Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Helenio Herrera:A legend forgotten?

         Revolutionary: The man who gave the role football manager a whole new meaning.

 "He who doesn't give it all, gives nothing" Helenio Herrera

Up until the 1950s and 60s, managers of football clubs were predominantly mere marginal figures or even figure heads, whose roles were practically insignificant and hardly seen.Well of course there were highly sophisticated and learned tactical pioneers like the legendary Vittorio Pozzo (who led Italy to two World Cup Titles) and Hebert Chapman, of Arsenal fame.Later on , brilliant tacticians like the Hungarian trio Gustav Sebes, Marton Bukovi and the highly enigmatic Bela Guttman also made landmark contributions to football tactics by pioneering the then hugely popular 4-2-4 formation. But none of them successfully effected a revolutionary change to the football manager's role like the man known as Il Mago, Helenio Herrera Gavilan.

With 16 major trophies won across four clubs, Herrera is considered as one of the greatest trainers of all time. But he is hardly known for his titles, but how he won them. A strict disciplinarian and ruthless authoritarian, Herrera was the imposing figure of his teams, and not his players. He took credit for exceptional performances and the blame for appalling performances. When he was at Inter Milan (his most successful spell), 'La Grande Inter', as the team were heralded, was also known as 'Herrera's Inter'. And this was at a time when team's were branded by star performers(for example Di Stefano's Real Madrid, Pele's Santos, Eusebio's Benfica, Puskas's Hungary etc).

Herrera's teams played in his image, his beliefs and personality. Above all, he was the most successful proponent of the very influential football system catenaccio. Herrera was that influential, and that is even an understatement.

His exact year of birth is not even known, as it was never recorded. He was believed to have changed his year of birth from 1910 to 1916, although this was nothing more than an allegation.One thing known for a fact is that he was born in Argentina, to Spanish Parents and he moved to Casablanca, Morocco ,aged four with his parents,where he adopted French citizenship.Thus he was Franco-Argentine.

He had quite a modest playing career, starting from the early 30s in Morocco then to mainland France and ended in the mid 40s. His playing career had been very quiet,but his managerial career was to be anything but.

He started management at Puteaux,France.From there,he joined Stade de France,and after a 3 year trophyless period,which caused the owner to sell the club,Herrera migrated to Spain,to ply his trade. It was a slow start really,as he went on to  to have an uneventful spell at Real Valladolid. From there, he had his first successful stint at Spanish club Athletico Madrid,winning the championship(league title/la liga)back to back in 1950 and 1951.By this time, his confidence was on the rise,as well as his reputation.But another uneventful period ensued between then and his next successful stint,as he spent time at CD Malaga, Deportivo La Coruna, Sevilla and CF Os Belenenses in Lisbon between 1948 and 1958.

Then came his moment in the spot light, at Barcelona. Real Madrid had dominated Spain and Europe and were a fearsome force when Herrera signed in at Barca. 

Perhaps it was a daunting task to unseat Madrid,who had star players like Gento,Stefano,Puskas and the likes. Herrera got to work,and made his presence felt. In only two years,he unseated Madrid and knocked them of their perch by winning the Championship(La Liga) back to back. It was a sensational achievement that brought back belief amongst the Catalonia faithful. The seat of power had experienced a paradigm shift.And at a time when Catalonia were being opressed under General Franco, usurping Madrid was like an emancipation. It meant an awful lot.

He also won the Inter City Fairs Cup (Precursor to the UEFA Cup/Europa League) back to back as well as winning the Spanish Cup. Il Mago however had to leave after only two years at the helm, as he had a personality clash with star player Ladislao Kubala. 

Herrera was upset with the fact that Kubala as a star player wielded considerable power. Any where Herrera was, he wanted to be the boss - sharing the spotlight, or having peple associate others with him when it came to apportioning credit was just not his thing. He believed his hardwork had earned him the right to be the main man. The one and only.

And so after a European Cup Semi-Final defeat to Arch rivals Madrid,he was fired by the board.Harsh call,but he wanted to leave,he was a no-nonsense character. He left the Nou Camp after two years and 5 trophies.He was by this time the most famous manager in Europe,his commanding nature had sent shock waves across the region.

The High Priest of Catenaccio: Herrera modified the system invented by Karl Rappan (as the Verrou system) and made it a known phenomenon ,not to talk of the success achieved with it

Herrera's next step was at Inter Milan,in 1960. New Owner and Bank Roller Angelo Moratti(current President Massimo Moratti's father) wanted Inter to be a world football super power,and broke records to get his man. At this time Herrera became a world wide coaching phenomenon, as he earned money that most star players in Europe could only even dream of at the time.(then-record salary for a manager (£35,000 p/a).

