While it’s the frisky feet that do the shooting on the football field, the trigger is controlled by brains in the small square outside it — literally thinking out of the box as they pitch wits in an attempt to blow each other to bits. Meet the Managers who actually dictate the game as they calculate moves at rocket speed and holler animated instructions to their foot soldiers on the field.
In Russia there are shrewd and suited strategists from 23 countries — four Argentines, three Spaniards, two from Colombia, France, Germany and Portugal and a man each representing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, England, Iceland, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia and Uruguay — heading the 32 teams vying for the World Cup. The youngest of the lot is 42-year-old Aliou Cisse of Senegal who has been in charge of the side for three years while Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez is the grand old man at 71 having steered the South American side for 12 long years. Here’s a look at some of the men who matter:
The German General walks into Russia with his head held high as the defending champion. In fact he is the only coach in the mix to have won a World Cup, having led his side to triumphant campaign in Brazil four years ago. Under the 58-year-old’s stewardship the Germans have reached at least the semifinals of every international tournament since the 2006 World Cup. Now, they attempt to become the first team in 56 years to successfully defend the World Cup — Brazil, who won the coveted trophy in 1958 and 1962, were the last team to win back-to-back titles. Should Loew end on a high, he will match Italian Vittorio Pozzo’s feat of winning successive World Cups, in 1934 and 1938.
Loew commands a complete set up — an enhanced fitness coaching staff, a relations manager and a mental conditioning coach whose job is to prepare players for stressful situations. During his tenure Loew has increased the pace of the game by getting his players to think on their feet by way of reducing time they held on to the ball before passing. He’d be looking to get off the blocks early in Russia as well.
FIFA World Cup winner (2014). Third place (2010).
European Championship runner-up (2008).
Third place (in 2016, 2012)
FIFA Confederations Cup winner (2017)
Adenor Bacchi, better known as Tite, has remarkably transformed the Big Boys ever since he took charge of the side two years ago. The five time winners were struggling at sixth in the South American qualifying race before the master tactician triggered a seven-match winning streak that saw them the first team to qualify for the World Cup. Football fans in Brazil were not surprised though, for the 57-year-old has a track record of leading club teams through surprising campaigns.
However, Tite has won only one big title at the international stage — the FIFA Club World Cup in 2012 with Brazilian side Corinthians. Hosting the World Cup four years ago, Brazil had botched up big time — being thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals but as at every Cup, the canary yellows will again be talked up. It’s the customary flair that Tite brings to the game that could turn Brazil from flops to favourites.
FIFA Club World Cup winner (in 2012 with Brazilian side Corinthians)
The former midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 is known for his tactical intelligence. Much of that is built from his playing days — as a midfielder he mastered the art of winning the ball and subsequently feeding it to the strikers to launch fierce attacks in over 100 games he has played for France alone apart from turning up for several top-notch clubs in France, Italy, England and Spain with whom he has won the Champions League twice.
The 49-year-old ha also managed big clubs for 12 years (leading French side Monaco to a Champions League silver) before taking on French reins in 2012 and leading them to the runner-up finish in the 2016 European Championship. In his favoured 4-2-3-1 combination, Deschamps banks on athletic midfielders who can win possession as well as break forward in an all-out attack.
As player: FIFA World Cup winner in 1998. European Championship winner in 2000. European Championship third place in 1996. Champions League winner in 1993 with Olympique Marseille and Juventus in 1996.
As manager of France: European Championship runner-up in 2016.
The 63-year-old made history by leading Portugal to their first major tournament success at Euro 2016 (with an unbeaten run) and followed that up by guiding them through the World Cup qualifiers.
Among the few who are reigning champions of world football’s major trophies, Santos has managed three of Portugal’s biggest clubs, winning five major titles with Porto. He has had successful spells with national teams as well, leading Greece to the quarterfinals at Euro 2012 and to the pre-quarterfinals at the last edition of the World Cup in Brazil 2014.
European Championship winner (in 2016 with Portugal)
FIFA Confederations Cup: Third place (2017)