Thursday, 7 June 2012

Euro 2012 Roundtable #6 Jon on Managers

Euro 2012 Roundtables #6
Jon on Managers (and Other Stuff)

Other stuff 

This was going to be a short add on at the end of Group D, until I received Jon Arnold's input. I had badly worded my question on managers, expecting one or two, and he replied with nearly two thousand words covering all. As a result, that kind of dedication deserves to be highlighted, and is the centre piece of this shorter article.

Red Card A Mania: how many reds do you think the tournament will have? 

Jon: Seven, at least one to Balotelli. Mainly coming in the last game of the group stages as the pressure builds I’d say.

Dave Beattie: Five.

Michael: Five sounds about right. Though I should stress that doesn’t include Portugal/Holland.

Gav: How many matches do you miss for a sending off? If it’s one then we’ll see 2 reds from Ballotelli alone.

Joao Diogo Reis: Portugal vs. Holland, if there’s still something at stake of any of them… Pepe vs. Nigel De Jong: at least 4 or 5 red cards, for this game alone.

Gav: I’m going to say 2 red cards.

Michael: I don’t know about any of you, I’m looking forward to the first ever “entire team gets a red card” game when Portugal meet Holland!

Keld, Denmark: 4, and Balotelli will NOT be one of them.

60 Goals - Over or Under? (For the entire tournament, not just Spain v Ireland) 

Jon: Over, even allowing for Group A I’m going for around 75.

Dave Beattie: If it's under can someone tell me now. 77 in each of the last 2 tournaments. More in 2000. Even 1996 had more than 60.

Michael: 77 in the last two tournaments, and now one with more attack minded teams and rubbish defences? I’ll be ultra optimistic and say 80 then.

Gav: Well over. Like you say, Spain play Ireland.

Keld, Denmark: Just over.

Joao Diogo Reis: Hopefully over 60 – the more the better!
Most teams seem to have better attacks than defenses - maybe this will lead to a tournament with lots of offensive football.

Thoughts on the individual managers? (From Roy to Del Bosque, with Smuda in between, I guess) 

Keld, Denmark: I hope Prandelli will be able to show the same tactical flexibility as the Juventus side has displayed the season. The ability to shift between 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 during the game could come in handy. The much preferred Italian 4-3-1-2 could also easily come in play.

Joao Diogo Reis: Fernando Santos: if he reaches quarter finals he is a hero
Franciszek Smuda: he doesn’t even have to reach the quarters to be a hero. Something like what South Africa did two years ago (3rd, leveled on points with 2nd placed Mexico) will be great already
Michal Bilek: He already revived his team; even he goes out in the group stage, that’s what also happened in 2006 and 2008.
Dick Advocaat: Anything less than quarter finals will be a failure. Going out in quarters against Germany/Holland/Portugal is “normal”, going further is great
Joachim Low: Won a reputation of great coach with Euro 2008 and the 2010 WC, but he can lose it in this tournament. Expectations are too high, it seems that only winning the Cup or losing it to Spain is acceptable
Morten Olsen: He has a great excuse to lose the 3 games… Anything more than that is a bonus
Bert Van Marwijk: He is a great coach (the last who won a European trophy for a Dutch club, Feyenoord 2002, and also guided Holland to a World Cup final, 32 years later)
Paulo Bento: He has to win the tournament to become a hero, and he has to not win a single game to be a villain… anything between that will be seen as “normal”
Slaven Bilic: He was impressive 4 years ago, let’s see if he can impress again.
Vicente Del Bosque: World Champion, opted for selecting 19 of the 23 World champions 2 years ago. Will he regret this?
Giovanni Trapattoni: He is already a hero for qualifying Ireland to a major tournament 10 years later. Whatever else that Ireland may do in Euro 2012 will be a bonus. 8 years ago he was eliminated as Italy’s coach in Euro 2004, without losing a single game
Cesare Prandelli: It can’t get any worse than the 2010 WC, can it?
Laurent Blanc: He can restore France’s status as one of Europe’s top teams. A semifinal will do that
Roy Hodgson: 12 years later, England has an English coach again leading it at a major tournament… 12 years ago things didn’t ended badly, what will happen now?
Erik Hamren: If he reaches quarter finals he is a genius, if he doesn’t, no problem.
Oleg Blokhin: He took Ukraine to the 2006 WC quarter finals, I doubt he can do it again this time

The obvious thing to open with would be the shambolic approach England made to the tournament – Capello may not have been the most popular manager, particularly in Fleet Street but the FA’s conduct in February which led to him leaving was cack handed scheming at best, incompetent at worst. As with his last three jobs in England Roy Hodgson’s job is essentially crisis management, and so far it’s apparent that he’s falling back on his tried and trusted method of two banks of four, being difficult to break down and trying to take the few chances on offer. I’m not a fan of Roy Hodgson’s approach to the game, but in a tournament situation it’s not necessarily the progressive, entertaining sides who flourish, it’s the ones who’re hard to break down. It’s difficult to see him getting his ideas implemented so quickly but on the plus side he’s the first England manager for decades of whom little is expected. A no lose situation then and not the worst short term appointment but as the man to take English football forward in the long term far less of an appetising prospect.