At Inter, Herrera's whole personality and philosophy became clearer to the footballing world,as he began in earnest,imposing his strict/control freak self on every aspect of the players' lives.He was a master of psychology,as his motivational skills were a novelty in football.

His fervent mottos and mantras such as "Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships'', ''Taca la bala''(attack the ball!) and echoing words from pep talks were posted all around the training ground,players literally chanting words during each session. 

His pioneering techniques extended to having a stern control over every aspect of his players' lives,controlling their diet, sleeping pattern, forbidding smoking and drinking etc. He is credited to have invented a system known as ritiro; a pre-match remote country hotel retreat that started with players reporting on Thursday to prepare for a Sunday game. 

He also sent club trainers to players' homes to check on them,whether they were following strict codes that he outlined. Even to ridiculous heights,he once suspended a player after he(the player) told the press "we came to play in Rome" instead of "we came to win in Rome".He was the whole package.Of course the players initially hated his over-controlling and military style methods,but as it turned out,it became a solid foundation that facilitated the creation of one of the strongest teams in football history.

“His emphasis on fitness and psychology had never been seen before. Until then, the manager was unimportant.” –  Luis Suárez Miramontes (Herrera's player at Barca and Inter,and also former European player of the year.)

HH as he was affectionately known, at the San Siro, adopted the ultra defensive catenaccio system and modified,making it flexible and dynamic to include effective counter attacking. 

Although the origins of catenaccio is highly controversial,as theorists vary inventors and appliers from Karl Rappan to Nereo Rocco even to Giuseppe Viani, there is no doubt about who made the system an established force.

Herrera made catenaccio his own, employing full backs in an attacking way so as to aid swift counter attacks,to hit opponents on the break so to speak.Captain Armando Pichi was his libero(sweeper) who was a free defender not strictly man marking, to pick up lose balls, nullify attacks and launch counter attacks,in which defensive winger/full back Giacinto Fachetti would also propel.

Inter were such a disciplined team under Herrera.The honours poured in, justifying their innovative hard work.They won their first Serie A title for nine years in 1963, going on to claim their first ever European Cup in 1964 with an emphatic 3-1 victory Puskás and Di Stéfano's Real Madrid in the final. Inter went on to win two more Championships, another European cup and two Intercontinental world titles.This was 'La Grande Inter', Helenio's Inter. He became a celebrity,claiming all praises for his team's domination.

This was a first in football, the manager was the team, and he was Il Mago (the wizard). After that iconic spell at the helm of the Nerrazzuri, Herrera signed out in 1968, his c.v literally glowing with trophies.

                        Serious trainer: Herrera's training methods were strict, very strict.

He moved to Roma,winning only an Italian Cup trophy in 3 years.At Roma,he coached Fabio Capello,whom connoisseurs observe has been heavily influenced by HH in his coaching today.Of course like many great managers,his career fizzled out in the late years,with brief uneventful returns to Barcelona and Inter.

Herrera had his critics.Of course he was not perfect. He was vilified for over working players and being too totalitarian.He was even accused of fixing matches(well the whole Inter team of that era was). At Roma,he once made a controversial statement "This club has not won the championship since 1942 and only did so then because Mussolini was the coach." which insinuated that Roma won the title during Mussolini's rule because he favoured them.Coincidentally,his time at Roma came to an abrupt end soon after making this remark.

His whole personality was strong,oozing with confidence and command,something that divided opinion and polarized the press.He was like a Jose Mourinho in the 60s, or maybe Jose Mourinho is the Helenio Herrera of the modern day. His impact on the game,and on the role of the manager in football cannot be over emphasized.

Today, football coaches are well respected and regarded as integral parts of the football set-up.The status quo is due to Herrera and his immense contributions.I decided to do this piece because of this very reason.Surprisingly,his name is hardly ever mentioned today. 

Many people hardly know him.

Helenio's legend has to be told, his legacy has to be known.For a man that achieved so much not only in terms of trophies but also in terms of enormous innovation, it is worth the time writing on him.So now you know!

Fiifi Anaman.(@fiifianaman)
Wednesday June 13,2012.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kwasi Appiah to stake a claim for local coaches?

                                Ghana's new boss: Staking a claim for local coaches.

