has irked quite a few, pointing out how it has made a mockery of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. Things can go down to the wire and it seems more and more likely that Bale would be staying at White Hart Lane. With the added steel of Paulinho in the midfield and a clinical finisher in the form of Roberto Soldado, André Villas-Boas would have every reason to believe Tottenham Hotspurs can definitely finish in the top four.

The old story continues at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger does not feel the price tags associated with his potential targets are justified. While clubs finishing above and below Arsenal have been strengthened, Arsenal have been in a state of self-denial. The likes of Gonzalo Higuaín are captured by Napoli and others amidst The Gunners’ speculation. It is very much likely that the pride or self-satisfaction of finishing in the top four will no longer be there, come end of the season.

The Swans are flying high and there seems to be no stopping them. With the acquisition of a proven frontman, Wilfried Bony from Eredivisie and retaining all their core players, Swansea look set for another fine season. Michael Laudrup has added depth to the squad considering they would have extra games to take care of in Europe. And their European participation seems set to continue.

Newcastle’s fifth-place finish in the year before raised the expectations last season and that is why their lowly standing surprised many. People will be wrong again to bank on their past showing and underestimate them. While they did remarkably well in the Europa League – taking out Guus Hiddink’s expensive Anzhi Makhachkala en route – the extra games cost Newcastle dearly. Lesser games this time and a mouth-watering strike force up front in the form of Papiss Cisse, Loic Remy and Bafetimbi Gomis could propel them to another European crack.

The European aspirations can take a back seat as The Toffees look to enter a new era under Roberto Martínez. Martínez likes to experiment with tactics and strategy and we may see quite a few new things tried out at Everton with 3-4-3 being the obvious. A very capable custodian, he should aim for a top half finish as opposed to the survival scrap he was so used to at Wigan.

Liverpool could not have expected a worse start to their campaign. And they are yet to play their first competitive game this season. Want-away striker Luiz Suarez seems their only hope of climbing up the chart, and this is not a good omen for them. A mid-table finish looms large, but a bottom-half standing would be a disaster.

Southampton are perhaps the best team in the league to deploy a 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking system in place with perfection. They would like to consolidate their grand entry to the Premier League last season and hang on to a top 10 finish.

Norwich City will also push hard for a top of the table finish after acquiring two new strikers – Gary Hooper from Celtic and Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon. With an already solid defence, they might just upset a few bigger clubs this time round. But if they do well, Norwich might actually lose at least one of the new strikers in the winter transfer window.

West Ham, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion are perfect mediocre sides. They never look like relegation candidates; no one has ever accused them of hunting like champions. They appear to be content at the relaxing mid-table life.

Aston Villa are too much dependent on Christian Benteke. They would do well to avoid a lower mid-table finish.

Sunderland and Stoke are running a risk this season and may find themselves again in the relegation dogfight.

Cardiff City marks their debut in the Premier League after a 51-year absence from the topflight of English football. They should enjoy whilst it lasts.

Crystal Palace is yet to survive a season in the topflight. That too after having a record 49 points in a season (1992-93) and having three teams below them in another (1994-95), when the top division was trimmed down to 20 clubs. Not something to draw inspiration from.

Hull City will fight for sure, after all they are a Steve Bruce side. But that may not be enough.

Among other things, this will be a landmark season in English football as Hawk-Eye will be used as goal-line technology. Let us hope it helps in better decision-making without slowing down the beautiful game too much.

Before I depart, a few words about a true romantic hero who has lived the ragged-to-riches story on the footballing ground. Rickie Lambert neither had the glamour of a Michael Owen, nor was he earmarked for great success like that of a Wayne Rooney. But boy, has he put in the hard hours! Rising through the ranks of lower division football leagues for 12 years, sometimes playing in front of empty stands (if there were any), he netted 15 goals in EPL last season to become the top-scoring Englishman. To round off his Cinderellesque story, earlier this month Lambert got called into Roy Hodgson’s squad, interestingly on the same day his wife gave birth to their third child, and went on to mark his England debut with a winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Scotland at Wembley. Upon being asked what the goal meant to him, Lambert said: “That’s what I’ve been dreaming of probably all my life. It means so much.” We, at Goalden Times, salute his sheer will to succeed. May he continue to rise to the occasion and do football proud.

