Top ten managers of the World Cup

July 20, 2010

Takeshi Okada

Sometimes in-depth tactical analysis can overcomplicate the fairly basic job of a manager – to get the best out of his players. Here are the ten managers who did that well at this World Cup.

10. Takeshi Okada, Japan

The allegation before the tournament was that Okada was failing to get the best out of a decent bunch of players, but a late switch in tactics meant Japan were reasonably impressive in their advance to the second round. The surprise use of Keshuke Honda upfront was inspired, and Honda received plenty of support from four midfield runners in a formation that was rigid defensively and fluid upfront. The second round game against Paraguay was awful, but it was the first time Japan had got to that stage on foreign soil.

9. Carlos Alberto Parreira, South Africa

South Africa were written off before the tournament as no-hopers, but Parreira’s job in a relatively short space of time should be respected; when he took over last October, they’d lost their last five games. Under his reign, they were unbeaten in 13 coming into the tournament. They led against Mexico, only capitulated in the final minutes against Uruguay when down to ten men, and they recorded a memorable, if futile, victory over France in the final group game. Not qualifying was regarded as a failure in South Africa, but Parreira did well to even give them a chance.

8. Gerardo Martino, Paraguay

What will you remember about Paraguay’s World Cup in six months’ time? Probably very little, but Paraguayans will remember it forever – the first time in their history they had reached the quarter-final stage. And when they got there, they gave Spain a fright – only going behind the final ten minutes, having missed a penalty. Their 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 hybrid was reasonably interesting, and one bizarre point of note was Martino’s decision to change six players between the second round and the quarter-final – surely a World Cup knockout stages record.

7. Ricki Herbert, New Zealand

Ricki Herbert

7th place for the manager of a team who didn’t qualify for the knockout stages seems ridiculous, but Herbert’s side were the only unbeaten team in the competition. On paper, his squad was the weakest of the 32 teams, and they had the longest odds to win the competition. Herbert’s 3-4-3 system made New Zealand difficult to break down, and levelled the playing field against technically superior opponents. The draw with the reigning World Champions was a genuine achievement – Herbert’s tactics guiding players from the likes of Plymouth Argyle and Motherwell to a point against players from Juventus, Milan and Roma.

6. Bert van Marwijk, Holland

His biggest achievement, of course, was to keep the in-fighting to a minimum. But tactically van Marwijk managed to create a well-organised, functional XI. They defended well from the front, vital since their back four was supposedly their weak link, but often failed to convince going forward. Ultimately, they’ll be remembered for the spoiling tactics they used in the final.

5. Joachim Loew, Germany

It was quite a task for Loew to create a cohesive team. Michael Ballack, the captain, was injured shortly before the tournament, whilst Lukas Podolski and Miroslov Klose were coming off awful domestic seasons, and Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller were highly-rated but unproven at international level. But Loew’s side worked brilliantly together, producing three of the most impressive displays of the tournament against Australia, England and Argentina. He managed to maintain the positive German stereotypes (ruthless, efficient, well-organised) whilst ditching the negative ones (boring, lacking flair) to create a terrific side that hit greater peaks than any other.

4. Vicente del Bosque, Spain

As the winner of the World Cup, he should probably be number one. But del Bosque was in charge of the most talented squad in the competition, so would have had to do something spectacular to be deemed as furthering the abilities of his players. Spectacular? Probably not, but ruthless and efficient. He never really seemed sure of his best XI – first Spain lost, then Torres struggled for four games, then Villa wasn’t at his best for the final two. Not that it mattered. The use of two holding midfielders worked wonders when it came to ball retention, and not conceding a goal in four knockout games is an incredible record.

Marcelo Bielsa

3. Marcelo Bielsa, Chile

We all knew Chile were a major force after their highly successful qualification campaign, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Bielsa was getting the best out of a set of relative unknowns. The first two games against Honduras and Switzerland should have been won by more convincing scorelines than 1-0, and a fully fit Humberto Suazo would have made a huge difference. Chile were unfortunate to come up against the two pre-tournament favourites after that – had they been given the draw of their South American neighbour Uruguay or Paraguay, they surely would have fared better.

2. Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay

Tabarez is a true tactician. He didn’t come into the tournament with a favoured system or a stubborn belief in how his team should set out, he altered his formation and approach according to the opposition he faced. There is a case for saying Uruguay played five separate formations in their seven games – the only constant was the use of two holding midfielders to protect the defence, and they didn’t concede a single goal in the group stage. His tactics in the 1-0 win over Mexico were particularly inspired.

1. Milovan Rajevac, Ghana

Let’s remember, very few Ghanaian players other than Michael Essien were well-known at the start of 2010. And who had heard of their manager? Rajevac’s previous coaching experience consisted of coaching the likes of FK Vojvodina, Borac Cacak and Zeleznik. He created an excellent, disciplined young side that impressed at the Africa Cup of Nations, keeping the same formation and strategy for the World Cup, where they had to do without Essien. The 4-1-4-1 was solid at the back, dominant in midfield, and Asamoah Gyan was a constant threat upfront. Were it not for Luis Suarez’s hand, Rajevac would have been the first ever manager to guide an African side to the semi-finals of a World Cup – and this from a side who were favourites to finish bottom of their group.


A Twitter survey of ZM’s followers resulted in the view that the top 8 should be Loew, Tabarez, Bielsa, del Bosque, van Marwijk, Rejavac, Herbert, Martino, in that order.

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