In total contrast is Denmark’s quite wonderful approach, Morten Olsen having twelve years service under his belt and having survived a couple of unsuccessful qualification campaigns. In that time England have gone through eight managers – quite probably a reflection of which country has a realistic approach to what they can achieve. This length of service has meant he’s been able to influence the Danish coaching system with his favoured formation being the basis for coaching from youth football up. Long service, a commitment to good football and a likely legacy for his successor to build on – what more could you want? Denmark may well benefit from having a manager who is under no pressure whatsoever, unlike the other coaches in his group.

The best manager here is liable to be going home bottom of his group, Trapattoni having performed a minor miracle to raise Ireland back to the status of qualifiers. How he tries to match Prandelli, old Italian style against new, will be fascinating though probably not hugely entertaining. Still, that he’s already named his team for the opening game is a remarkable show of faith. The only other country to employ a foreign manager is Greece, but Fernando Santos has gone far more native than Trap, who still looks as if he’s more comfortable in the wine cellar than sipping a Guinness in a Dublin dive. Santos’ work has essentially been to build on Rehhagel’s, clearly assessing that Greece cannot compete player for player so putting his faith in getting the best out of what he has through tactics and organisation. It’s worked to near perfection so far with an unbeaten qualification campaign and one defeat in eighteen.

On to the managers of the two nations who backed up their claims to being the best teams in Europe with perfect qualifying campaigns. There’s little that needs to be said about Champions League and World Cup winner Del Bosque that isn’t already obvious from his CV. Expect more of what we saw from Spain in 2010, technical masterclasses to admire but not necessarily thrill. Similarly we’re unlikely to see many surprises from Joachim Low – the last World Cup was his great gamble on youth, one which saw the Germans remembered as one of the most entertaining teams but end up a comfortable second best to Spain in the semi-finals. Have this side matured enough to match Spain and will a German nation sixteen years removed from their last trophy be patient if Low fails to deliver once more?

Oleg Blokhin was quite probably the finest of Lobanovsky’s many prodigies but when he’s one of the two managers responsible for the footballing horror of that game in World Cup 2006 all such sympathies are dispensed with. Bringing back a previous manager looks something of an act of desperation on Ukraine’s part though. I say this as it’s tough to judge how his side’s going to do as there’s no competitive evidence. On a similar note Smuda will stand or fall by the side’s performance in this tournament. His ascetic approach to discipline is almost stereotypical of what you’d expect from a man who grew up under Communism, whether his disciplinarian approach will keep a happy squad together in the pressurised world of tournament football is another matter entirely.

Prandelli took over an Italian team in turmoil, the high of Germany 06 having been followed by the disaster of South Africa. He’s imposed a code of conduct, which has often resulted in international absences for the likes of Balotelli, has brought a more attacking mentality to the side which saw them qualify comfortably at a time when many thought they’d miss out. It’s a remarkable job and as one of the managers who realises the world does not begin and end at the doors of the stadium you can’t help but wish him well and that he won’t follow through on the possibility of withdrawing his team if the match fixing scandal escalates. Like Prandelli Laurent Blanc picked up a wreck of a team after South Africa with several players on long bans and the atmosphere around the team as acrid as that of Mercury. Blanc has been more pragmatic than Prandelli in his approach, though arguably more successful with a long unbeaten run which saw them sneak home ahead of Bosnia in qualifying. His approach and attempts to play down their ambitions for the tournament don’t inspire confidence though. And talking of Blanc leads us swiftly to Slaven Bilic.  Let us past swiftly over Bilic, who many (including probably Blanc) have not forgiven for his acting in the World Cup semi-final of 1998 (me, I’ve never forgiven him for being an Evertonian, though you have to sneakily admire a man who once said ‘With the greatest respect to women, football is the most beautiful thing in the world’). 

Paulo Bento’s feat of getting Portugal qualified after Carlos Queiroz had gotten them off to a disastrous start was reminiscent of Sven Goran Eriksson’s feat with England’s 2002 World cup qualifiers. He’s fallen out with players, meaning Bosingwa and Carvalho are unlikely to play for their country again, but on the other hand his democratic approach of discussing tactics with players seems to work well in a squad which can be volatile.

Bert van Marwijk has some making up to do this tournament. Generations who grew up watching the Dutch sides through the 70s, 80s and 90s have fond memories of a fine side and to an extent that carried over into the the 2010 World Cup. And then we had that final which embraced the half of the Dutch nature that tends to be forgotten amidst the result to romanticise them, the Oranje being keener to kick the Spanish than the ball, taking advantage of the usual refereeing reluctance to dismiss players in a big final but in the end drawing a just reward. As ever, the manager’s most important task would appear to be to hold together the strong personalities in the squad.

