Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Match Day 7 includes what may seem like three uneven matches. But don't be fooled by reputation and pedigree. The best coaches in the world can engineer surprising results.

  • The World Cup's only black coach
  • Mexico's profesor has faith in El Tri even if Mexico doesn't have faith in him
  • El Maestro has remade Uruguay with some of his own grit
  • Is that Johnny Marr of The Smiths?
Germany coach Joachim Löw during his team's Group F game against Mexico.

Who's in charge here?

When I was a little kid, about my son's age now, I would wear my cleats and shinguards socks pulled up, Marlboro Soccer shirt tucked in to watch the Cosmos at Giants Stadium. I secretly believed that if all the players got hurt, they'd start recruiting from the stands.

Now that I'm older than recently-retired players, I indulge a different delusion: one where I con my way into Coverciano, Italy's celebrated coaching academy, with a convincing essay. Maybe I land a job coaching some third-division club somewhere to promotion before Carlos Cordeiro and Earnie Stewart ring me up. 

This  fantasy may be a little insulting to the 32 coaches leading teams at the World Cup  strategic geniuses, tacticians of the highest order and master motivators, all of them.

As hard as it is to find the right coaches, they're still seemingly easy to criticize and even discard.

Julen Loportegui was undefeated as the coach of Spain heading in to the World Cup and had the team playing better than the 2010 edition that won the title in South Africa.

His success didn't save him from being unceremoniously dumped on the eve of the tournament after he pissed off the Spanish federation's president, Luis Rubiales.

Fernando Hierro, Spain's technical director, took Loportegui's place on the bench, and it doesn't appear to have made much of a difference given his familiarity with the team and the players' overall talent. It's not like EA Sports' FIFA, with Hierro TriangleCircleCross and Square ing on the sidelines to get Nacho to shoot and Isco to pass. Those guys know pretty well what to do and how to do it.

Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni may have been modest when he said, “a good manager can make a team 10 percent better; a bad manager can make that same team 30 percent worse.”

Trapattoni was a great manager. And he'd be the first to tell you his success was due to his players. 

The best players don't often make the best coaches, but there have been a few on-field luminaries who have also been successful on the sidelines.

Zinedine Zidane won more European Champions League trophies as manager of Real Madrid than he did as its star player. Johan Cruyff turned (see what I did there) his artfully cerebral style of play into a championship coaching philosophy adopted by two countries. Franz Beckenbauer, known as Der Kaiser, won the World Cup as a player (1974) and coach of West Germany (1990).

Brazil's Mário Zagallo was the first to do that, winning two as a player (1958 and 1962), one as a coach (1970) and another as an assistant (1994).

At this World Cup, only two coaches have won the trophy before — Didier Deschamps of France, as a player in 1998, and Joachim Löw, the German coach who won four years ago. 

Löw is under fire after his team was beat by Mexico, which is led by its own profesor, Juan Carlos Osorio. (Coaches often get affectionate and respectful nicknames like "gaffer" or "mister" or "maestro.")

Expect Löw to keep everyone cool ahead of Germany's second game against Sweden on Saturday. “We will not just break apart now and become headless and do something completely different," he said this week. "There is no need to break out in panic just because we have lost a match.”

Read more about the coaches leading their teams on Match Day 7.

RUN OF PLAY | Great Reads and More

'We have no inferiority complex with European countries.'
Sengal's Aliou Cissé, the only black coach at the World Cup in Russia, steered his team to an emphatic 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday. Senegal is in good position to advance to the knockout rounds, much as it did in 2002, when Cissé was captain. "In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead," Cissé said.

Read more from AS.

'El Maestro' has remade Uruguay with some of his own grit.
Óscar  Tabárez is so singularly focused on preparing Uruguay to contend for the World Cup that he glosses over the fact he can't walk unaided, often using crutches or a motorized scooter to get around. The neuropathy that limits his mobility has not slowed him down: In 12 years in charge, he has transformed Uruguayan soccer, leading the team to the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup and ushering in a new style of positive play that is not a complete departure from the country's tradition of “la garra charrua”  loosely translated as the warrior's grip. I always wanted to write a full profile of Tabárez, a former school teacher. This article was the closest I came.

Read more about him from The Guardian.

Mexico lacks faith in Osorio, but the coach has full faith in El Tri.
Juan Carlos Osorio has been under attack ever since he started coaching Mexico almost three years ago. Though he won more than two-thirds of his games while in charge, many were still calling for him to be fired as recently as last week. Even after his team beat Germany 1-0 in Mexico's Group F opening match, Osorio only earned a short reprieve. “There is no country in the world that keeps so much pressure on a national team coach," he told The New York Times before the World Cup. The Colombian-born, American-educated coach who worked construction and food service as an illegal immigrant in the United States has Mexico poised for its deepest run at the World Cup since 1986.

Read more from The New York Times.

Coolest nose-picker on the sidelines.
No, that's not Johnny Marr, guitarist for The Smiths, on the bench for Germany. The mod man in black is Joachim Löw, the cooler-than-cool coach of the 2014 World Cup winner. Löw was a pretty good player for a second-tier club in the 1980s. As a coach, he is a tactical guru and motivator of the highest order. Like your cool older brother (if your brother kept getting caught picking his nose on camera). Before sending substitute Mario Götze out to score the winning goal in Brazil four years ago, Löw told him, "Show the world that you're better than Messi."

Read more about Löw and his rise to become the world's coolest soccer coach.

Match Day 7


POR vs. MOR, Group B, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow; 8 a.m. ET
URU vs. KSA, Group A, Rostov-On-Don; 11 a.m. ET
IRN vs. ESP, Group B, Kazan; 2 p.m. ET
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The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.

— Danny Blanchflower
Tottenham captain and Northern Ireland international turned journalist

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