CHANGING TIMES

Sir Alex Ferguson holds aloft the Champions League trophy in 2008
Sir Alex Ferguson holds aloft the Champions League trophy in 2008

A look into four managers who may need to change in order to attain Champions League success

It was not that Manchester United played badly. It just was that Real Madrid played better.

Tactically, they proved superior. Technically, they were supreme. Every Madrid player caressed the ball with subtlety – as if it was a crown jewel and passed it around intelligently, seemingly fearful of losing a precious possession.

All this was summarised by the third Madrid goal. Fernando Redondo running down the touchline then, performing a back-heel that so bamboozled Henning Berg as it went in between his legs. Now on the by-line, the Argentine squared it and as if the Red Sea were parting, the United defence opened as Raul Gonzalez glided in to guide the ball into an empty net.

Sir Alex Ferguson looked on in amazement and as Rob Smyth writes, it is then that he realised he must change.

That was the year 2000. United, the defending champions of the Champions League would be knocked out by Real Madrid – the eventual champions. But there was more to that quarter final tie that occurred on that night at Old Trafford.

The 3-2 scoreline showed that the game was much closer. Indeed, after Raul’s goal, United rallied to score two. In that, they showed that they were still a great side.

That was not in doubt as this was the same team that had just a year earlier secured the treble – and would a year later complete a treble of consecutive Premier League titles. What that night had showed to Ferguson was that his gung ho approach was leaving too much of destiny into the hands of fortune.

Indeed, whereas United were always rampant and created a plethora of chances to score, they also left the back-line too susceptible to a plethora of the opponents attacks.

As such, Ferguson began to alter his tactical perceptions. Defensive solidity became paramount. From the dynamism of a two striker system, Ferguson began tinkering with one striker – which meant more bodies in midfield. Players such as Juan Sebastian Veron were brought in to add more patience to the midfield. This was in stark contrast to the rampaging United of the 90’s which had ferocious counter-attacks with emphasis on getting the ball forward as fast as possible. The Veron signing may not have proved successful but it was an indication as United slowly changed from rapid to thought; from voracious to placid.

While this happened, United became disappointing in the European Cup. Between 1999 and 2007, United won only one knockout tie in Europe.

The humiliation reached its apogee in the 2005-2006 season as the team got knocked out in the Group Stages. From then however, the club soared. Within two years, they were European champions, lifting the trophy as the rain poured in Moscow.  A year later, Barcelona would deny United a chance at retaining their trophy before going on to eviscerate them further at Wembley in 2011.

But, because of that night in 2000, and the change it eventually brought, United was able to reach three Champions League Finals in the past six years.

Similarly, it was change that guaranteed Fabio Capello a tremendous night in Athens in 1994. His AC Milan was built upon defensive solidity. Their Champions League run had been defensively sound. And even though their Serie A campaign had seen them score only 36 goals in 34 games – the defence had ensured the Scudetto.

Fabio Capello -- the man who turned Johan Cryuff's dream team into a nightmare.
Fabio Capello — the man who turned Johan Cryuff’s dream team into a nightmare.

Nobody thus gave them a chance against the free-flowing FC Barcelona – but nobody expected what came next. Abandoning his norm of not playing the individualistic Dejan Savicevic, Capello deployed the Montenegrin behind Italian striker Daniele Massaro. With Marcel Dessaily and Demetrio Albertini proving to be a fortress in midfield, Savicevic was left with the freedom to express himself. That he did, and was involved in all four goals as Johan Cryuff’s dream team crumbled.

Capello’s change — allowing attacking freedom amidst defensive entrapment — had delivered him the European Cup.

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As such, it takes the brightest – and boldest – of managers to abandon their usual philosophy or adapt it to another. That however comes with the territory of the job. In an ever changing game, it is those that evolve quicker that get the better rewards.

We will thus consider managers from this season’s Champions League who might have to alter their philosophy – or that of the clubs at which they find themselves in – if they are to accomplish European success.

With a host of managers to choose from, we have settled on only four. To provide variety, we have decided not to include managers already featured in our sign of four series. At the same time, to avoid overcrowding, we had to leave out other managers as well. Fatih Terim was up for consideration before Galatasaray decided to axe him. Meanwhile, we also thought it unfair to include David Moyes as any real assessment of the Manchester United manager at the moment is difficult to make considering the shadow of Ferguson constantly lingering above his head.

Therefore, our short list includes Gerardo Martino of Barcelona, Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini, Antonio Conte of Juventus and Borrusia Dortmund’s Juergen Klopp.

We hope that you will enjoy and any feedback is greatly appreciated.

*Caveat: This is not a conclusive prediction that if these managers change then Champions League success will follow. The dynamics of this cup competition are so vast and wide as to make any simple conclusions. This is a hypothetical look into what these managers may need to do.

*Caveat: In the same light, Champions League success here is not entirely meant to refer to winning the Champions League trophy. Success is relative.

Jürgen Klopp … 

Manuel Pellegrini … 

Gerardo Martino …

Antonio Conte … 

[images courtey of zimbio]

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