Sarri, Sousa, Terim: the best coaches in Europe during the last month
While the passing of Howard Kendall evokes memories of a humble man, calmness personified, leading Everton through their greatest era, the month of October has seen managers across the continent prowling the touchline, screaming inaudible instructions amidst the thunderous roar of equally impassioned spectators. Other managers echo Kendall’s spirits in milder form, musing in the dugout, doing their damnedest to figure out how to shape a team of 11 individuals in the ultimate pursuit of victory on football’s sacred turf.
Quote of the month
Fatih Terim led Turkey to the Euro 2008 semi-finals, his team scoring injury-time goals in the most euphoric and memorable scenes of that tournament. “It is not over unless we say it is over” became Terim’s challenge when one solitary point after three games left Turkey bottom of their Euro 2016 qualifying group.
An unbeaten run followed and a last-minute winner in their final game against Iceland merited a standing ovation at his post-match press conference. “You are not defeated when you lose. You are defeated when you quit!” exclaimed a fiercely emotional Terim after his team of 10 men triumphed against the odds.
“We did not give up. Our players got red cards, but we did not quit! It would be over if we lost to Holland or Kazakhstan. We persisted. Neither did we give up with the Czech Republic and Iceland. That is why I am endlessly thankful to our players. I hope we get to play throughout the 2016 European Football Championship. It is a great feeling to have our people at the heart of Europe: France here we come!”
Battle of the month
The four teams leading the chase for Serie A glory this season are separated by just two points in what is the closest title race in Italy for many years. The ultimate romance of football is when an individual’s journey takes him from the lowest echelons of amateur football to the very highest in professional football.
Napoli’s manager Maurizio Sarri’s rise has captured the hearts of the country far more than the better known managers looking to bask in the glory of Italian fervor. Sarri began coaching in Italy’s amateur leagues from 1990 to 2003 when he achieved his first major stepping stone gaining promotion into Italy’s professional leagues. 11 years and 10 clubs later, Sarri finally won promotion to Serie A with Empoli.
Higuain nets in the Europa League vs Legia
Favourites for relegation last season, he kept Empoli in the division and, after 25 years in management with 17 clubs, he was offered the job of replacing Rafael Benítez at Napoli, the club he supported as a child and the city in which he was born. With Neopolitan blood pulsing through his veins, Sarri dismissed his status as Serie A’s lowest-paid manager, “They pay me for something I would have done for free. I’m lucky!”
A recent run of five consecutive victories – including successive wins over Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina – has propelled his side to 4th in the table, two points adrift of the leaders. Sarri is also one of just three managers to have a 100% record in the Europa League this season.
Sousa doing well
Topping the table are Italy’s sleeping giants, Fiorentina, whose memories of just two league titles in decades past are slipping into a distant blur with each year they fail to land Serie A’s elusive prize.
In June they appointed a Portuguese manager for the first time in the club’s history. Paulo Sousa, a two-time Champions League winning player with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, began his club managerial career in England with unimpressive stints at QPR, Swansea City and Leicester City. But as soon as he chose a diversion from English shores, his career blossomed.
A league cup victory and a runner-up finish in Hungary with Videoton was followed by his first league titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and, last season, with FC Basel in Switzerland. His success rewarded him with the job at Fiorentina, who have finished fourth in Serie A three seasons running, just missing out on Champions League qualification. His remit is straightforward: get us into the top three!
Perched alongside Fiorentina at the league’s summit is Inter Milan. Managed by Roberto Mancini, the ex-Manchester City title winner is back at the club where he achieved the unique feat of securing a hat-trick of league titles from 2006 to 2008. The 50-year old returned 12 months ago to the surprise of many, but after leading Inter to a disappointing eighth-placed finish last season, he has since transformed his players into title-winning contenders. 1-0 has become Mancini’s specialty, achieving six of their seven Serie A victories by this scoreline. Unsurprisingly they have conceded the least goals and remain favourites to win the Scudetto for the first time since José Mourinho’s treble-winning triumph five years ago.
Rudi García’s Roma are lying in third place, just one point behind the leaders. The Frenchman is fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead; Roma have won just three league titles in 88 years. However, García knows how to win a title against the obstacles of lengthy historical underachievement: he led Lille to their greatest triumph when securing the French ‘double’ in 2011.
The big stories
1) Ketsbaia’s top scorers
Temuri Ketsbaia’s infamous goal celebration, violently kicking a St James’s Park advertising board after scoring a last-minute winner for Newcastle against Bolton, has left a reputation harshly tarnished.
However, across Europe’s managerial landscape, he is increasingly regarded as a coach of genuine class. Cyprus is his mainstay, a country whose league is also much higher up UEFA’s rankings than perceived: 18th out of 54 countries. Ketsbaia won two league titles as manager of Anorthosis Famagusta and also became the first manager to lead a Cypriot club to the group stages of the Champions League when Anorthosis defeated Olympiacos 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round in 2008.
Ketsbaia is now at the helm of APOEL FC, where he has guided the team to the summit of the league with an incomparable 41 goals in 9 games at an average of almost five goals per game. His brute force against the St James’s Park advertising boards has been eclipsed by the attacking mentality he imposes on his players.
They adore him, and reward him and their supporters with unbounded entertainment. He is now well on the way to becoming just the second manager in the country’s 80-year football history to win the league championship with two clubs.
