The dilemma had been that while it had worked at Euro 2008, it was in danger of being found out at World Cup 2010. That dread turned into reality as Switzerland allowed Spain to tiki-taka but caught them on the break.

Vicente Del Bosque thus had to change. What he did however was to take the passing philosophy to the extreme. More midfielders were added, more passes were encouraged. Patience became the virtue as asphyxiating the opponent became the main strategy. Pass after pass after pass meant the opposition tired from chasing after the ball. Eventually, the breakthrough would come — more often than not, one goal was enough to secure the win.

In doing so, Del Bosque joined an elite group of individuals who can claim to be World Cup winning managers. That decision to further tiki-taka to the extreme proved to be the right one.

It is these sort of decisions which — when they work — ensure immortality. Of course, management is more than just about decisions. There is vision, leadership and a command of authority to follow the path to glory. Nineteen men have done so as managers.

Adapting to circumstances

Five of them have been Brazilian, each met with a different circumstance from the last. Vicente Feola for example had to try and overcome a psychological block that had chained Brazil ever since that 1950 World Cup. For that, he had chosen caution at the start of the 1958 World Cup. Defence reigned supreme — but it was and felt almost un-Brazilian.

Thus, the story goes that before their final group game, a player mutiny occurred to force the manager into playing the squad’s two most exciting players. Feola obliged, and Pele and Garrincha took to the field together for Brazil for the very first time.

“The first pass goes to Garrincha,” Feola said to his playmaker Didi in the tunnel, and when the first few passes went to Garrincha, the Brazilian produced magic. Brazil would go on to lift its maiden World Cup.

Four years later, Aymore Moreira was in a fix that saw the greatest player on the planet limp off with injury. The absence of Pele however completely led to the extreme brilliance of Garrincha. In the process, Moreira became the second Brazilian manager to win a World Cup. Brazil became the second team to ever defend their world title.


The first had been Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy. In 1938, la nazionale built on from their World Cup triumph on home soil of four years earlier.  Pozzo had become like a general, authoritarian and near dictatorial. His reason for this was a belief that whenever more than one man was included in squad selection and preparation, compromise would provide a disadvantage. He thus began the tradition of the Commissario tecnico in Italy. The manager is the be all and end all.

And while the 1934 World Cup could have been marred by what was thought of as political interference from Benito Mussolini to ensure that the home side won, the 1938 triumph was different. It featured a team drilled into chemistry by Pozzo, and playing the metodo formation — a sort of 2-3-2-3 formation which was a tweak of the then marquee formation of W-M (3-2-2-3).

Formation tweaks

Another formation tweak occurred with the wingless wonders of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes. Devised by Sir Alf Ramsey, England shifted away from their conventional 4-4-2 with wingers, and won the World Cup with a 4-1-3-2.


Sepp Herberger similarly tweaked his system, although this was in order to counter the majesty of the magnificent Magyars. While Hungary was heavily expected to win the World Cup, Herberger reacted and closed down their strengths to deny Ferenc Puskas and Co. the World Cup in 1954.

His assistant then, Helmut Schon, would win the World Cup as manager twenty years later. He would rely on a young group of players that had arisen in West Germany — the core of whom were from that great Bayern Munich side of the 70’s. Aime Jacquet also relied on rising individuals at the 1998 World Cup, most of who had been at France’s famed Clairefontaine Academy.

Man-management amidst adversity

On the other hand, Enzo Bearzot and Marcelo Lippi became World Cup winning managers due to their aura and ability to man manage. Both of these Italian managers managed under adversity. Bearzot’s Italy was beset by the 1980 Tortonero scandal while Lippi’s had Calciopoli. However, adversity was turned into a source of unity, and that is why the azzurri emerged victorious at the 1982 and 2006 World Cups respectively.

Purism v Pragmatism

On the other hand, Carlos Bilardo’s 3-5-2 formation at the 1986 World Cup displayed innovation in the midst of pragmatism. The reasons were simple — Bilardo had an almost average squad but in Diego Maradona had the most talented footballer of his generation. Thus, to maximise Maradona’s attacking capabilities, he devised a system which had three defenders, protected by three midfielders in front of them. Wing backs flanked either side and this meant that Maradona could roam freely behind a sole striker, float around with the assurance that the team’s defensive shape could allow him to do as he pleased.

Carlos Bilardo alongside Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup
Carlos Bilardo alongside Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup

However, where Bilardo opted for pragmatism, his ideological opposite was Cesar Luis Menotti, who went with a more free spirited attacking vigour at the 1978 World Cup. Menotti ushered in Argentina’s first World Cup trophy — even though the influence of General Jorge Videla had some part to play in it.

Pragmatism and purism would also be defining factors in the three latest Brazil World Cup triumphs. For Carlos Alberto Perreira and Luis Felipe Scolari in 1994 and 2002 respectively, the system was highly efficient — the defensive structure used to balance out and maximise the attacking strengths.

But it was 1970 where the heights of pure football were achieved. To what extent Mario Zagallo was responsible is not clear. But while luck meant that he all of a sudden had a squad blessed with the qualities of greatness, it was his vision to co-relate each of the talented players into one system that he deserves credit for. Indeed, that 1970 team almost seemed to be perpetually in perfect synchrony. To quantify it into formation would be crude — the players moved like perfect parts of a puzzle mixing to complete the jigsaw. Overlaps were covered, spaces were created and chances completed. It was football symphony.

Zagallo’s brilliance thus came in that he was willing to allow the geniuses of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Clodoaldo, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho et al to shine. In doing so, he became a World Cup winning manager who had also won the World Cup as a player (in 1958 and 1962). Only Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany — who had won the World Cup as a player in 1974 and would then go on to manage West Germany to victory in 1990 — can claim such prestige.


***images courtesy of zimbio***