The Special One’s Special Mission

Samuel Dieudonné explores the cult surrounding Jose Mourinho and his trials and tribulations as a Real Madrid manager. You may reach Sam on Twitter @dieudonnesam

He may not be an out-of-the-world manager, but Jose Mourinho is a proven winner across leagues, sitting pretty at the very top of the European football world – the Champions League.

Mission Impossible ?

To the men he interacts with at Real Madrid – players and coaching staff alike – the Portuguese boss is probably the epitome of managerial brilliance, controversial and unorthodox who through his cussed winning mentality has driven them along. Over the past year, since taking over from Manuel Pellegrini, Mourinho has emerged as a fatherly figure at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu; protecting his players from the vicious attacks of the Spanish media through general pettiness rarely expected from an experienced boss his age. At times his attitude has been hard to fathom. However, we would be naive to believe that the task of overtaking a well drilled Barcelona side – arguably one of the best there ever has been – wouldn’t come without its fair share of complications.

Having mused on that, I daringly pose the question:

Is too much expected of Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid?

To say that Mourinho morphed Madrid into the feared side they are now from scratch would be flawed. Yes, they have improved under him but the core of his team – Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema, for instance, were already at the club during his predecessors’ time. These newly arrived stars, along with long-time club servants of the club like Raul and Guti, were expected to lead Real to unprecedented levels of success. Added to likes of Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Gonzalo Higuain and, Marcelo Vieira, this squad was built to be feared for many years. However, instead of reposing faith in Pellegrini, who, to be fair, hadn’t done a terrible job in his one year reign Florentino Perez eyed the man who’d just won an unprecedented treble as Inter manager in Italy, after knocking Barcelona out in the Champions League over two hotly contested semi-final legs. There was no stopping Real Madrid now with this man at the helm.

In the midst of such massive hoopla, Madrid and its supporters somehow left Barcelona out of the equation – a side led by Josep Guardiola, playing what may be branded as scintillating football, without a hint of embellishment, prejudice, or bias. Questions about the fair play standards and of referee favours have been raised; nevertheless, they have set the benchmark for a Mourinho-led Real Madrid to attain.

Upon arriving in the Spanish capital, Mourinho got to work right away. Club icons like Raul and Guti were considered past their prime and shown out. Others like Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay and Dutch playmaker Raphael van der Vaart were deemed not to be fitting in his plans and subsequently sold. In came the German wizard Mesut Ozil and Argentine sensation Angel Di Maria to offer added craft in midfield. Sami Khedira came in to provide steel in the centre of the park and help Xabi Alonso in spreading play wide from the deep. Mourinho came with a dream and demanded the players to believe in his dream. He was given unconditional decision-making powers – Jorge Valdano was shown the door and Zinedine Zidane appointed as the first team director. Though not related to on-field activities, this incident preceded an immediate improvement in the league performance. It seemed that the club could contend for and  lift many trophies for the first time since Fabio Capello won the La Ligain 2007.

With his #1 weapon

Not everything should be measured in terms of Real Madrid vs Barcelona though. Apart from consistent and downright infuriating failures against them, Real have, slowly but surely, made tremendous progress under Mourinho. Defeating the rest of the Liga sides and other power houses in Europe appeared to be second nature. Cristiano Ronaldo started scoring hat-tricks at will; Ozil and Di Maria provided assists just as proactively as Alonso anchored the midfield. Karim Benzema had been transformed from a tame mouse into a devouring lion. Make no mistake, Mourinho had definitely made his mark and built a fearsome team. Progress soon thereafter was to become constant and notable.Little did Mourinho know though, that his worst nightmares were yet to come. Soon enough in the Clasico at Camp Nou he would be embarrassed like never before with a 5-0 thrashing. Barcelona had proven their vast superiority knocking Mourinho out of his comfort zone. For the first time in his managerial career, he had to contend with being the second best. The self-proclaimed Special One could not take it too well. How could such an experienced and illustrious manager allow this to happen? What hadn’t gone right? It really seems that he has been trying to sort that out in every single game against Barcelona since. That defeat instilled fear in the Madrid camp as their attempts to be adventurous had left them cruelly exposed to a merciless score. This marked the beginning of Mourinho’s over-reliance on an ultra-defensive system in every Clasico since then.