Friday June 1,2012 was not only the start of a new month,well for most Ghanaians I must say. It signified the start of a new era in the life of the Senior National Football Men's team the Black Stars.

This is because,for the first time in 10 years, a local coach (James Kwasi Appiah)appointed last month, was going to manage the side (on a full time basis)in his first match,against Lesotho(a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup). He had replaced Serb Goran Stefanovic, to whom he had been assisted for two years.

It had been a long wait, although many people had been sceptical and pessimistic about the whole move to go in for a local trainer.Many argued that  Ghana was ''not ready'' and that a local coach would lack the tactical knowledge and the mental resilience as well as authority to handle all the pressure(and trust me,immense pressure) as well as the egos within the team (as many of the boys play abroad,earning fat salaries and enjoying worldwide fame).

In a nation where almost everyone has a keen interest in football (primarily all issues pertaining to the black stars) the anticipation was intense, many across the opinion divide just couldn't wait for the opportunity to see how things would pan out.While the pessimists were waiting for him to ''mess up'' for them to prove their point, the local coach activists were hoping in tension, that Kwasi would rise up to the task. And boy did he perform!

Bar a potential reputation ruining cum humiliating floodlight failure that held up the game for close to an hour, the game was an absolute beauty(from Ghana's perspective). The Stars's performance evinced confidence and rejuvenation,with every player putting in a 10 out of 10 performance to impress the new gaffer.

The passing was pin point, the organization world class and the finishing top notch. A highly convincing 7-nil drubbing (Ghana's first ever seven nil win in decades) left spectators ecstatic, with critics put in a jaw-dropping trance. In a very fluid 4-3-3 formation that in a very unusual way had two to three players operating in a free role(most notable skipper Sulley Muntari who put in a virtuoso performance), Ghana passed the ball around,almost playfully,dwarfing the confidence of their Lesotho opponents.

One could clearly see the positive change and improvement in the team, as hitherto non-performing and doubted players like Derek Boateng, Dominic Adiyiah (scored a brace) and Jordan Ayew (also scored a brace) put in man of the match performances.

Many would bear me out that this had been the most exceptional Black Stars displays we have witnessed as a nation for many years. Even the skeptics had to back down with that argument of ''Lesotho being a weak team." and just give it to the boys and their coach.

Whichever way you look at it, it was a refreshingly exhilarating performance, something the team desperately needed for the start of a new phase.Besides, it would have been a gross injustice to take anything away from the performance, as even though the opponents were 'weak', not many teams could on any day put 7 past them, and in such a manner.

For most of us who were at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi to witness the dawning of this exciting new era, it was money well spent, even despite the floodlight drama. And yes, Im proud to say (as a pro-local coach activist and firm pan-africanist) that this performance was masterminded by one of our own.

Kwasi Appiah, a former captain of the Black Stars himself, who served as assistant coach for four years under two different managers, has proved, if his first outing is anything to go by, that giving him the job was an astute move. Soon after his appointment, he quickly recommended Maxwell Konadu,a young vibrant title winning coach with Asante Kotoko and as well as an old friend, to the Ghana F.A, to assist him.

Max Konadu's Kotoko side were lauded and acclaimed critically in the just ended season for being a solid side, which brought to the spot light his (Konadu's) tactical acumen. An clever appointment, in my honest opinion, as both had worked together to win Gold for Ghana's Olympic team at the All-Africa Games in Maputo.An ideal team from that perspective.

The new boss has injected a new spirit of renaissance into the squad, with players praising his attacking/possession football philosophy, which he works on at training by drilling the boys through more and more on-the-ball works. Off the pitch too,he has made efforts to stamp his authority in the player selection process,by fearlessly venturing into breaking grounds by conducting a recruitment process based more on merit(something Ghana has hardly experienced under the foreign coaches before him,where players got into the team as ''stars'' even after not having regularly played at club level). Although not a 100% certain that he has done so, there has most definitely been an improvement in that respect.

Also, being a local coach and privy to the knowledge of talent abounding in our local league, he has regularly monitored,fished out and included the crème de la crème  of our local elite into the side,again another thing his foreign predecessors failed to do, much to the contentment of the local media and supporters alike.

Kwasi Appiah is overseeing a  transition at the helm that has a brand new positive outlook, new players, new playing style and most importantly a new identity that most Ghanaians now feel they can relate to.The Black Stars of the 1960s 70s 80s and early 90s is being reincarnated so to speak, in Kwasi's team; a local coach, fluid attacking play, possession domination and above all, a chance for local players.

