Meeting the four wise men
Former Australian cricketer Shane Warne once famously remarked that the only coach he knew was the one that carried players to and from matches.
While I agree that the players are the main protagonists, in the modern professional era, the men better-termed as managers play a crucial role in shaping their respective side’s playing pattern and systematic approach.
The four wise men who remain in Brazil, namely Luiz Felipe Scolari, Joachim Loew, Louis van Gaal and Alejandro Sabella, have made their mark and will further earn their keep in the final stages of the 2014 World Cup.
I believe the characteristic that separates the good managers from the great ones, is the latter’s ability to take an adverse situation and make bold, often unpopular decisions when the stakes are at their highest.
Van Gaal’s decision to substitute his first-choice goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, and replace him with Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica in the quarterfinal, for example, was a managerial masterstroke.
Modern managers are increasingly results rather than ideology-driven and, in Brazil, the four remaining managers’ success has primarily come about owing to a largely pragmatic approach.
Brazil’s boss, Scolari, is the perfect example of the above and knows that winning ugly is sometimes required. In the face of intense pressure from a highly-demanding football public, he has remained resolute in terms of approach and unapologetic as far as playing winning rather than beautiful football, when required.
Scolari has favoured two holding midfielders in what is counter-traditional compared to Brazilian teams of the past. However, after Brazil’s failure at the 2010 World Cup, he realised you can’t have 11 “Neymars” in a team.
Hard-tackling players such as Paulinho, Luis Gustavo and Fernandinho are required to offer balance and protection for a team that boasts such attack-minded full-backs, as Brazil do.
Furthermore, Scolari sticks by a disciplined approach and commands respect as a previous World Cup winner. In the 65-year-old’s case, no player is bigger than him and he maintains a “do it my way or hit the highway” mentality.
At 54, Germany’s Loew is the youngest of the four managers. He is a vibrant mentor who has brought a new philosophy and tactical methodology to the senior national side.
Germany have developed as a squad since their third-place finish in South Africa in 2010.
One of the key differences is the way in which a player like Mesut Ozil, for example, has adopted more of a defence-minded role.
Loew made the observation that “this tournament has shown that no team has been able to play brilliant, attacking football because there has been so much physical destructiveness set against that.”
The game today has become one that favours the more physical athletes. Modern footballers have to be physically strong as well as tactically aware and technically sound.
The current German side appears to have found the right balance on all fronts, and I believe that Loew must be credited for the way in which the unit has evolved.
Much like the managers outlined above, the Netherlands’ Van Gaal has gone against the grain. He has openly stated that he favours winning football over “total football’’.
Wherever the newly-appointed Manchester United manager has gone in his career, he has enjoyed success. In addition, there is no doubt that the man nicknamed the “Iron Tulip” does it his way and is unfazed by public sentiment.
The counter-attacking approach, for instance, which the Dutch have employed, has not surprised me, owing to the pace of Arjen Robben and sharpness of 20-year-old Memphis Depay, who has had an eye-catching tournament.
Van Gaal is a gifted manager in that he has the ability to both micro and macro-manage.
Moreover, he is a meticulous planner and leaves no stone unturned, as evidenced in the Krul-Cillessen scenario.
In my book, Argentina’s Sabella is the least authoritative of the four managers still doing duty in Brazil.
He began the tournament with an overly-conservative approach and even received flak from his own players. To his credit, he made tactical alterations and reshuffled his formation from a 5-3-2 to a 4-3-3.
While he has not been rigid in terms of approach, and has taken heed of internal criticism which is a positive trait, for me, he does not command as much respect as the other three managers at this moment in time.
It’s fair to say that of the last four managers in Brazil, the 59-year-old is the one with the lowest profile. However, the simplest way to garner status and support is to keep winning.
Which of the four managers have most impressed you and why? Tell us what you think by posting your comments below…..