There’s room for everybody

The men finally responsible for any resounding success or failure at the European Championship are definitely a colourful bunch, writes Eduardo Garcia Barassi.

Could an admirer of military tactics, a wandering polyglot with a magic halo and an unrelenting believer in stars have anything in common? Yes: they are football coaches faced with the challenge of Euro 2008, which is being co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria. Although some may be more peculiar than others, the men finally responsible for any resounding success or failure at the European Championship, set to begin on June 7, are definitely a colourful bunch.

France’s Raynald Domenech stands out, and not even for his great interest in the theatre, where he has performed in plays by Anton Chekhov and Eugene Ionesco.

After all, some of his colleagues do look like accomplished actors beyond the sidelines of the pitch.

The 56-year-old Frenchman, however, is different from most other coaches in that he deeply believes in the influence of the Zodiac on the make-up of personalities, and therefore on that of a football team.

“At a given moment, it happens that you have to choose between two equally-valuable players, and astrology can provide the bonus,” he said in a television programme when he had not yet been a finalist at the Germany 2006 World Cup.

With Domenech as coach it is better not to be a Scorpio, because those born under that sign “kill each other,” or to be a defender born under Leo, whom the manager considers likely to be a “show off.”

According to Domenech, the presence of the former and the abundance of the latter could definitely be harmful for the group.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, in turn, wants nothing to do with mysticism, unless it is related to Our Lady of Fatima or that of Caravaggio, of which he is devout. In fact, he is more interested in the dictatorship of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) than he is in the merits of an Aquarius or a Capricorn.

The 59-year-old Brazilian joined the Portugal squad five years ago, to impose upon a group of great talents with somewhat wandering minds his warlike philosophy. “(Football) is a war and I have to kill and not be killed,” he told one reporter.

His passion for warfare leads Scolari to read out to players, from time to time, fragments of The Art of War, a Chinese work on military strategy written some 2,500 years ago by Sun Tzu. Before the start of the 2002 World Cup, each player in the Brazil squad coached by Scolari — the team that finally lifted the trophy — received a copy of the book.

With such a personality, “Felipao” won two editions of the prestigious Copa Libertadores and one World Cup, and he took Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup — a feat Portugal had only achieved once before, in 1966, with the talented Eusebio on the pitch.

There is clearly room for everybody in football.

Curiosity over anything different, over constant challenges, is what drives the much more relaxed Guus Hiddink — the personification of the cosmopolitan coach, the new Bora Milutinovic. “When I have a new adventure before me, I try to go for it immediately,” the Dutchman has said.

Aged 61, Hiddink` speaks eight languages, including Russian, which he has not yet quite mastered. After he took South Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup and Australia to the second round of the 2006 World Cup, many claimed that he has special powers and is a magician of some sort.

“What else can you call him, given that he has taken so many teams to World Cups and European Championships?” said Russian winger Yuri Zhirkov. Russia performed below expectations in South Korea-Japan 2002 and in Portugal 2004, and watched Germany 2006 on television. Hiddink, however, plays down the influence of magic. “Work is the key,” he says.

Hiddink’s good mood is in sharp contrast with the irritability of Spain manager Luis Aragones. His insolent style, complete with racist remarks about Thierry Henry, has harmed Aragones’ public image but not his relationship with his players.

“We are with Aragones to death,” keeper Iker Casillas has said more than once.

This must be worth something, given that there are much more polite coaches who can never conquer the loyalty of their teams.

The reasons for definitive triumph at Euro 2008 could be very varied, ranging from the position of the moon to the advice of a Chinese general. Seriously.