In Mourinho’s first season, Real Madrid disappeared early from the domestic title race. They failed to reach the finals of the Champions League, again thwarted by Barcelona, but won the Copa del Rey to save Mourinho’s job, beating the same foes. Though sharply contrasting in outcomes, neither performance was anything to rave about. But by winning a trophy – and more importantly beating Barcelona – Mourinho atleast kept the skeptics pleased whilst reminding them that if any manager could do it against this Barcelona, it was him. But once again hewould display signs of frustration – lashing out against UEFA for decisions which went against his side, over the two Champions League ties. In truth, however, Madrid were outdone by the individual brilliance of Lionel Messi. Playing as defensively as they had over those two games hardly helped them either.

The eye poke

There were positives to garner from that particular display though. For the first time Madrid had actually shown some courage to fight Barcelona blow for blow with an attacking approach. The Special One hadn’t gone with 11 players behind the ball as showcased previously. Real were not embarrassed. In fact, mixed with the disappointment there was a sense of excitement for the season ahead and what it would bring. This time round, Mourinho felt that there was an increasing need for new squad players to improve the team. So, in came Fabio Coentrao, Hamit Altintop, Raphael Varane and Nuri Sahin to bolster the squad.Then in the Super Cup matches early this season, Barcelona came out on top despite a spirited effort from Real. To fans and neutral observers alike, it was clear that Mourinho’s men were dominant over the two legs. However, once again the play of a certain Argentine maestro proved decisive when it mattered. Left fuming in frustration, Mourinho poked Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye. It was an act sent viral, jokes are repeatedly made about it, videos compiled on YouTube and even some computer game, was made on it. For a Real Madrid supporter, however, such actions were simply depressing.

Madrid started brightly once again – in fact, exceptionally. Playing better than Barcelona was no more a fantasy. It appeared the gap has finally been closed. The team coasted through the Champions League group stages with a 100% winning record conceding the least number of goals; only one team had scored more goals than Real Madrid (no prizes for guessing who). Real started the next Clasico, in the domestic league, with a six point lead over their arch rivals. There was a chance to get a nine point cushion to dispel all the doubts. But Mourinho opted to go defensively once more and was taken apart by a rampant Barcelona side resulting in a 3-1 defeat at home. Suddenly talks of crisis began to arise. Hardly necessary as the team moved on from the loss and continued to perform.

As fate would have it, Madrid drew their arch enemies once again in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. A tie to be played over two legs. Many think Barcelona can only be beaten in a one-off knockout type clash. So, it was another chance to showcase the progress this team has made and just how far it has come. But, seemingly having learned precious little from previous outings, Mourinho chose to go with an overly defensive setup once again in the first leg at Bernabéu. Pepe was used as a destroyer in the midfield, along with Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra in a three-man midfield. Real managed an early lead through Ronaldo. But Barcelona dominated the game with the lion’s share of possession – over 70%. In the end, oddly enough, two defenders Eric Abidal and Carles Puyol,  found the goals to take a deserved victory back to Camp Nou with them. The media and supporters did not take kindly to the proceedings of Madrid dominating on their own turf; they opted to play defensively and took nothing away. Boos drowned Mourinho chants during the subsequent league match against Athletic Bilbao. The Special One‘s stock had suddenly gone down.

Coincidentally enough, days before the return leg away to Nou Camp, prominent Madrid daily, Marca ran a story about internal rifts in the squad. Supposedly Mourinho and Sergio Ramos had gotten into a heated exchange; where the player called into question his managers’ abilities and knowledge of the game. For the first time perhaps, a player had openly challenged Mourinho, who is noted to be a great man-manager. When questioned, everyone remained adamant that the squad was united and would fight to advance into the next round. Underneath the cover up, one suspected players were fed up with playing defensively and wanted to take a more offensive approach. The sentiment had been voiced before. It was up to Mourinho to respond accordingly.

And respond accordingly he did. Madrid played the best I have seen them in the last five Clasicos. In came Kaka and Ozil supporting Ronaldo and Higuain up front. The midfield was more fluent which translated into more efficient play. Pepe dropped back into defense to partner Ramos and Barcelona hardly got a sniff at goal as a result of their spirited performance. I saw ten players out there running for each other, concerned with defending a precious crest and more importantly fighting to win as supporters had been promised before the game. That display filled Madridistas worldwide with pride. They had actually gone for it with no fear, attacking fluently but remaining compact at the back too. I have no idea what convinced Mourinho to throw caution to the wind for once, but I am so glad that he chose to. Hopefully he he will have realised that having an attacking flair to the game is far more effective than playing 11 in behind the ball. It was a 2-2 draw that felt like a convincing victory owing to the manner in which the team played. You may argue that Barcelona was not at their best, which I shall begrudgingly concede but I prefer to feel that they had never faced Madrid at their finest either under Mourinho. After a long time, Barcelona finally experienced what it could be like to play a Madrid at the peak of its potential. It may never be a walk in the park again.

