An increasing number of Premier League stars are using revolutionary virtual reality training to maintain their technique during the coronavirus pandemic.
Who is the best football (soccer) manager in world football?
Diego Simeone is perhaps the most sought after rising star in the football management world. Before becoming notorious as manager of Atletico Madrid, he won two league titles in his native Argentina. On his arrival in Spain, he galvanized an underachieving Atletico side and took them to 5th in the league. He also guided them to victory in the 2012 Europa League. In his first full season as manager, his team thrashed Chelsea in the European Super Cup before winning the 2013 Spanish domestic cup. Next came Simeone’s greatest achievement as Atletico Madrid manager: winning the 2014 Spanish league title by finishing ahead of both Barcelona and Real Madrid. Simeone’s ongoing European success has only been limited by narrow defeats to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals.
This more defensive Simeone was clear to see when he returned to Racing, with critics despairing at his conservative approach despite having the attacking talents of Colombian pair, forward Teofilo Gutierrez and playmaker Gio Moreno, at his disposal.
His frenetic, constant changing of clubs during this period was mirrored by Atletico Madrid’s approach to coaches and in the five years before Simeone’s appointment five came and went: Javier Aguirre, Abel Resino, Santi Denia, Quique Sanchez Flores and Gregorio Manzano.
By the time Atletico came calling, Siemone had settled on a style that was an ideal for the club’s history: uncompromising, committed, tough, and direct. He was meticulous and would seek every advantage possible. This ranged from checking the horoscopes of potential transfer targets to fighting to make sure Atletico had the same number of ball boys in the Spanish Cup Final against Real Madrid when the Bernabeu was selected as the host stadium.
“We want a team with commitment,” he said of his plans for Atletico. “One that plays, runs, trains, respects the rival, and understands the intelligence in the game.” And his blueprint gave spectacular results. He took over with Atletico 10th in the table, but just four points off the relegation zone. Within five months they ended the season fifth and won the Europa League, beating Athletic Bilbao and his former international coach Bielsa in the Final.
Then came the European Super Cup, then the Spanish Cup, then the league title and then the Spanish Super Cup. Five trophies put Simeone behind only Luis Aragones as the most successful coach in the club’s history.
Much of Simeone’s success as a coach has been down to his ability to get the best out of his players.
Falcao excelled under him at both River and in Spain, while Juanfran, Antoine Griezmann and Koke have all improved at Atletico in terms of performance levels.
Yet he also does not look to improve players’ weaknesses, explaining that “a player must play the way he knows best and that way he will believe he is better than he is”. He also insists on building team camaraderie without forcing the issue. So, for example, at meal times he wants his squad sitting at one vast table “face to face”, rather than divided into groups on smaller tables. His man- management has not only brought out the best in his established players, but also helped youngsters to break through.
Luciano Vietto, who he recently signed for Atletico, was given his first-team debut by Simeone.
Having signed a new contract that runs until 2020, Simeone has given a clear indication to his players that he has little reason to leave Atletico. “Only Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona are better than us,” he told Argentinian television recently.
But Simeone is conditioned by Atletico’s resources, which are not in the same category as those clubs he mentions. Internazionale and Lazio are among those who are likely to come calling at some point, and he is also taking English classes.
“I want to coach until I am 65,” he told El Grafico when asked about the national team job.
“And if that happens when I am 60, then great.”
One of the finest Italian footballers of his generation, he left the game and stepped into management. He would go on to assist Sacchi at the 1994 World Cup and owes much of his coaching style to his mentor. Perhaps more disciplined than Sacchi, he retains his philosophical approach to the game. Shrugging off the label of “nearly man” after two second place finishes with Parma and Juventus, he has molded the image of a man who will win you trophies.
After eight fruitful seasons in Milan under Silvio Berlusconi, he went on to win domestic titles with Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain . Eventually he would arrive at Real Madrid and go on to win the Champions League and Copa del Rey in his first season.