Russia might be less adventurous under Dick Advocaat than they were under Hiddink but he’s got a record that shows he can be trusted in major tournaments and his trophies at Zenit coupled with a smooth qualifying campaign on the pitch suggests he’s sharp as ever. Russia lack a Lobanovskyi these days so they’ve been quite sensible in attracting the best foreign manager they could get.

Erik Hamren has gone the other way from Advocaat with his approach, moving his team from their solid, defensive approach to a more attacking one shrewdly based around Zlatan. It means he’s hitched his team’s chances to the form and fortunes of his best player, but as a nation who don’t necessarily expect great success at a finals it may be no bad thing.

Which leaves Michael Bilek. I’m inclined to like him thanks to his hiring of one of the heroes of Istanbul 2005, Vladimir Smicer, for his backroom staff and he’s already demonstrated great fortitude, going through a terrible run of form including a defeat to Azerbaijan before finding a formula that saw them comfortably through a tricky playoff against rising stars of European football Montenegro.

Sticking your neck out (Picking the winners of the Quarterfinals, Semis and Final - bragging rights, really) 

Joao Diogo Reis:

Quarter finals:
RUSSIA – Holland
SPAIN - England
France – CROATIA

Semi finals:
Russia – SPAIN
PORTUGAL – Croatia

SPAIN - Portugal

Keld, Denmark:

Russia beats Denmark
Germany will beat Poland
England will beat Spain
Italy will beat Ukraine

Russia will beat England
Italy will beat Germany

Italy will beat Russia

Dave Beattie: My unscientific approach has a QF line-up of Russia v Denmark, Germany v Czech Republic, Spain v England & France v Italy.

From there I'd have Russia as my "surprise" semi-finalists - maybe even if they had to face Portugal or Holland with Germany, Spain (though I wouldn't see things as totally hopeless for England) & possibly (coin toss here) France in the semis. Spain probably beats Russia in one semi-final (at least predicting otherwise ahead of time is silly - & a fluke if anyone does & is right), while I'm tossing a coin again & getting a German head more times than a French tail on the other one.

Then the Final - & just to be different - & a little less fluky than predicting a Spanish defeat anywhere else (except maybe Italy in game 1 but then that messes up the whole quarter-final draw) I'm getting a German head on my coin again.

Jon: Here’s where we start looking really stupid… Russia- Spain and France-Germany as the results of the quarter-finals, Germany-Spain to be the final and the Spanish to win. But it won’t work like that.

Michael: So, going by my early predictons, we’d have quarterfinals of:





So the Dutch Total Football meets the Zenit road block once more. Italy/Sweden goes into extra time, and the Italians win 3-2 through a dazzling Pirlo effort. Germany/Poland is level at half time, and ITV make several references to World War two, but in the second half, the Germans find another gear, and win 5-1. England v Spain is much tighter than anyone expected, but Iniesta scores early in the second half. England consigned to a Quarterfinal exit, when out of nowhere some completely written off person (hi Jordan Henderson) equalised in the 92nd minute. Extra time comes and goes, there’s a red card (Terry?) and brave England crash out on penalties once more. England manages to create a “brave defeat” story somehow.

Semifinal times. Russia/Italy should be a cracker. Both sides successful to get this far, and either side could get to a final. I’m beginning to think Russia might have the wind in their sails though, and will take an early lead. Italy equalise, and then it comes down to the 2-1. Who gets it? I’ll say Italy, with Balotelli scoring a wonder goal, and celebrating in his usual wild style. The second semi is naturally Germany v Spain III, but this time the Germans see it through. A pivotal goal on 45 minutes by Muller is crucial and in the second half Schweinsteiger thumps it home to make it 2-0. Everyone knows what that means. Spain still keep going though, and a Torres goal ten minutes from the end produces a frantic finish. Germany hold on though, and its a Germany/Italy final.

In which it is Pirlo and Prandelli vs the German majesty. We almost can’t lose. After coming so close in 2010, 2008 and 2006 though, Germany will be hungry for that tournament success. There will be future tournaments for Prandellis Italy. Germany will win 3-1 in a good game, and everyone will go: What a wonderful Euros that was!

Since he is unquestionably Man of the Match for this section, Jon gets final word before the tournament starts: 

The big issue that strikes me whilst writing these previews is what role fatigue will play. Spain’s players, largely plucked from Barcelona and Madrid have played 50-60 games including a run to the Champions League semi-finals, Bayern and Chelsea players have the games from a Champions League run in their legs, the English players as usual seem to be approaching the end of the season in a mentally and physically jaded state having had no break since returning for pre-season training last July.

The other question is whether after four years of tiki taka dominance we’re moving into a new phase of the game’s evolution- was Chelsea’s European triumph the emergence of a new cataneccio era, or was it a short term strategy abetted by outrageous fortune? Many of the teams here have put their faith in a possession based attacking approach but there are a few teams (mainly in Group A, but including England) who are going the opposite way. So will the tournament be remembered in the same entertaining vein as Euro 2000 or are we going to see a team grinding their way to victory a la Greece 2004?

There’s only one way to find out…