                                 Maxwell Konadu,Kwasi Appiah's young assistant

 And with the support of Ghanaians (majority of whom were mesmerized and impressed by his debut), he can only go on and achieve great things, to prove a point for local coaches and give meaning to Kwame Nkrumah's famous proclamation that ''the African is capable of managing his own affairs''

It has been a dream, flying start to life in his new job.And in collaboration with his fellow young up and coming assistant,the duo will hopefully represent a new era/ movement of  local coaches embarking on a journey that will ultimately lay the foundation, set the pace and serve as a long lasting legacy for future local coaches who will man the national team.

Hopefully, they'll go on to achieve great things and dispel the general thinking that local coaches are incompetent, inept and not up to the task.Their success or failure could spell out the fate of local coaches aspiring to get the opportunity in the future. A tough task stares them in the face,and inferring from the flying start,we have course as Ghanaians to believe that there is hope.

The future looks bright.

Fiifi Anaman.(@fiifianaman)
Saturday June 2,2012.
Kumasi Ghana.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Brendan Rodgers:A career defining moment.

The King's successor:Brendan ''Buck'' Rodgers has been chosen as heir to King Kenny in the Anfield dugout.

Following weeks of intense rumours, the rise to prominence of ''ITKs'' (People claiming to be in the know,possesing sources and moles) and a media circus rooted in extremely misleading information until the very last minute,Fenway Sports Group (FSG) finally settled on Brendan Rodgers. It, I understand, came down ultimately between himself and Wigan boss Roberto Martinez(whose club chairman Dave Whelan became notorious in the media for being a talkative). According to very reliable sources on twitter,most notable amongst them being Duncan Jenkins, FSG had him in mind soon after Kenny's sacking,or maybe even before that,as he had impressed them with his Barcelona-style of football he had cultivated so well at Swansea last season.

Rodgers is relatively unknown and not tried and tested,well of course compared to the other supposed contenders like Andre Villas Boas, Luis Van Gaal, Jurggen Klopp et al. He had been a professional footballer in his teens, but quit after discovering he hardly had what it took to soldier on as a successful professional. A career threatening injury sustained also made his decision all the easier.

From there, Rodgers set his sights on embarking on a career journey to ultimately lead him to being one of the top managers of our generation. And he was prepared to undergo all the preparatory rough and tumble to make it happen.

One thing that has been his hallmark is that he possesses the passion and the drive to learn and modify, to apply. He underwent coaching courses to acquire the needed licences and certification as well as technical/tactical knowledge. He was sure he wanted to become a coach and he was equally convinced he would blossom into a fine tactician and trainer if only he learned from the right people and institutions.

He had also always believed and admired the Spanish and Netherlands way of keeping the ball/possesion,which he believes is key to controlling a football game--which gives one the upper-hand in the race to win a match. He recalled that, even from way back as in his youthful days, he had always prefered that philosophy as against the orthodox British way of 'hoofing' the ball up the pitch(long ball football).

“Whenever I was playing as a youth international with Northern Ireland we would play Spain, France, Switzerland and the like. And we were always chasing the ball. In my mind, even at that young age, I remember thinking ‘I’d rather play in that team than this team," Rodgers.

He invested time,effort and resources, travelling to Spain and the Netherlands to study The Rinus Michels system of total football,which has today morphed into Barcelona's classic tiki taka. It was a matter of preference, as he disliked the British way,s o much so that even before becoming a full blown coach, he was travelling around Europe, studying the Spanish and Dutch systems painstakingly.

Man of the moment: Rodgers during his unveiling

“My big dream is to be a highly successful football manager whose methods provide innovation for youth and senior footballers and coaches” Rodgers

The times spent at Barcelona and Ajax studying the models and blueprints of ''sexy'' football was one that shaped his coaching ideas and philosophy.He carefully sampled bits from everywhere to develop his own system, which he would later use in coaching his sides.He started out at Reading as a youth team coach, experimenting his newly learnt ideas, correcting flaws and perfecting it with time.

Due to his impressive drive and determined character, Jose Mourinho snapped him up from Reading as his first external appointment on his arrival upon the recommendation of Steve Clarke(current LFC asistant manager) at Stamford Bridge in 2004. Jose Mourinho most probably saw himself in Rodgers, and was fascinated by his willingness to learn and develop a unique style so as to equip him with the needed arsenal to succeed. He (Rodgers) recalls,We [himself  and Jose Mourinho] had a similar philosophy – we believed in the passion for football and the organisation. And he worked at a big club before becoming a manager. 