“The Future of Football: more dynamism.” The words of a young Ancelotti starting out in management. Ancelotti would guide Reggiana to Serie A after promotion from Serie B in his debut season as a manager, the last man to do so. Attracting the attention of bigger clubs, Parma approached him at the end of his maiden season as the man in charge. His home team, one that still has photos of a young Carlo on its walls, was devastated to see him leave.
At Parma, he would go on to coach a team that boasted Gigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro along with a host of other Italian stars to second place in Serie A. He was developing a fast-growing reputation as a former player who now had the pedigree of a successful manager. He managed two seasons with Parma in which he had reasonable success in the league and Europe – though this success ultimately came without winning any trophies or threatening the elite clubs in Italy.
It was one of these elite clubs, Juventus, who hired Ancelotti at the end of that second season in Parma. Juventus had just won back-to-back scudetti under Marcello Lippi and expected much the same from Ancelotti. Upon arriving at the club, he was firmly reminded of his country roots by sections of the fans who didn’t view him worthy of managing them, the clubs ultras remarking that “pigs can’t manage”. He would lead Juventus to a second place finish in his first season in charge and was controversially sacked at half-time by the club during last game of the season… when they were still in with a chance of winning the league.
After this brutal dismissal he had developed a reputation as a nearly man, coming so close with Parma and Juventus to winning major honours but ultimately falling away. Juventus reappointed Lippi as manager – who had just been sacked by Inter – and he would go on to pip Ancelotti’s Milan to two consecutive in the following two seasons. It was after his dismissal from Juventus that a certain Silvio Berlusconi came approaching. In his own words, Ancelotti found Berlusconi to be a “passionate footballing man” with whom he could relate to. He had worked with him previously while playing for AC Milan in the 1980s and their relationship would provide the building block for a stable eight year period with the club.
You have to go back to Milan in the 1980s under Sacchi and Fabio Capello to find teams as successful as the one managed by Ancelotti from 2001-2009. Immensely popular with the players, it is said that Rino Gattuso, of all people, cried when Ancelotti announced he would leave the club for Chelsea. They would go on to reach three Champions League finals in an eight year period, and bring home Ol’ Big Ears twice.
He brought together a myriad of world class stars as Berlusconi forced expensive attackers upon him in an effort to stop Ancelotti from playing so defensively. His methods won out in the end and are proven with the success he ultimately had at the club. A disciplinarian, it is this approach and hard work which have formed the backbone of most of his teams.
During his time at the Rossoneri he adapted from his traditional 4-4-2 formation, which he inherited from his time with Sacchi, to the 4-2-3-1 that is popular now. A believer of high energy, counter-attacking football, he has always demanded that his teams work hard, are willing to make sacrifices, and take risks for the good of the team. The loss to 2005 could be viewed by some as an example of his strengths as a manager and trainer. Most would have left that final unable to motivate the team and many would have left it without a club. But what is remembered as a dark night in Milanese minds is one that eventually led to redemption; Milan would face Liverpool for the second time in the Champions League final in 2007. This time, however, they would win.
To remould the team and come back fighting after such a psychological blow is a remarkable achievement. It is no surprise that Ancelotti lasted so long under Berlusconi, where he and the players clearly had so much faith in ‘Carletto’. A career filled with silverware and the names of great players and managers, he is unique in his ability to command respect from all quarters. It is his calm approach and ability to man-manage that makes him so likeable and so effective at clubs with a previously high turnover of managers.
However, questions can be asked of his reign at Milan domestically. With one of the finest sides ever assembled, Ancelotti only managed to win one scudetto, one Coppa Italia and one Supercoppa. His approach is often branded as “soft” by his critics who claim that, to his detriment, he is unable to put his foot down when it counts most.
Ancelotti would leave Milan for Chelsea in May, 2009, announcing his resignation two hours after the Rossoneri beat Fiorentina in the league. Chelsea is a club that often ignites debate and their owner, Roman Abramovich, plays a leading role. According to his father, Ancelotti enjoyed the Russian’s company, seeing the similarities between Abramovich and Berlusconi and describing him as “a real football man”.