APOEL are also in the Europa League, making a mockery of the adage that Thursday nights affect domestic performance. With their first win in the last round of matches against Asteras, their next hurdle is a return journey to Asteras, considered to be a do-or-die encounter by Ketsbaia. “Our next game against Asteras is crucial. We have to win that game. If we get the result, we have a great chance. If we lose, we’re out.”
Ketsbaia put his name forward for the Newcastle United hotseat earlier this year, prior to taking on the reigns at APOEL. With Steve McClaren struggling to reverse fortunes, entrenched in the relegation zone, Mike Ashley would do well to consider a manager from a lesser league whose passion for scoring goals for the Toon Army was as fiery and rageful as the Toon Army’s voracious thirst for success.
2) Fabio Capello’s successor
Fabio Capello left Russia with a mountain to climb when he was sacked with just eight points from six qualifying games. Leonid Slutsky accepted the challenge of replacing Capello to lead his countrymen for their remaining four games towards Euro 2016 qualification while continuing his job with CSKA Moscow.
He was the first Russian in nine years to coach the national team and faced the pressure of requiring victories in every match to secure automatic qualification. Sweden, Liechtenstein, Moldova and Montenegro each felt the brunt of Slutsky’s managerial prowess, and lest we underestimate the opposition, Slutsky’s predecessor failed to put such a stamp of authority on those same encounters.
“I'm delighted that we have achieved a goal that looked difficult at the beginning of the journey,” said Slutsky after Russia secured qualification with a 2-1 defeat of Montenegro in their final qualification tie. “I thank all the fans, both at the stadium and those watching on television.”
On the domestic front, after Slutsky led CSKA Moscow to successive Russian league titles in 2013 and 2014, his quest for a first-time hat-trick of titles was halted by André Villas-Boas’s Zenit St Petersburg last season. Slutsky’s reaction to the pain of loss, like all great managers, has been emphatic: CSKA have won 11 of their first 14 league encounters this season and lie nine points clear at the summit of the Russian Premier League.
Slutsky’s Champions League exploits are almost as impressive, guiding CSKA to a 3-2 victory over PSV Eindhoven and a 1-1 draw against Manchester United. A loss against Louis van Gaal’s men yesterday however leaves them bottom of the group, but still with a chance to qualify. CSKA will vie for superiority against Wolfsburg in Russia on Matchday 5, a game they must win to keep their hopes alive.
October’s battles: The results
- England: Louis van Gaal (Man United) vs Manuel Pellegrini (Man City). 0-0
- Germany: Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich) vs Thomas Tuchel (Borussia Dortmund). 5-1
- Italy: Roberto Mancini (Inter Milan) vs Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus). 0-0
- Netherlands: Frank de Boer (Ajax) vs Phillip Cocu (PSV Eindhoven). 1-2
- Portugal: Rui Vitória (Benfica) vs Jorge Jesus (Sporting Clube de Portugal). 0-3
- Spain: Eduardo Berizzo (Celta de Vigo) vs Rafael Benítez (Real Madrid). 1-3
- Sweden: Andreas Alm (AIK Solna) vs Jörgen Lennartsson (IFK Göteborg). 1-2
- Ukraine: Sergei Rebrov (Dynamo Kiev) vs Mircea Lucescu (Shakhtar Donetsk). 0-3
Battles to watch in November
- England: Manuel Pellegrini (Man City) vs Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool)
- Germany: André Breitenreiter (FC Schalke 04) vs Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich)
- Greece: Yannis Anastasiou (Panathinaikos) vs Marco Silva (Olympiacos)
- Italy: Maurizio Sarri (Napoli) vs Roberto Mancini (Inter Milan)
- Netherlands: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord) vs Frank de Boer (Ajax)
- Portugal: Jorge Jesus (Sporting Clube de Portugal) vs Rui Vitória (Benfica)
- Russia: Igor Cherevchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow) vs André Villas-Boas (Zenit St Petersburg)
- Spain: Rafael Benítez (Real Madrid) vs Luis Enrique (Barcelona)
Top 5 managers in October
- Norbert Hurt (Flora Tallinn, Estonia) – won the league title following an 11-match winning run.
- Viktor Dobrecovs (Liepāja, Latvia) – won league title for the first time in the club’s history following a 15-match unbeaten run.
- Stephen Kenny (Dundalk, Republic of Ireland) – won the league title following an 18-match unbeaten run.
- Marco Silva (Olympiacos, Greece) – on a nine-match league winning run, and lying 2nd in their Champions League Group which includes Arsenal and Bayern Munich
- Miodrag Božović (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – on a 13-match winning run and remains unbeaten in the league.
Longest current league winning runs
- Miodrag Božović (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – 13 wins
- Norbert Hurt (FC Flora Tallinn, Estonia) – 12 wins
- Marco Silva (Olympiacos, Greece) – 9 wins
Longest current unbeaten league runs
- Stephen Kenny (Dundalk, Republic of Ireland) – 18
- Miodrag Božović (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – 16
- Matjaž Kek (HNK Rijeka, Croatia) – 15
October’s league-winning managers
- Jan Andersson (Norrköping, Sweden)
- Valdas Dambrauskas (FC Žalgiris, Lithuania)
- Viktors Dobrecovs (FK Liepāja, Latvia)
- Norbert Hurt (Flora Tallinn, Estonia)
- Kåre Ingebrigtsen (Rosenborg, Norway)
- Stephen Kenny (Dundalk, Republic of Ireland)
- Simo Valakari (SJK Seinäjoki, Finland)