Managers at bay

BERTI VOGTS has surely added insult to injury. Controversial German manager of a Scotland team which failed to win its sixth successive game in a dire 2-2 draw away to the tiny Faroe Islands, he publicly put blame for the goals conceded on his two experienced centre-backs, Christian Dailly and David Weir. He, in fact, had a valid point since Dailly had culpably missed a cross on the first goal while Weir had failed on the second but dirty washing is never best washed in public. Least of all by a manager who has achieved so pitifully little so far.

Quite why Scotland ever appointed Vogts at all has long baffled me. He seemed a busted flush with Germany back in the 1998 tournament in France when, after a humiliating defeat by Croatia, he tried absurdly to put the blame on some kind of conspiracy against his team. Only to be forced to withdraw. In Euro 2000, Germany were taken apart by Portugal and Berti who had never been a popular national team manager - despite winning Euro '96 - was on his way.

To Bayer Leverkusen where he didn't last very long. Then to Kuwait where an embarrassing defeat in the area tournament was reportedly instrumental in his sacking. Only for the smoke to clear to find him still in power. Not for long, though. Scotland mysteriously came in for him and off he went. There were dark rumours that Kuwait had kept him on only so they could pocket compensation.

Speaking of Leverkusen, what disasters have befallen last season's European Cup heroes this season! They have tottered in the Bundesliga from one defeat to another then astonishingly crashed 6-2 in Piraeus to Olympiakos. A solid, well coached, effective team, but hardly world beaters. Predrag Djordjevic, the Serb, had a field day, scoring no fewer than three of his team's goals, one from the penalty spot. An excellent player, who usually homes in from the left but again, hardly a Ronaldo or a Romario.

What excuse then can be advanced by Leverkusen's coach, Klaus Toppmoller? Just one, really; the loss of Michael Ballack to Bayern Munich which seems to have been truly traumatising. With him to Munich went the accomplished Brazilian left-sided midfielder, Ze Roberto who has doubtless been missed, but nothing like as badly as Ballack who though himself a midfielder, last season scored no fewer than 17 goals for Leverkusen. With one Brazilian international in Juan joining another in Lucio in Bayer's central defence, you'd not think they would be capable of conceding six goals to anybody. But there we and Toppmoller are.

Gerard Houllier of Liverpool was under fire after his team's paltry performance away to Valencia where their 2-0 defeat strongly flattered them. Not the first time he and Liverpool have been criticised for their tactics and performance in the European Cup. Emile Heskey did, once in the first half, go round the goalkeeper and hit the post, but overall, the word was overplayed. Especially by the dazzling little Argentine attacker, Pablo Aimar.

Houllier made what excuses he could but they were hardly convincing. Why, for example, did he not use Michael Owen from the start rather than bring him on as a mere sub at half time when Liverpool were already two down? Houllier replied that he knew it was going to be a very physical game and therefore didn't want to subject Owen to excessive pressure. Eh? How physical is little Aimar who wrought such devastation in a Liverpool defence where, in the absence of the big Swiss Henchoz, Houllier rashly fielded the Senegalese midfielder, Salif Diao. Rather than put in the experienced German Markus Babbel now fit again. Diao had a shocking time of it against Aimar. And Owen, with his immense prestige and implicit threat, could surely have had greater influence in the first half then a strangely passive El Hadji Diouf, nothing like the one man band which had played so convincingly for Senegal in the World Cup. How do such experienced managers get things so utterly wrong?

You might well ask the same question of Bobby Robson, whose Newcastle United side were overwhelmed in the Ukraine by a weakened Dynamo Kiev. A Dynamo team, it should be said, which no longer has the inspirational leadership of the late Valeri Lohanovsky, the double thrust of Sergei Rebrov and Andri Shevtuckekno up front and on this occasion, the wiles and opportunism of that fine Belarus midfield attacker, Valentini Belkevitch.

Quite correctly, as it transpired, Robson had identified the little young Romanian, 22-year-old Florin Cernat, as the principal threat and deputed Aaron Hughes to mark him. It did not work at all. All through the game Cernat ran wild and free, creating chaos in the Newcastle defence. All very well for their veteran striker Alan Shearer to say afterwards that the stunning 25-yard top corner shot by Kiev's Uzbek centre-forward Maxim Chatski wouldn't have gone in more than once in a hundred times. Go in it did, and Newcastle were struggling.

Then what of Fabio Capello and Roma? I sensed they were in danger and difficulty against Real Madrid after they had ineptly gone down 2-1 at Bologna in their opening Serie A match. To Bologna! How could it happen, I asked myself, having so recently seen Bologna taken apart by Fulham in West London where the elegant Japanese midfielder Junichi Inamoto had scored a hat-trick? Argentina's Gabriel Batistuta gave Rome a half time lead but thereafter a less-famed Argentine centre-forward, Julio Cruz, scored twice and a Roma team which even had Francesco Totti back as a late sub and plenty of other talents besides went down.

A few days later, at the Olympic Stadium by the Tiber, Real Madrid simply took them apart in the most embarrassing way. A Roma team missing several stars it is true but at the time the young stand in centre-forward Guti had almost contemptuously strolled through the Roma defence to get the third, Capello's team looked wholly demoralised.

Alex Ferguson of Manchester United has been under withering fire almost all season though he was given a breathing space at Old Trafford when his Manchester United team won 5-2 against Maccabi Haifa, after giving away an alarming early goal. Injuries to Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Juan Veron have not helped, but how could United lose at home to as mediocre a side as Bolton Wanderers or go down to a Leeds team which a few days later struggled at home against obscure Ukrainians Metalurg Zaporizzhya? 1-0! What price now Terry Venables?