To answer the question I posed, I don’t feel too much is demanded of Mourinho but the time frame in which he has being asked to achieve that what is necessary is too short. Fans and management alike must show more patience. Madrid continue to make giant strides; the titles will inevitably come. Bearing in mind that Barcelona are undoubtedly the strongest team in the world currently, toppling them is a momentous task that even a manager of Mourinho’s calibre cannot guarantee within a set time frame.

A wise man once claimed: “The power of a bull is not measured at home, but in a foreign field.” Madrid are working towards being a stronger bull at home, and away to Barcelona and to all other sides which ill-fatedly cross paths with them. The progress made under Jose Mourinho is obvious. Real are on a special mission with the Special One – to dethrone the greatest team of their generation. One would be a fool to bet against that Portuguese making good.

The Next RED KNIGHT

 
Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson took over the reins as the manager of Manchester United Football Club on November 6, 1986 after the board sacked Ron Atkinson when the team was in the relegation zone. It has been close to 25 years since United had anybody else other then Sir Alex at the helm. A generation of United fans doesn’t know how it feels not to have Sir Alex blasting the living daylights out of referees from the touchline. Ferguson inherited a dispirited team of underachievers who had consistently, to their supporters’ discontent, failed to break Liverpool’s domination.

For the first few years, United didn’t win a trophy under him till 1990, when they tasted success with the FA Cup win. It is said that his job was under serious threat before the third round tie against Nottingham Forrest. Since then, there has been a never-ending supply of glories and trophies with 12 League titles, five FA Cups, two UEFA Champions League, one Club World Cup, one European Cup Winners Cup, one Inter-Continental Cup, one UEFA Super Cup and nine charity shields – in total 32 trophies.

Season after season, United have landed trophies under the great Scotsman; but after him, who? Many believe last season’s league triumph and Champions League final appearance was only possible because Sir Alex was at the helm, as the squad was poor compared to other title winning United squads. The managerial cacophony that took place after Sir Matt Busby stepped down, is etched in the memory of United fans. So, as Sir Alex completes 25 years in charge of United, the next managerial change in United will be crucial for the future of the club and will be one of the toughest decisions that the CEO of Manchester United Football Club would have to take.

It’s said that no one person is bigger than the club. When it comes to players, it holds true. But what if someone’s philosophy and direction defines the club in the modern age? Nothing of importance that happens at Manchester United goes without Ferguson’s knowledge or approval. He is as close to impossible to replace, as any manager could be. Good luck following this act.

Like everybody else, I have a speculative list of three people who I believe has the potential and credibility to take over from Sir Alex, as the manager of United. The following three managers are relatively younger, but experienced enough and successful in their own rights. In my view, the next United manager will be young, as United would certainly opt for a long term successor instead of a stop-gap arrangement, to fill the big boots of Sir Alec.

Jose Mourinho:


 

José Mário dos Santos Félix Mourinho or simply Jose Mourinho is a name that divides football fans and pundits alike. If anybody has the personality and charisma to take over from Sir Alex, then this is the man. He has worked as an assistant manager and interpreter with legendary English manager, Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto and then at FC Barcelona.  His managerial career started with Benfica, then he moved to Porto, where he won the Champions League, and then his first big move came when he took over at Chelsea from Claudio Ranieri, in 2004. Armed with Roman Abrahamovic’s financial strength, Mourinho built a Chelsea side which won its first league title in 50 years in the 2004/05 season, thus breaking the Manchester United and Arsenal hegemony at the top of English football. He also won the treble with Inter Milan and is currently manages Real Madrid.

Strengths:

He is an ‘attention-to-details’ manager. A Jose Mourinho side cannot be accused of being under-prepared. Invariably all the Mourinho teams are well-drilled with a fantastic backline. He builds his team from the defence and firmly believes in the theory that offence wins you games but defence wins you championships. He is regarded as one of the most tactically sound managers in Europe and studies the opposition team thoroughly. He is known for building personal relationships with his players and so he automatically owns the dressing room and commands fierce loyalty from his players.

