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How managers changed the game at the FIFA World Cup

Football has undergone many changes down the years and the tactical development in the modern game came about as a result of national team managers experimenting with various combinations at the FIFA World Cup.

football Updated: May 18, 2018 11:45 IST
Shayne Dias
Shayne Dias
Hindustan Times
2018 FIFA World Cup,FIFA World Cup,Joachim Loew
Joachim Loew led Germany to the FIFA World Cup title in 2014.(Getty Images)

Lifting the FIFA World Cup is the ultimate dream for any player who wants to be regarded among the elite of world football, and behind every successful team is an astute manager.

The man pulling the strings doesn’t always get his due, but his contribution to the team’s success is massive. Throughout the history of the World Cup, there have been managers who have brought about fundamental tactical changes to their team’s approach, guiding them to success.

From defence to attack

Perhaps one of the first pivotal shifts was pioneered by Italian manager and the only two-time Cup winning coach Vittorio Pozzo.

He is credited as the creator of the ‘Metodo’ 2-3-2-3 formation, which saw him lead Italy to back-to-back World Cups in 1934 and 1938.

It also offered more defensive solidity than the more commonly used ‘inverted pyramid’ 2-3-5, proving that Italians were always ahead of their time in terms of defensive solidity.

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The World Cup’s post-World War II era is largely remembered for Brazil’s dominance, but their success was arguably down to their abundance of attacking riches.

The Italian World Cup squad carry their manager, Vittorio Pozzo (1886 - 1968), shoulder high following their 2-1 victory over Czechoslovakia after extra time in the 1934 World Cup final in Rome. (Getty Images)

An array of talented forwards including but not limited to Pele, Mario Zagallo, Garrincha and Jairzinho, saw them overwhelm opposition with skill and speed.

From 1958 to 1970 they missed out on lifting the World Cup only once, in 1966, while their best victory perhaps came in 1970.

Facing an Italy side that relied on the ‘Catenaccio’ or ‘door-bolt’ tactic – a system based on solid defence which relied on counter-attacks – Brazil ran out 4-1 winners.

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Total football here to stay

Perhaps the man whose tactical impact is felt most widely today is Johan Cryuff, whose ‘Total Football’ philosophy is the hallmark of most successful modern teams.

The system placed an emphasis on fluidity. When one player moved out of position, another took his place; this helped in retaining the team’s shape.

Johan Cruyff (R) never coached a team at the FIFA World Cup, but left his legacy on the tournament. (Getty Images)

This tactical fluidity then morphed into players being able to function in more than one position across the field.

Nowadays, tactics and formations are more homogenous than they have ever been. This does lead to tepid viewing sometimes, but it is also an indicator of how much the game has developed.

The World Cup stalwarts

Some managers have left a lasting legacy on the World Cup. One of the most successful in the tournament has been Helmut Schon, who coached Germany at four consecutive World Cups from 1966 to 1978. After finishing second to England in 1966, Schon’s Germany finished third in 1970, after losing to Italy in the semis. Four years later, his team prevailed over a star-studded Netherlands in the final.

Schon bowed out of the sport after the team crashed out of the 1978 World Cup in the second round. He continues to hold the record for most matches coached (25) and most matches won (16) in World Cup finals.

READ | France name squad for 2018 FIFA World Cup; injured Dimitri Payet misses out

Carlos Bilardo is another notable figure in football’s greatest tournament, having guided Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and to a runner-up finish four years later.

Helmut Schon is the most successful coach at the FIFA World Cup, in terms of number of matches won. (Getty Images)

Carlos Alberto Parreira, on the other hand, is the only manager to have been part of six FIFA World Cup campaigns. He led Brazil to the 1994 title and to the quarterfinal 12 years later. In 1982, 1990, 1998 and 2010, he coached Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia and South Africa respectively at the finals, the teams bowing out in the group stages on all four occasions.

In the last two decades, Dutch tactician Guus Hiddink has left an indelible mark on the tournament. After guiding his native Netherlands to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals, he memorably took co-hosts South Korea to the last four in 2002. Four years down the line, his Australia team reached the last 16 before losing to eventual champions Italy.

Top five World Cup coaches

Hindustan Times takes a look, in no particular order, at five of the best coaches in World Cup history:

Franz Beckenbauer – W Germany (P 14 W 8 D 4 L 2)

Der Kaiser has the unique distinction as one of only two men (with Brazil’s Mario Zagallo) to win the World Cup as captain and coach of West Germany. He lifted the trophy in 1974 as a player, 20 years after the country’s first World Cup. His first World Cup as manager was in 1986, where he led the team to the finals but lost to Diego Maradona-led Argentina. Beckenbauer would not be denied four years later versus La Albiceleste in the final, his side winning 1-0.

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Luiz Felipe Scolari - Brazil and Portugal (P 21 W 14 D 3 L 4)

Scolari was a late replacement to manage a wobbly Brazil ahead of the 2002 World Cup, and his side just about secured qualification for the edition in Korea and Japan. However, they went all the way, beating Germany 2-0 in the final to lift the trophy for an unprecedented fifth time. He guided Portugal in 2006, taking them to the semi-finals and an eventual fourth place. His second stint with Brazil ended in agony. Brought in before the 2014 World Cup at home, he led them to the semi-finals where they were mauled 7-1 by eventual winners Germany.

Luiz Felipe Scolari won the FIFA World Cup with Brazil in 2002. (Getty Images)

Joachim Loew - Germany (P 14 W11 D1 L2)

Joachim Loew was a club manager for over a decade with limited success before working as Germany’s assistant manager under Jurgen Klinsmann from 2004-2006. He was then handed the job after Klinsmann chose not to renew his contract. Loew led Die Mannschaft to second in Euro 2008 before finishing third in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The crowning moment of his managerial career came in 2014, when he led Germany to their fourth World Cup triumph. They won the final 1-0 versus Argentina with an extra-time goal.

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Mario Zagallo - Brazil (P 13 W 9 D 2 L 2)

Zagallo remains the only player besides Franz Beckenbauer to win the trophy as player and manager. He was a key player in Brazil’s Cup-winning sides in 1958 and 1962 before stepping into coaching after retirement in 1965. He managed domestic side Botafogo and was eventually appointed manager of the national side in 1970, when he became the second-youngest coach at 38 years to win the trophy (Alberto Suppici, Uruguay’s World Cup winning manager in 1930, is the youngest at 31). He also won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994, this time as an assistant manager.

Bora Milutinovic – Mexico, Costa Rica, USA, Nigeria, China (P 20 W 8 D 3 L 9)

Serbian tactician Bora Milutinovic built a reputation for leading unfancied sides to creditable World Cup showings during his peak years in the profession. In 1983, he took over Mexico and led them to the quarterfinal in the World Cup three years later at home. Mexico didn’t lose a single game in regulation time and were knocked out by Germany on penalties in the quarters. Four years later, his Costa Rica team stunned Scotland and Sweden to reach the Round of 16, where they were eliminated by Czechoslovakia. In 1994, Milutinovic reached the Round of 16 again, this time with USA. The Serb continued his impressive run in 1998 with Nigeria, which topped a group that included Spain, Bulgaria and Paraguay, before bowing out in the first knockout stage. Milutinovic later took over China and guided them to their only World Cup finals in 2002. The inexperienced China crashed out in the group stage, losing all three games.

First Published: May 18, 2018 11:42 IST