THE SIGN OF FOUR

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  A look into four managers who could inspire the narrative with a Champions League win

Bill Shankly meant it absolutely. “John, you’re immortal now.”

These were the words the former Liverpool manager said to Jock Stein after Celtic lifted the European Cup in 1967. Of course, there was much context to it – not only were Celtic the first British club to win Europe’s most coveted trophy but there was also an air of moral victory. Their victims had been Helenio Herrera’s FC Internazionale whom Celtic had denied a third European Cup.  Behind the cynicism that the British loathed about Italian catennacio (not helped by Herrera’s gamesmanship and antics), here was a victory occasioned by supreme tactical master class. All this with a first XI of players that were all born within 50km of Glasgow made for a very big achievement for the man known as ‘Big Man.’

It is these sorts of achievements that can assure immortality for a football manager. As such, a heart attack in 1985 put an end to the Scots mortality. But the stories that continue to be told of that night in Lisbon show that winning the European Cup formed part of Stein’s mythical figure.

Similarly, Fabio Capello stared down that same barrel in 1994. Having built a defensively solid AC Milan, he transformed the dynamics to occasion a 4-0 win over Johan Cryuff’s FC Barcelona. Of so much importance was it that it formed the foundation of the Italian’s now famed managerial career. “My most perfect managerial night,” Capello would eventually go on to say.

Thus, winning the European Cup provides more than just grandeur and stature. It provides a lasting to a legacy. Whether in its years as the European Cup, or in its rebranded form now as the Champions League, there is an allure that attracts every European club manager.

Further examples would exemplify this. Be it Bob Paisley’s achievement as the only man to have won the European Cup three times. Be it the fantastic four – Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Jose Mourinho and Jupp Heynckes – who have won this competition twice with two different teams. Or maybe the magnificent six who have won it as both player as well as manager – Miguel Munoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cryuff, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard and Josep Guardiola.

Some achieve greatness of a different sort. Like Matt Busby in 1968, Alex Ferguson would achieve knighthood after that magical night in Barcelona in 1999. For Bobby Charlton’s performance in extra time against Benfica at Wembley, compare with Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solakjaer’s strikes in the dying minutes at Camp Nou. These events put these two Scottish managers on the Queen’s Honours List.

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Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan was devastating in that 1989 final, and repeated the triumph in 1990. Brian Clough’s back to back wins in 1979 and 1980 brought unfancied Nottingham Forest two European titles even though the club to this day has only one League title. There is also no denying the effect of Tony Barton for Aston Villa in 1982 or Artur Jorge for Porto in 1987.

It could also be the improbability of a Roberto Di Matteo Chelsea in 2012, or the invicibility of Guus Hiddink’s 1988 treble-winning PSV Eindhoven.

For some, it was justification. As the iron hand of Nicolae Ceaucescu ruled over Romania, there was a sense that Steua Bucharest benefitted unfairly from his influence. The Romanian dictator used his position to guarantee Steua theirs in Romanian football. But even while it was a good team nonetheless, it was only the European triumph of 1986 that firmly removed all doubt. Their manager, Emerich Jennei, deserves much credit for that.

And what about Ljupko Petrovic who had to inspire a team from imminent self-destruction. That Crvena Zvezda lifted the European trophy in 1991 is more a human story than a sporting triumph. The team from Belgrade could have easily given up – instead, they focussed all their energies despite the break out of civil war in Yugoslavia. It proved to be a source of inspiration in a country that was quickly being ravished by war. Anything could be achieved.

And so, even as the 2013-2014 Champions League season begins, we look at four managers whom, with triumph, may achieve an immortality of their own. From a sample of 32, it is difficult to assess all and thus why we picked these four names ; Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourihno and Arsene Wenger.

**NOTE: This is not an indication of the four managers whom we feel have the best chance at lifting the trophy and as such this is not a prediction. It is merely a look at the hypothetical pre-suppositions and the potential implications that would arise *IF* these managers were to lift the Champions League. We also do recognise that from our list of four, three have already lifted this trophy already. What we assert however is that by lifting this trophy now, they have the chance to further add to their prestige.

Therefore, we urge that you read on and any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Carlo Ancelotti …. 

Pep Guardiola … 

Jose Mourinho …

Arsene Wenger …

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