Weaknesses:

Jose Mourinho is widely known for playing winning but pragmatic football which directly goes against the traditions of Manchester United. United is known for playing entertaining and free-flowing football, and the Old Trafford crowd demands not only winning football but easy-to-eye football.

Mourinho is known for playing the pantomime villain, all too well. In some cases it might take the pressure off the players, but on the downside, instead of the players, the manager may enjoy the media spotlight a bit more than what is expected in Old Trafford.

Verdict:

Jose Mourinho is the top contender from taking over from Sir Alex. He has the managerial acumen and the required charisma and personality to fill the big boots of Sir Alex. He shares a fantastic rapport with the great man, and as David Gill has stated that Sir Alex will have a huge role to play on his succesor’s choice, so Mourinho is one of the, if not the front runner for the post. Will he be ready to commit his long term future to Manchester United, build another dynasty and play the kind of football the Old Trafford demands every time the successors of the ‘Busby Babes’ take the field? 

Josep Guardiola:


 

Pep Guardiola enjoyed a stellar playing career with FC Barcelona with 263 appearances and won numerous trophies, including the European Cup in 1991-92 season. He finally left Barcelona in 2001.

His rise to become one of the most coveted managerial talents is nothing short of astounding. He was appointed as the coach of FC Barcelona B team at the start of the 2007-08 season. Under his guidance, the team subsequently won Tercera Division and qualified for the 2008 Segunda Division Playoffs, which the team won and was promoted. He replaced Frank Riijkard as the manager of Barca at the end of the 2007-08 season.

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, he made some sweeping changes to the Barca side by off-loading starts like Ronaldinho and Deco and brought in fresh players like Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Gerard Pique. In his first season with the Catalan giants, the young manager won an unprecedented six trophies, an astonishing achievement for such a young manager. He is also the youngest manager to win the UEFA Champions League and he won it TWICE, in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. He has already won three back-to-back La Liga titles. Now that’s an outstanding record for a young manager.

Strengths:

Under Guardiola, Barcelona has developed and mastered a mesmerising passing game that sometimes leaves their opponents chasing shadows in the midfield. His players are so adept in keeping the ball to their feet that the opponents are just left with no choice but to withstand all the pressure and hope to hit them back with a quick counter-attack. Another feature of Guardiola’s Barca team is the pressing game that they play, which rarely allows the opponents to settle down with the ball. The football that Barca plays is beautiful to see but extremely hard to execute and physically demanding on the players, so Pep’s players are extremely fit and he rarely rotates his team, barring injuries. Although he spent a lot of cash bringing new players to the club, he is ready to give youngsters in the club a shot at the first team, which is quite similar to Sir Alex’s and United’s philosophy of providing the youth a chance.

Weaknesses:

Josep Guardiola is regarded as one of the most, if not the most coveted young manager in the game but all his successes have been achieved in the familiar surroundings of the Catalan giants. Guardiola has played for Barcelona for a long period of time and then returned as their manager. He knows the club inside out and knows the brand of football that is needed for the La Liga. There arise questions as to how he can adjust his style of play in a different club, in a different league. Only time can answer that.

Verdict:

Josep Guardiola will be a kind of coup for Manchester United if they can acquire him. He is young, has promoted the brand of attacking football that the Old Trafford crowd bays for and will be willing to build one more dynasty. But can he adjust to a different club in a different league?

David Moyes:


 

 Had I been the CEO of Manchester United, I would not think twice before offering David Moyes to fill up the managerial vacancy, with Sir Alex not around, but unfortunately I AM NOT! David Moyes is one of the finest British managers in the game right now. He is young, tactically alert and a fantastic man manager.

His managerial career started at Preston North End in 1998, taking over from Gary Peters as the club struggled in the Division Two. Preston avoided relegation and qualified for the Division two playoffs, which they lost. The following season, they won the Division Two title and was promoted to Division One and qualified for the playoffs with largely the same squad that won the Division Two title.

Moyes left for Everton to take over from Walter Smith in 2002. If we take Everton’s budget into account then Moyes has achieved miracles with the club, and unearthed and harnessed talents like Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Jack Rodwell, Seamus Coleman and the latest one, Ross Barkley. Everton achieved Champions League qualification in the 2004-05 season, a remarkable achievement for a club with a small budget.