He had been courted by Chelsea for a year before deciding to join from Milan, and it was this like for Abramovich that ultimately led to his decision. In his first season at the club, Chelsea won the Premier League and the FA Cup – the first domestic double in the club’s history. They finished the season on 103 goals, the first team to win the Premier League and score over 100 goals since Tottenham in 1963.
His second season at the London club would not be as fruitful as the first. They managed a second place finish in the end, but at one point were as low as fifth in the table. Even after the winter recruits of an ultimately overpriced Fernando Torres from Liverpool and a dodgy David Luiz from Benfica. Ancelotti was sacked two hours after his final game of the season and received a pay-out of roughly £4 million for his services.
He is remembered for his tenure at Chelsea as a man who should have been given more time. His Chelsea side played good football, he had contained the egos in the dressing room, and everyone was united for the first time since José Mourinho While he had developed a winning relationship with Berlusconi at Milan and was allowed the room to fail, he did not find the same breathing space at Chelsea.
A mixed spell at Paris Saint-Germain would follow – including an humiliating second place finish to minnows Montpellier in the league – reigniting the old Italian belief that Ancelotti is merely a nearly man.
On the field, Carletto was an Italian legend. An unremarkable player who preferred to shy away from the limelight, he has worked with some of the most iconic managers and players in history. As a result, Ancelotti is a perfect fit for a team like Real Madrid, despite his humble upbringing and reserved nature.
Winning the Copa del Rey and Champions League in his debut season, he was the smart choice to succeed the fiery Mourinho. A manager he has an intertwining story with, his predecessor had burnt all his bridges and alienated key players before he left the club. His reign was constantly marred with scandal in the press before his departure – not least the deplorable eye-gouging incident on Tito Vilanova and the fallings out with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas. A team that looked leaderless under Mourinho when the wheels had come off, they have emerged from the ashes as one that is very much together.
An interesting comparison is made by some who compare Carlo the “peacemaker” to José the “warmonger”. The two narratives fit perfectly when you look at the clubs that both have managed. Carlo was the first manager since Mourinho to reunite the Chelsea squad for a sustained period of time under a single manager, and also the first man to bring them a league and cup double. He has done much the same at Real Madrid, using his humble, likeable nature to bring people together.
Question marks regarding Ancelotti will always remain, however; some suggest the majority of his success has come off the back of previous managers’ hard work. It’s a false statement; previous success guarantees nothing and the Italian has consistently stamped his own authority wherever he has gone.
His ability to stay out of the spotlight is remarkable and often attributed to the humble nature of his upbringing. Scandal rarely follows the man from Reggiolo. His two Champions League wins with Milan remain one of the great achievements in modern football history. When you consider the haul of trophies he has amassed from his career as a manager and a player, it is hard not to credit him as being one of the finest football minds of the last 30 years.
It’s strange, then, that when we consider the greatest managers of all time – indeed, the greatest football minds – that Ancelotti is often overlooked. Perhaps it is his lack of longevity outside of Milan and his ‘nouveau-riche’ image that ultimately limits him. That shouldn’t, however, cast doubt on a career that has seen him win five European Cups, four domestic league titles, two Club World Cups and a place in the glittering Italian Hall of Fame.
One tends to measure the quality and class of a coach – especially a national coach – purely in terms of results and trophies won. Germany’s Joachim Löw certainly delivers in this department: with him on the bench, either in charge or as assistant coach, the team reached the semi-finals of five big tournaments in a row and, of course, won the top prize last summer in Brazil.
However, his greatest achievement might very well be changing not just the look but the style, the image and the reputation of a national team that used to be feared and respected rather than loved or admired – and which has now become the model almost everyone aspires to achieve.
With him on the bench, either in charge or as assistant coach, the team reached the semi-finals of five big tournaments in a row
Germany’s Löw point
The dark, dark days of the German game seem so far in the past that many people have forgotten why and how Löw became a member of the Germany set-up in the first place.