''He took me under his wing a wee bit, maybe because he saw something different in me, or maybe there was a bit of empathy because, like him, I hadn’t had the big playing career. Anyway, that started one of the best times of my life. Jose had learnt from his mentor, Louis van Gaal, and I learnt from him, that there must never be a lazy day in training, and that preparation is vital.”

"I am very happy with his appointment, especially because he did it as a consequence of all his amazing work at Swansea,Brendan is a good man, a family guy and a friend,when he joined us at Chelsea he was a young coach with lots of desire to learn,but he was also a coach with ideas, who was ready not just to listen but also to communicate and share."Jose Mourinho on Brendan Rodgers.

Although Mourinho had his own distinct style which was different from Rodgers' admired system of possesion football, he(Rodgers) learnt a lot from Mourinho's highly detailed and scientific training sessions, and his conscientious style in emphasizing the importance of every single aspect, and the zero tolerance for laziness. Brendan was learning attentively and well, with knowledge that was fast becoming more balanced and thorough.He had always admired Jose Mourinho and had always dreamt of meeting him and learning from him.

Rodgers recalled of his mentor, ''As you can imagine I was nervous meeting him, a guy I’d read a book about''

Jose Mourinho's influence did certainly not only boost his knowledge base but his c.v as well.He was ready now,after years of painstaking research,studying and observation.His master plan towards reaching his goal was unfolding as it should.

The Master and his protégé  : Brendan Rodgers sees Mourinho as a role model and inspiration

Rodgers started out at Watford, aged only 35,with an impressive 15 years of youth team and reserve team coach written boldly on his c.v, not to mention all the knowledge emanating from his studies and travels. Then through to Reading,where his career took a major blow as he had an unsuccessful stint and was ultimately sacked.This was a really had reality for Rodgers to imbibe, as from all that he had done in preparation for his career,he had hardly anticipated a potential ''failure'' so soon.

But he had to face reality and move on, to forget about the painful impact of the debacle and learn vital lessons from it.He moved on,being appointed manager of Swansea City Football Club in July 2010.The rest they say its history.Guiding them into the Premier League for the first time in their history by contesting and winning the play-off final,Rodgers not only achieved, but he did so with Swansea finally showcasing his long held philosophy.Everything was finally falling in place.

In his first season in the Premier League, not only has the Northern Irish trainer shocked pundits and avoided relgation, he has done so, finishing in 11th place and playing the most attractive football the Premier League has withnessed in years. His side, in a justified relation/comparison (as he's now Liverpool manager) finished only 5 points behind Liverpool last season, with Liverpool spending £120m - compared to his £7m.

Also, according to some OPTA, Brendan Rodgers' Swansea team scored 30 goals from open play last season, compared to Liverpool's 24 goals from open play.Surely FSG had considered all this in addition to the other impressive factors,including of course two virtuoso Swansea performances vs Liverpool at Anfield and the Liberty Stadium, in making that risky gamble of bringing him to Anfield, even allowing him to bring three of his trusted backroom staff from the Liberty stadium.Liverpool's managing director reflects, "When you meet Brendan you can't help but be inspired by his knowledge, passion and vision for the game.''

Reports even suggest the owners may have jettisoned their original plan of a tiered administrative structure including a Director of football and a Technical Director,to give Rodgers full control,apparently under a ground breaking ''continental model'' .In what I personally feel is a massive step up,in my honest opinion, i think he is up for it.

“Our idea is to pass teams to a standstill so they can no longer come after you. Eventually you wear them down.” “My philosophy is to play creative attacking football with tactical discipline, but you have to validate that with success.”“I like to control games. I like to be responsible for our own destiny. If you are better than your opponent with the ball you have a 79 per cent chance of winning the game. For me it is quite logical. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, if you don’t have the ball you can’t score.” Brendan Rodgers.

 New Era: Brendan Rodgers replaces King Kenny after beating him on the final day of the league.

I have said time and again that I personally feel it's a shrewd appointment.Following his trajectory, he has shown the desire to succeed and the propensity to do what it is that is necessary to achieve that. He also has a sound and effective philosophy, which I must admit will take time to fully transmit to the squad at Melwood, but will eventually fall in place beautifully.

Things certainly look bright transitioning the club into the future. Managers must start from somewhere, and judging from other notable examples, I firmly believe LFC could have just found their own Klopp, Conte or even Guardiola.

Fiifi Anaman (@fiifianaman)
Friday June 1 2012.