Players, be it Pele and Diego Maradona in the past or Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo today, usually take the focus at the World Cup but the men on the sidelines deserve their share of the attention too.
Among the 32 managers in Brazil this summer are World Cup winners, grandees of the game, venerated former players and rookies taking their first steps in the dugout. They range in experience, from Vicente Del Bosque, who has seen and done it all with Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and Spain, to Niko Kovac, the Croatia boss whose coaching career extends to his country’s Under-21 side and a handful of games in charge of the seniors.
England’s Roy Hodgson is more on Del Bosque’s end of the scale than Kovac’s. Generally, Hodgson is liked by the Three Lions faithful, although it’s as much for his thoroughly decent persona than his standing as a tactician. The well-travelled boss would probably be more appreciated if he could call on the range of stars available to players
But Del Bosque remains both the epitome of decency and also the manager to beat. His success in adapting Barcelona’s style with the players available to La Roja has delivered plaudits and prizes galore. This time Del Bosque could shake things up by handing a starting place to Chelsea-bound battering ram Diego Costa, a more physical front-man to compliment the ball-hogging urchins in midfield.
Felipe Scolari joins Del Bosque as the only two World Cup winning managers in the competition – Jurgen Klinsmann and Didier Deschamps both won it as players. Scolari is back for a second time in the Brazil hot seat and not since the last time they were hosts has there been more pressure on the five-time champions. The former Chelsea manager certainly has the personality to cope with expectation and underneath his bluster is a smart coach who knows how to build a team.
Staying in South America and the man in charge at Chile, Jorge Sampaoli, presents an interesting case. He’s very much a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa but without the hot streak. The Argentine retains his mentor’s tactical flexibility, though, and has some talented players to work with. Drawn against Spain, the Netherlands and Australia, Sampaoli could guide the South American La Roja to a run to the latter stages.
A long stay for the Netherlands wouldn’t be what Manchester United want as they wait for Louis van Gaal to take over at Old Trafford. The sooner the Oranje exit, the sooner he can set about rebuilding the former Premier League champions. The Dutch are expected to play a 5-3-2 formation for part of the tournament with van Gaal displaying some hitherto unseen tactical flexibility, but a more Dutch-like 4-3-3 is likely to be his preferred system when he heads to England. Will he sign in at United as a World Cup winner?
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