In 2004, after a disastrous showing at the European Championship and with the World Cup on home soil looming large, nobody with anything to lose wanted to be at the helm of a hopeless team. You could say Jürgen Klinsmann, a man without coaching experience, got the job because he was the only one who stepped forward and volunteered.
Klinsmann’s one condition was that he would be allowed to overhaul everything. One day after his official presentation, he announced the 44-year-old Löw would be his assistant coach. “I haven’t spent 10 or 15 years on the bench,” Klinsmann said. “So I want to have a coach at my side who has.”
This was only a slight exaggeration. Löw didn’t have a distinguished playing career – his best years were with Freiburg in the second division – but he had already coached in four different countries (Switzerland, Germany, Turkey, Austria) and was known for tactically flexible, attacking football.
His biggest success was winning the domestic cup with Stuttgart and then taking the team to the Cup Winners’ Cup final against Chelsea in 1998. But despite those results, Löw’s Stuttgart contract wasn’t extended. As the newspaper Die Welt put it, the club’s powerful president Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder preferred “rugged slave drivers” and was “watching with suspicion what happened on the training pitch, where there was a lot of laughter and the coach made everyone feel involved”. Put differently, Löw seemed too friendly, too affable.
Chelsea denied Low the Cup Winners’ Cup with Stuttgart
The decision not to extend Löw’s contract turned out to be such a terrible mistake that Mayer-Vorfelder himself would soon be ousted from his post, but the damage was done. Löw had acquired a reputation for being too soft on his players – ‘the Nice Mr. Löw’ was a nickname that would follow him – and began a somewhat nomadic existence, coaching five clubs in as many years until Klinsmann came calling and said he wanted to change everything.
Of course it didn’t happen overnight, but everyone who had seen an ageing, defensive, uninspired Germany lumber across the pitch in 2004 and compared it to the young, attacking, exciting team which defied all odds and almost reached the World Cup final only two years later must have been aware that this wasn’t just luck or a fluke – it was a revolution.
In the years following Klinsmann’s resignation in 2006, Löw proved those critics right who said he had been the main architect of the revolution as it happened on the pitch.
He also proved those critics wrong who used to denounce him as the Nice Mr. Löw. His unwavering loyalty to certain players regardless of their club form – Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski or Sami Khedira are good examples – was rewarded time and time again and also explains why the national team became such a close-knit group driven by team spirit. But it also meant that some players couldn’t break into this circle even though the press loudly lobbied for them. Bayer Leverkusen marksman Stefan Kiessling comes to mind, or how Michael Ballack suddenly found himself shooed out of the set-up.
But that’s what a coach with a vision and a plan has to do. And if the hallmark of a great manager is building a team in his image – leaving his mark on a side’s style – then Löw had become a great coach long before he finally won a title, because his fluent, attacking, technically accomplished team thrilled German fans more than any side since the fabled 1972 team.
However, football being the ruthless business it is, Löw still needed the finishing touch – the final victory over Argentina in Brazil. Because at home there were growing voices that said it might be better to play like the Germany of old and actually win something instead of being flashy, exciting – and finishing second or third.
Löw at last proved you could do both: reinvent yourself and win. Not bad for a nice man.
“One of only 19 managers to have ever won the World Cup, Löw has finally added tangible success to the style which has won many admirers. After all, before last summer’s triumph Löw had only won one major trophy, the 1997 German Cup, as well as tasting success in Austria, something of a European football backwater.
“Without discrediting Löw’s part in Germany’s reinvention, it’s fair to say he was in the right place at the right time to reap the benefits of Germany’s youth football revolution. The primary factor in Germany winning last summer’s World Cup was simple: they had an excellent squad. A plethora of talented attacking players, some of the best midfielders around and a host of solid defenders. Oh, and the world’s best goalkeeper.
