With FIFA’s 10-man shortlist for world coach of the year released earlier this week, The Stats Zone focuses on some of those named, as well as others making a marked impression on Europe’s grand managerial stage in the last month.
Quote of the Month
The clear favourite to scoop this year’s FIFA Coach of the Year award is Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri. Last year’s Premier League winning manager has led his team to another outstanding feat as they came through Wednesday’s goalless encounter at FC Copenhagen with their fourth consecutive clean sheet of their inaugural Champions League campaign. Ranieri was naturally delighted with his goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and delighted with the point, “Kasper made a very good save and we had two or three chances but the last pass wasn’t so good. Kasper gave us two points [in the home game with a late save to keep it 1-0] and today he won us one point. It’s very important for us because 10 points is not enough, but it’s a good point tonight. It’s another clean sheet and for this reason we have one point in Copenhagen against a good team and a very well organised team. I’m very very satisfied.”
La Liga shaping up for a four-horse race?
As we pass the quarter-way mark of the season, La Liga is tantalising the football senses, not only with its usual dose of Latin tempo and style, but also with some very surprising results involving the perennial trio of title challengers; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. All three managers have been named in FIFA’s coach of the year shortlist.
Zinedine Zidane leads the table with Real despite a three-game blip, drawing to Villarreal, Las Palmas and Eibar. The latter result at the Bernabeu sent shock waves around Europe, and evidently through Zidane’s squad as they corrected their errors in the subsequent game with a resounding 6-1 win at Real Betis.
Luis Enrique’s current champions Barcelona are two points behind Real, but have endured severe scrutiny after suffering two defeats so early in this campaign. A 2-1 defeat at home to Deportivo Alaves prompted some pundits to call for Enrique’s resignation. They may have temporarily overlooked the eight trophies he has won during his two years at Barca’s helm!
One man whose resignation is unlikely to ever be demanded by his club’s entire fan base is Diego Simeone. Such is his favour with Atletico Madrid that their solitary defeat to Sevilla was forgiven instantly.
Now we come to Sevilla, level-pegging on 21 points with Atletico, and are proving to be the surprise package in La Liga. Last season’s Europa League champions are now managed by Jorge Sampaoli, who won the Copa America for the first time in Chile’s history last year, earning him third place in FIFA’s world coach of the year award.
Could the customary triumvirate be joined by a fourth challenger this season? The majority of Spain’s pundits have their doubts but the general public are nonetheless eager for a four-horse race.
Senol Gunes, 2002 World Cup bronze medallist, has a new domestic opponent
If FIFA had created their World Coach of the Year award in 2002, Senol Gunes may well have reigned supreme, having guided Turkey to third place in the World Cup in Japan/Korea that year.
Until May, Gunes was renowned throughout his nation as having finished runner-up four times with Trabzonspor in the Turkish championship – considered nonetheless outstanding for a club battling against the traditional powerhouses – without the kudos of a domestic league title to his name after almost three decades in management.
Last year Gunes was handed the reigns at Besiktas following Slaven Bilic's exit, with the task of adding to just two league titles in 20 years. Gunes didn’t disappoint as he guided Besiktas to their 14th championship. The entire population celebrated, so deeply endeared to the man who led their country to a World Cup semi-final. Even supporters from local rivals Fenerbahce attended the title celebrations in the centre of Istanbul.
This year Gunes has continued the success story, leading his men to an undefeated nine-game run – their best start in over a decade. But he has a surprising challenger in Abdullah Avci, who has led Istanbul Basaksehir – also unbeaten in their opening nine games – to the top of the table. Avci also led Turkey to an international semi-final when their U-17 side achieved third place at the 2005 World Cup.
A friendship evolved between the two managers after Gunes congratulated Avci on his achievement, but their friendship will be put to one side when their own sides meet towards the end of this month.
Massimiliano Allegri elevates Juventus to familiar heights
Massimiliano Allegri is forging a name for himself alongside the world’s leading football managers in the current era. His achievements have been outstanding, including equalling Juventus’s 12-game winning streak set back in 1929.
Allegri came through the lower echelons of Italian football before AC Milan called on his services in the summer of 2010. His remit was simple: break Inter Milan’s dominance (their local rivals had won five Serie A titles in succession). And he did just that, claiming Milan’s first title for seven years.
Juventus offered him their managerial vacancy in July 2014. Allegri accepted. An extraordinary season followed as he led the club to a league and cup double and, still hard to believe even in retrospect, a Champions League final against Barcelona. It’s worth a reminder that Juventus thrashed Borussia Dortmund 5-1 on aggregate before overcoming Carlo Ancelotti’s defending champions Real Madrid 3-2 in the semi-final, all of which prompted FIFA to grant him entry into their world coach of the year shortlist.
Predators pounced as Allegri lost his star trio of Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo. Questions were asked even prior to last season’s curtain raiser about Allegri’s ability to cope without such key players. After an alarming start, Juventus went on to claim the title with relative ease, as well as a 1-0 Coppa Italia final victory over fiercest rivals AC Milan.
Intriguingly, both Milan clubs have secured one-goal margin victories over Allegri’s side this season, but he has won every other match in the league with a defensive record still in single figures. Allegri has thanked one person in particular for such a tight defence: Juve’s captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The man is 38 years old and playing as well as ever before. Three clean sheets in this season’s Champions League is bettered only by Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City, who have yet to concede.
A club that has dominated domestically with 32 league titles – dwarfing the second placed Milan clubs on 18 each – leaves the expectations of Juventus fans hankering after glory on the European stage above all else. Just two Champions League victories are crumbs of discomfort for their support and the club as a whole. Allegri’s remit, following a new contract in May, was explicitly to convert their reputation as European also-rans to perennial Champions League contenders and, ideally, to a longed-for status as European champions.
The Welsh flag riding highest in Europe
Wales achieved the outrageous at Euro 2016 with a semi-final appearance for the first time in their relatively un-illustrious history, prompting FIFA to include manager Chris Coleman in this year’s 10-man shortlist for the best coach in the world.
Another Welsh team making their mark, albeit on a stage far less grand or historical than Coleman’s heroes, is The New Saints. Managed by Englishman Craig Harrison, The New Saints currently top Europe’s goal-scoring charts, averaging an astonishing 3.85 goals per game. 50 goals in just 13 games!
Such a statistic is impressive enough, but someone across the continent should take more than a browsing glance at this manager, as his trophy-grabbing consistency is rivalled by nobody. Five league championship titles in the last five years and six cup titles to boot, his drive shows no sign of wilting. In fact, TNS’s opening – and ongoing – 13 wins on the bounce this season is another statistic that outstrips all clubs throughout Europe.
Harrison’s playing career was horrifically cut short by injury in his prime. Perhaps his broken dream as a footballer was a permanent reminder that the current managerial dream can be as easily shattered amid the slings and arrows of football’s merciless results.
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