The managerial maelstrom

LOUIS VAN GAAL lost his first competitive game as Manchester United manager.-AP

Brazil having horribly disintegrated in losing 7-1 in the World Cup to Germany, have inevitably parted company with their coach Big Phil Scolari, who promptly found a berth at Gremio, the club he used to manage. To general astonishment, the Brazilian federation then appointed in his place none other than Dunga. By Brian Glanville.

How hard it is to follow the logic if any of football managers’ coming and going. Brazil having horribly disintegrated in losing 7-1 in the World Cup to Germany, have inevitably parted company with their coach Big Phil Scolari, who promptly found a berth at Gremio, the club he used to manage. To general astonishment, the Brazilian federation then appointed in his place none other than Dunga, a former captain of the team which indeed won the World Cup in Los Angeles in 1994, but subsequently without any managerial was appointed to run the national team in 2006. His total of 91 international appearances was formidable but as a manger he largely reflected his qualities as a player, essentially defensive and unimaginative, traditionally un-Brazilian, you might say.

He lasted, however, until Brazil were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by Holland. His first press conference was hopelessly muddled, with facts and names cited being embarrassingly wrong. Above all, he totally overlooked the fact that the new, modern style of football, as shown by Spain and now Germany, was essentially a passing game rather than the deep-marking counter-attacking style, which, according to him predominated.

Fiercely criticised by that fine centre forward of the World Cup past, Tostao, now a leading commentator, for failing to implement such tactics at both club and international level, Dunga is felt to represent the crisis in Brazilian football at large, with federation president Marin, a man in his eighties with a far Right political background. For years, Tostao and company feel the Brazilian game has been going totally backwards. The flair has seeped out of it.

Yet, I would suggest that the defensive, unimaginative rot set in a great deal earlier when, to general surprise, then too the Brazil team managership went to Carlos Alberto Parreira, whose whole experience had been essentially as a fitness rather than a football coach. Yet, there, in 2014, he was again as Scolari’s assistant, living constantly cropped up in Brazil’s coaching hierarchy. One shrewd critic called the appointment of Dunga “a general flight from reality.” It is hard to make any kind of sense of it.

In England, the arrival of Holland’s Louis Van Gaal as the new manager of Manchester United was hailed as an inspired appointment. He had just guided the Dutch team to an honourable third place in the World Cup, starting the tournament with a devastating 5-1 thrashing of the holders, Spain. Much was instantly expected of him, and United’s excellent pre-season results in friendly games, both in USA and at home to Valencia, seemed to suggest a fine new dawn.

This, by sharp contrast with what happened a year earlier when David Moyes was prised away from Everton team he had run skilfully and economically for many years. He had been the choice of Sir Alex Fergusson, whose astonishingly long reign at Old Trafford had brought title after title.

Yet, in very little time, Moyes seemed out of his depth, the team going from bad to worse, plainly doomed for the first time for years not even to qualify for the European Champions League, unable to win a single English trophy. It seemed all too plain that poor Moyes was hopelessly out of his depth. He became almost a figure of fun, accused of “losing the dressing room” until at last his dismissal seemed almost an act of kindness. Was it unfair to suspect that Fergusson wanted Moyes rather than a glittering egoist like Jose Mourinho to manage the club, one who might steal his thunder? Van Gaal could be seen as such a man; but what embarrassingly happened when United opened their Premiership campaign against modest Swansea City at Old Trafford; that same Swansea club, who had in the opening League match of the previous season, Moyes’ first competitive game, had lost 4-1 to United on their new ground.

Why, Swansea won the match 2-1 and thoroughly deserved to do so. The margin might even have been greater. True, United lacked certain some important players, notably Holland’s prolific striker Robin van Persie, who had made little secret of his disdain for Moyes, not least on the filed with his performances, and the precious, hugely expensive ex-Southampton left back, Luke Shaw. Van Gaal, an autocratic figure, once made an uneasy start at Bayern Munich but by the end of that season had won the Bundesliga. Yet he had some reasons to echo the complaint of Moyes that he’d been left with an inadequate squad. The suggestion being that Alex Fergusson had got out at the right time. Now, United are ready to spend inordinately; a problem being this season, they cannot offer newcomers European Cup football.

A few days earlier, there had been a sensational resignation at Crystal Palace. Tony Pulis, the fiercely dedicated Welsh manager, who had performed minor miracles at the south-east London club last season, not only saving them from what seemed, when he arrived, almost inevitable relegation, but taking them well up the Premiership table to safety. Meanwhile, deploying the kind of attacking, crisp intelligent football, which had never been his stock in trade in his many previous seasons at Stoke City.

But he fell out irrevocably with his chairman over transfer policy, unable to obtain any players he badly wanted. Steve Parish publicly and unconvincingly insisted that there had been no such fall out between them, which hardly explained why Pulis had so abruptly left. The irony of it is that were Palace a German or Italian club, Pulis would have had no say in transfer policy anyway, since there managers can only suggest what they want to the executive chief.

Leeds United, meanwhile, a once great club long fallen on dismal times, are now owned by the Italian Massimo Cellino, previously owner of Cagliari club, and facing charges in Italy of malfeasance. He promptly sacked his manager, Brian McDermott and to general astonishment appointed the obscure David Hockaday, whose sole managerial experience had been with non-League club Forest Green, who had sacked him after four years. The theory was that Cellino wanted to save a lot of money. Various secondary Italian players were drafted in. But at least Leeds, before their usual big crowd, did manage to win their second Championship game at home to Middlesbrough.

Relegated Fulham began with two defeats; under German manager Felix Magath, ex manager of Wolfsburg, Schalke and VFB Stuttgart, scorer of the wining goal for Hamburg in an European Cup final. But is he, with his reliance on youngsters, the right man for Fulham.