Low became the first Germany coach in 24 years to win the World Cup
“Löw chopped and changed, which initially appeared like he didn’t quite know his best team. Eventually, though, he seemed to get the majority of selection decisions right, and eventually found Philipp Lahm returning to full-back, and Miroslav Klose providing a traditional striking presence, worked best.
They say never go back, but it’s as if Jose Mourinho was never away. Since returning to Stamford Bridge two summers ago, the Portuguese has proved that he is forged from everything that makes the Premier League such a compelling spectacle both on the pitch and beyond it.
Nobody, perhaps with the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson, has matched Mourinho’s ability to hold opponents in his thrall regardless of the circumstances. The 52-year-old is a master of calling the tune, whether through the way he sets out his team or how he goads even the mildest-mannered of opponents – witness Manuel Pellegrini during the last campaign – into losing any psychological battle. Last season was the perfect example of his gifts.
Master of the procession
Chelsea began the season playing arguably the best football of any side Mourinho has managed. The Portuguese has sometimes been chided for his pragmatism, his willingness to win three points via the most straightforward route possible. But the summer signing of Cesc Fabregas pointed at a new direction and the team set a blistering pace, its dazzling midfield combinations invariably being finished off by another new signing, striker Diego Costa.
As injuries and suspensions began to bite in winter, Mourinho changed tack. A 5-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur seemed to sting him: Chelsea were noticeably more cautious after the turn of the year, with Costa struggling for fitness and Fabregas tiring, but their results remained by and large the same.
Mourinho’s side always did enough, even if it wasn’t pretty, but then Mourinho’s sides always do – and perhaps the flagship game for that approach was the 1-0 home win over Manchester United on April 18 that virtually guaranteed them the title. “This is a game we will never lose. Never,” he told Eden Hazard in the build-up, and so it proved as Chelsea, despite seeing just 30% of the ball, executed their gameplan perfectly.
Chelsea’s apparent conservatism drew criticism in the season’s final weeks but it seemed patently unfair. In fact, it was simply evidence of Mourinho’s remarkable ability to adapt to circumstances and secure results – something that he has done throughout his career. Witness his Champions League title with Inter Milan in 2010, when Mourinho decided that his team would be more dangerous without the ball than with it against Guardiola-era Barcelona, and promptly walked away with an against-all-odds semi-final victory.
Chelsea will be overwhelming favourites to push on and make others bend to Mourinho’s will again in the 2015/16 campaign, although there are question marks beyond the debate about style. Mourinho’s relationship with Roman Abramovich, which decayed to the point of his departure from his first stint at Chelsea in 2008, has looked healthier than ever but there will be those who wonder what the owner’s decision to let long-serving goalkeeper Petr Cech join Arsenal – clearly against the manager’s will – might do if the Gunners put a challenge together.
There’s also the thorny issue of Europe: if a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2013/14 was fine, defeat to 10-man Paris Saint-Germain two rounds earlier last season was not and vast improvement will be expected this time.
If Mourinho finds his back against the wall, there are always those duels against other managers to win. The usually calm Pellegrini, whose job Mourinho effectively took when he was appointed at Real Madrid in 2010, could be found grumbling about him well after last season ended, accusing him of wanting “to take credit for everything” when Chelsea win and professing to “differ from him on all fronts”. Pellegrini had accused Chelsea of playing like a “small team” in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad in September but it felt, and still feels, as if he had fallen into Mourinho’s favourite trap.
Nobody plays the relentless, 24/7 Premier League soap opera like Mourinho, who has a habit of provoking fury in his rivals with a few well-chosen words that set media bandwagons rolling while he remains impervious. He is his own best spin doctor, too, as an appearance on Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday programme the day after Nemanja Matic’s red card against Burnley showed in February. Every motion is calculated for maximum effect.
You win some, you win some
“Nobody plays the relentless, 24/7 Premier League soap opera like Mourinho
None of that will change next season and perhaps Mourinho will even find himself in a closer battle, in the league and in the newspapers, against Arsene Wenger, who has never defeated him and with whom there is no love lost.
