"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!
Wednesday June 13,2012.