Strengths:

I haven’t seen much of Preston North End but whatever I have seen of Everton in the last 10 years, I can safely say, that a David Moyes team won’t leave anything behind in the field, whatever the result might be. A trip to Goodison Park is always a tough fixture in the League calendar – an Everton team will hurry and hassle the opponent into making mistakes while displaying remarkable team ethic and commitment. They work their socks off on the field. David Moyes is known for making some smart buys and loan moves, as Everton’s budget is very low. This season Everton’s net spend was NEGATIVE, the only top-flight club with a negative net spend. Players like Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta (who left for Arsenal this season), Royston Drenthe and Steven Pienaar were brought to top flight English football by David Moyes. Tactically smart and a fantastic man manager, David Moyes is a special managerial talent.

Weaknesses:

David Moyes has harnessed his managerial skills at Preston North End and Everton. With no offence to Everton, can Moyes handle the pressure and expectations that come with being the manager of a big club like Manchester United? Over and above, he doesn’t have much experience of playing or managing in Europe, which is tactically a totally different ball game.

Verdict:

If there is one British manager that deserves his chance of managing a top club like Manchester United, then David Moyes is the man. United’s ethos lies in the fact that they try to build the foundation of a team through young players and they put a lot of emphasis on their youth academy. Moyes is known for identifying young players and nurturing them. Wayne Rooney is one of the best examples of a prodigal young player, nurtured by Moyes. He will carry forward the tradition, from Sir Alex, of building a team on young up-starts. He will be keen to build his own legacy at Manchester United and if he achieves success, then United need not worry about another managerial vacancy for a long time. I have discussed the strength of a typical David Moyes team. As opposed to Pep and Mourinho, Moyes doesn’t have the requisite funds but his strength lies in the way he prepares the team, and his penchant for an astute buy.

Triviela – Beyond Trivia

The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these.

                                                                                                                                                              

Momentous Win

When a Christiano Ronaldo goal gave Real Madrid a victory over an all conquering Barcelona team at the Estadio Mestalla, Valencia on 20 April 2011, it was more than a cup win for the club, the manager and couple of its players. Even though Real Madrid is one of the giants of Spanish and European football, they had endured a complete barren phase for 2 years and it was only due to the fact that their perennial rivals, Barcelona was sporting perhaps the best club team of all time. The Copa Del Rey was the only Madrid victory in the 5 El Classicos of the season and since the time they last won the La Liga in the 2007-08 season.

For manager Jose Mourinho, it was a continuation of a tradition where he has won a trophy in the first year in each of his last 4 clubs in the last decade. Starting his managerial career at the beginning of the millennium with Benfica in 2000, Mourinho had a brief one year spell with União de Leiria whom he took to their highest league position of 5th. The next season he was at Porto and thus started his career of remaining unbeaten at home and winning trophies in his first year at a club. He won the Portuguese Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal and UEFA Cup in 2002-03. He would go on to win the English Premier League and League Cup in his debut year of 2004-05 with Chelsea. At Inter, he won the Serie A and Supercoppa Italiana on his debut in 2008-09 season. In that respect, failing to win the La Liga in his debut for Real Madrid may be considered a failure but at least the Copa del Rey proved he had something to show at the end of his 1st year.

The Copa del Rey also completed a set for one of the finest goalkeepers of this generation. Iker Casillas had won 4 La Ligas, 3 Supercopa de España, 2 Champions Leagues, an UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, a World Cup, a European Championship, European U15 and U16 championships and a FIFA World Youth Championship. With the Copa del Rey, he completed the domestic set. With the exception of the Olympics, that is as complete a set as possible for a club and country combined and who knows, he may even win that in future.

Parting Shot: Alvaro Arbeloa, is perhaps a unique footballer in that he has played for many big clubs – Real Madrid (twice; having come through the youth ranks), Liverpool and Deportivo La Coruna but had yet to win any silverware for his clubs. Call him a bad omen at your risk though, for he has a European Cup and World Cup with Spain. Finally this win broke that & he also played for 120 minutes of the final.

Show Me The Goals

Fernando Torres has become from an iconic striker of his generation to a laughing stock since his € 58.5 mn deal to Chelsea. From scoring the tournament winning goal and being the man of the match in the European Cup, 2008, Torres has had a steady decline for Spain accentuated by the sheer lack of goals after his move to Chelsea. In fact since scoring the winner for Liverpool away to Wolverhampton Wanderers on 22 January 2011 (his last appearance for the Reds), Torres has played 1552 minutes for Chelsea in various competitions in 26 matches and scored only 3 goals till 10 October 2011. That is a shocking return of 517 minutes per goal. In the same period he has played 7 times for Spain for a combined 255 minutes and managing a single goal against United States.