Regardless of the match-up, it is impossible to bet against a manager who has won eight league titles with four different clubs in the last 12 years. For all that ‘philosophies’ are deemed desirable in up-and-coming managers today, Mourinho lives by the one that really counts. His philosophy is purely to win – and he has rarely done anything else.
It’s a measure of the heady standards by which Pep Guardiola is judged that a season of domestic success and a lengthy European campaign is viewed as a relative failure in some sectors, when other coaches would be lauded for the same achievements in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga by 10 points, reached the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal, and finished among the four best teams in Europe – and they did it against a backdrop of absurd injury problems.
The Bavarians not only lost a large volume of players over the course of the year, but they lost important ones too, with figures vital to Guardiola’s football like David Alaba, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martínez often unavailable when they were most needed.
Because of those fitness problems, we rarely got to see what Guardiola’s side were truly capable of, but on the occasions where it was possible they were nothing short of spectacular.
The first half of their 7-1 hounding of Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in October was genuinely breathtaking, a masterclass on how to achieve numerical superiority through intelligent movement and switching play, as well as a dazzling demonstration of one-touch football the Bavarians can deliver when their finest are fit (or rather, most of their finest, given Thiago wasn’t even available for that game).
That match, rather than later performances with a depleted squad, was a better reflection of how much success Guardiola has had in trying to improve the collective play of this team, though even in the darker days there were a few bright spots.
In the 6-1 hammering of Porto at the Allianz Arena it wasn’t one-touch football that caused damage but their overloading of the flanks and expertly timed midfield running. Thiago’s reappearance after getting the medical green light was key. Bayern killed the Portuguese side in a different manner to the way they killed Roma, but they slaughtered them nonetheless.
At their fleeting fittest and best in 2014/15, Guardiola’s team were the most versatile and most complex in Europe, capable of shifting systems and focus mid-game according to their Catalan conductor’s gestures on the sidelines. To pull that off you need the brightest footballers available, and it’s inevitable that their effectiveness diminished when injury forced increased usage of lesser players. The same would be the case in any side.
Take Lionel Messi, Neymar and Gerard Pique out of Luis Enrique’s Barcelona for example – three players whose relative importance in Catalonia is on a par with Alaba, Robben and Ribery in Munich – and there would certainly be a significant lowering in the overall standard of the Blaugrana’s play. Yet for some reason, Bayern’s inability to call upon those three stalwarts was rarely taken into account when analysing their failure to better Barça in May.
So what about that tie? The Barcelona leg seems to have shaped evaluations of Guardiola’s year for those who didn’t follow Bayern’s Bundesliga campaign, and it now seems to be remembered as a one-sided affair. In truth, however, the pendulum swung back and forth throughout, Barcelona starting the first half better, then Bayern coming out the sharper in the second
Problems at Bayern
The biggest criticism that can be levelled at Guardiola from the Barcelona games is the confirmation that without Robben and Ribery, his system falls apart against the best, and that other players are incapable of delivering the change of pace necessary in the final third.
The quality of some of Bayern’s midfield play over the two legs was excellent, contradicting the square pegs, round holes theory often lazily levelled
It would be a huge shock if he doesn’t look to address that issue in the summer. Yet buried among all the misery, there was also a positive to be drawn. The quality of some of Bayern’s midfield play over the two legs was excellent, contradicting the square pegs, round holes theory often lazily levelled at Guardiola in regards to the football he is trying to implement in Bavaria.
With Xabi Alonso, Thiago and Philipp Lahm together in the middle, Bayern really do have a midfield capable of proactive dominance on the ball, even against the might of Barcelona. For that, the coach deserves credit.
Guardiola’s year has not been faultless – only Luis Enrique can claim that accolade – but pay close enough attention and there were clear signs of evolution in Bavaria. He remains the bravest and most demanding coach around at the top level. With a second successive freak season of injury problems unlikely in 2015/16, we should get a better idea of what his Bayern can really do in the coming year.