There may be many reasons for this slump of Torres .We, here, are not going to ascertain the reason but just point out that how a similar fate had befallen another great European striker in the last decade after his multimillion euro move to Chelsea.

Andrei Shevchenko is a Milan Legend and the favourite son of Ukraine. His feats of goalscoring for Dynamo Kiev include 121 goals in 237 appearances which puts him fourth on the list of the club’s all time scorers. Perhaps he exceeded even that when he scored 175 times in 322 matches for Milan which made him the second highest scorer in Milan’s history. He also has 67 goals in 141 matches in European competitions which puts him just 5 behind all time leader Raul and 3 behind his long time partner Filippo Inzaghi. For his national team, he is an icon with over 100 appearances and over 50 of them as a captain (still continuing). He has scored 46 goals for Ukraine and a measure of how vital they have been can be gauged from the fact that only two other Ukrainian has scored more than 9 and #2 on this list is Serhiy Rebrov with 15. His calibre and stature among the all-time great hitmen of Europe in this century is unquestionable and the Ballon D’or of 2004 confirms that.

When Shevchenko left Milan for Chelsea at the behest of Roman Abramovich (or the desires of his American wife to put their child in an English atmosphere – as Sheva had widely accepted at the time) it was for a record € 46 mn. At that time, he was the player fetching the highest ever transfer fee that Milan, albeit unwillingly, had sold. What followed at Chelsea was a remarkable downturn of fortunes.  At Chelsea, in 2 stints he made 77 appearances scoring 22 goals. In those same years he played 13 matches for Ukraine scoring 6 times.

But Shevchenko was 30 when he moved to Chelsea and it is likely that a striker loses some of his sharpness beyond that age. Torres made his move before his 27th birthday and if his barren spell persists, the next big striker to move to Stamford Bridge for an astronomical sum may well consult an astrologer before confirming the move.

Parting Shot: Chelsea is the 3rd club in the career of Shevchenko and Torres. Sheva’s first two transfers fetched € 69 mn. His next two were for free. Torres’ first two transfers have fetched € 96.5 mn. He better get his act together though before he becomes a free transfer quality.

Football Management is Easy…NOT!

The concept of Football Management doesn’t sound that tough especially for those who have mastered various football management games. Find good players, pick and buy ‘em, and win games. In theory, it is the very essence of simplicity. So why then, is there such a difference between the Alex Fergusons and the Gian Piero Gasperinis of this world? What separates the successful from the sacked? What does a football manager need in order to become a success and likewise, what might lead to a manager’s failure?

By looking at some high profile managers, both past and present, we can get an understanding of both. From those that I have actually looked at closely, in recent times, we have managers like Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, while from times past, the name of Brian Clough springs to mind. What are the key factors that make these men the great managers they are? There possibly are many factors that play their roles, but let me highlight two I find the most striking.

Three of a kind

The support of the Chairman/Owner/Board

It is not the most difficult thing to comprehend that only if the manager is supported from the top can he hope to succeed. The owners have to believe in the direction the manager takes the club on the field. They need to provide support when match results fail to meet expectations, try as much and avoid public criticism of him, arrange for availability of proper transfer funds and above all, steer clear of picking the team. A prime example of this kind of support is the early career of Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. In December 1989, after a run of bad results and some heavy defeats, most of the English media and the Man Utd fans were calling for Ferguson to be sacked. The Board of Directors instead offered their full support. How different would the history of English and European football have been in the last 20 years if the Directors of Man Utd had not done so? Would Man Utd be, as they are now, one of the world’s biggest clubs in the world and have a record of 19 English League titles? I can say with almost complete certainty that they would not.

In marked contrast to Ferguson at Man Utd, there is the situation that Gian Piero Gasperini found himself in, at Inter. It was no secret that he was not Massimo Moratti’s first choice. Indeed, it would appear that he was as low as fifth on Inter’s wish list for a new coach when he was appointed in June 2011. This was public knowledge so it was hardly likely to make him feel secure at the beginning of his tenure. Inter’s results did not go Gasperini’s way to say the least. The situation was not helped either, by Moratti publicly calling on the manager to change his tactics following a defeat. Gasperini had also clearly planned on not having Wesley Sneijder in his squad, as the Dutchman was Old Trafford bound for most of the summer. Now Gasperini is one of those managers who prefer a three-man defense. He has always played 3-4-3 and when he came to Inter, it was not expected he would change that. Gasperini’s controversial formation had no real place for a player like Sneijder, yet when the proposed transfer fell through, the pressure came on Gasperini to start the midfielder in his team. Once again, this pressure came from the owner of the Club undermining the manager.

This was a ridiculous situation and nobody was particularly surprised when Gasperini was sacked in September 2011 after failing to win any of the 5 games in charge. Certainly it’s a poor record but can any manager be judged over 5 games? I think not. It would seem that Gasperini’s position was always precarious but it was Moratti’s actions that contributed directly to the coach’s failure. The final word on this situation should perhaps be left to the late Brian Clough and might have given Moratti pause for thought: “If a chairman sacks the manager he initially appointed, he should go as well.”  Indeed.

Man-Management Skills

Once more this may seem obvious, but I think it’s more than just being able to handle difficult players or rotate your team. The great managers inspire their players to be loyal to them and to obey them without question. This can be done in different ways. I would say that Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough did this through highly autocratic styles of management. Their teams were not democracies, rather they were dictatorships. In contrast, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola appear to operate a much more egalitarian style of management. Both methods can be made to work very successfully but a good manager must have his player’s total commitment, regardless of how he gets it.

I do not think Ferguson is, or has ever been, “friends” with any of his players. He does not negotiate with them or placate them – he is ruthless and his word is law at Old Trafford. He will without hesitation get rid of great players like Roy Keane and Jaap Stam as soon as they step out of line. This lets every other player know that they are expendable and that if you want to play for Man Utd, you do as Ferguson orders. I believe this is why United are famed for their last minute goals and willpower to win – the players are literally afraid to face Ferguson after a defeat or a poor performance. Ask David Beckham, you never know when a flying boot might hit you….

Brian Clough was also a manager who achieved huge success by ruling his players with an iron fist. In a famous quote, he once responded to a question about what happened if one of his players disagreed with a decision he had made: “We talk about it for twenty minutes and then we decide I was right.” Clearly, Clough tolerated no opposition from his players. He required their unconditional loyalty and obedience and in return guaranteed them trophies. As his success showed, it was an arrangement which, more often than not, worked very well.

Clough and Ferguson’s methods are certainly one way of getting what you want from your team. Both ruled their players absolutely but, rather than inhibiting their teams, it inspired them to success.  However, there are also other approaches to man management that appear to link the most successful managers of the last three seasons in Europe.

Mourinho and Guardiola seem to inspire their teams to great success in a much less confrontational way, acting almost like equals rather than autocrats. Mourinho was well known to be friendly with many of the Chelsea players like Drogba, Lampard and Terry. He got the best out of them by being one of them. This is rumoured to be the reason that Phil Scolari subsequently failed at Stamford Bridge. He tried to impose his more dictatorial style of management on the team and the players didn’t buy into it.

At Barcelona, Guardiola has built one of the greatest football teams the world has ever known by having some of the best players in the world, who are also the hardest working team in the world. The Barcelona players will literally run themselves into the ground during a game as they are completely committed to Guardiola and his vision of how football should be played. As Guardiola is a young manager, he can, I believe, connect with his players on a personal level. There is a two-way loyalty at work between the manager and his players (as there is with Mourinho at Madrid and formerly Inter and Chelsea) and this has been a key factor to success.

The absence of player commitment to a manager’s vision for the club is fatal. It can be argued that this resulted in the failures of managers like the aforementioned Scolari and Gasperini at Chelsea and Inter respectively and Roy Hodgson at Liverpool. It was also famously to blame for Brian Clough’s ill-fated spell as manager of Leeds United.

Conclusion

For a manager to succeed, they must have support from above and below, from Chairman and players. Without both of these, consistent success is impossible. Without the backing of the owners, a manager can never feel secure at a club and will never be able to bring whatever vision he may have to the club. Without commitment from the players, that vision will never be realised on the pitch. No amount of tactical genius will help make up for the players not giving 100%. There are certainly many other factors that go into separating great managers from those who have failed but, in my opinion, these are the two most important.

In conclusion then: Real life Football management – not as easy as it looks.

                                                                                                                                                              

Eoghan McMonaglecan be reached at eoghan.mcmonagle@gmail.com