The FIFA Coach of the Year final three nominees are through, and, as expected, they are Joachim Löw, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone.
The debates are sure to rage over the next month, so here’s my viewpoint!
This year Joachim Löw has accomplished what no European coach has in the 84 years previous – winning the World Cup in South America. On the field, decisions made by him in the course of a game directly influenced the result, from his tactics in the defeat of Portugal receiving worldwide praise to the substition of an inspired Mario Götze in the Final. He was also directly influential in many of the off-the-field decisions that play such a part in the preparation for a tournament. His involvement in the location of the base camp, considered a resounding success, for example is rarely discussed.
Despite what is claimed by many, before the tournament Germany were NOT considered to be favourites to win, being third/fourth favourites behind Brazil, Argentina and Spain. To win the trophy therefore must be considered a surpassing of all expectations and if the disappointment of under-achieving must be down to the coach (as it invariably is), then so must success. If the German team were so talented that they could practically have done the job without a coach, then why were they not hot favourites beforehand? Strange how that way of thinking has only come in AFTER the tournament, usually by those who have need to cover up the considerable amount of egg a German victory left on their cynical faces.
It is rather like saying man never got to the moon, a rocket got us there. So who, in that case, built the rocket?
After constantly reading this belief that Germany were ‘expected’ to win the World Cup as a reason why Jogi should not be given the award, I thought I would carry out my own little piece of research. Choosing at random the BBC website, I examined the predictions each pundit on their panel made beforehand for the World Cup winner. The result? Out of eight experts, five predicted Brazil, three Argentina. Not even Gary Lineker, whose saying on the inevitability of a German victory created the ultimate football proverb, tipped them!
Looking back at those pre-World Cup days, these predictions bear out across the full demograph, with the vast majority of fans and even Goldman Sachs, going for a South American victor.
Germany expected to win? To quote the great Tommy Lee Jones “Care to revise your bullshit story…”
Another argument I hear against Jogi for FIFA Coach of the Year appear to be the resources available to him make him less deserving of the prize. I disagree. If you are to credit coaches with less resources, where would you draw the line? Top Tier Clubs? The bottom of Top Tier? Second Tier? The fact is this award is FIFA World Coach of the Year, an elite award. It is not a handicap competition. It is for the coach who, in the opinion of his peers, achieves the most in world football. Period. Previous winners Mourinho, Guardiola, del Bosque and Heynckes hardly won their titles with a group of 40-year-old amateurs and no funds or expertise available to them, now did they? The criteria for the 2014 award must be no different.
Don’t forget while Jogi may have had some talented players available to him, he also had THE best against him – including the last two Ballon d’Or winners- 4-0 and 1-0 victories, as I am sure you don’t need reminding.
And while I’ve racked my brain considerably and tried to recall every World Cup in the 45 years I’ve been a football fan, I have still yet to think of a national team coach who has won the World Cup without one or two talented players at his disposal.
It can easily be argued that Joachim Löw has fully played his part in creating the German ‘superstars’ and indeed that some achieved recognition with him for Germany BEFORE their achievements at top clubs. Ozil (Werder Bremen), Khedira (Stuttgart) and Neuer (Schalke) certainly weren’t playing at the top elite clubs, when chosen for the 2010 World Cup, And who outside of Germany had heard of Thomas Müller before South Africa – Jogi having to defend the eventual Golden Boot winner’s inclusion in his 2010 World Cup squad. As coach, he had made the decision in 2009/2010 to move on from older players and give these youngsters a chance in South Africa, a decision which gave them tournament experience and therefore directly impacted on the 2014 victory. He stuck to what he believed was the correct philosophy and who should be selected, at times receiving considerable criticism for doing so. He should now be fully able to accept credit for Germany becoming the champions they were in Brazil.
Witness the short clip of Jogi watching a 17-year-old Mesut Ozil if you believe these players were simply put in his lap by others and he was not constantly involved in nurturing and monitoring the development of those coming up from the youth teams.
All top coaches are to some extent reliant on the youth team staff that mould the players who become their star performers (and Löw has always fully acknowledged this more than most) and are assisted by those behind the scenes. But why apply this purely to Löw’s not deserving the award this year? Did del Bosque build the Spanish 2012 team purely on his own? Of course not. Does any Champions League winning club coach not have other staff on hand? Of course they do.
When Joachim Löw joined the German management team they had just been knocked out of Euro 2004 without winning a game, and shortly before his appointment as Bundestrainer were at the lowest ebb in German football for decades, languishing 22nd in the FIFA rankings. A complete overall of German football was required and, despite what some may claim, Joachim Löw fully played his part in the rejuvenation that has taken place since.
Too little is made, in my opinion, of the incredible team spirit that was created in the Germany camp which ultimately contributed in no small way to their success. The team spirit was obvious throughout and has indeed been reported by many onlookers who were present at the training base, and was particularly evident in those players who did not get a game. Not once was anything untoward reported in the camp. A group of talented players with differing personalities do not automatically produce a great bonded team (France 2010 is the immediate example that springs to mind). Ultimately the credit for this MUST go fully to the one whose job it has always been to bond the team together – the head coach.
The fact that a club coach has a longer season with his players has also been quoted as a reason why they are more deserving of the award. However the converse can also apply. An international coach does not have numerous games and regular training time with his players, to try out tactics, set pieces, to discuss and correct things that don’t go quite right in the days after a match, to get to know potential new members of the squad throughout the two-year build up period to any tournament. This must make the creating a well-knit unit and ultimate success of the squad even more admirable. In addition in a tournament such as the World Cup there is nowhere to hide. A club coach over the period of a season can have the odd bad result, or even two. An international coach does not have that luxury in a one-month long tournament.
One of the more crass comments I have read is that it was ‘easier’ for Joachim Löw to win his tournament because it was ‘shorter’. In that case was it not equally ‘easy’ for the other 31 coaches?
While I am sure one could pick on any coach and find a match where everything did not go quite to plan, the Löw-detractors seem very keen to pick up on individual matches where the team did not perform at their strongest – Algeria for example – as if football was some sort of reality TV show where success is decided on points awarded by a panel of fault-seeking judges.
However, might I remind everyone of that famous phrase I personally had thrown at me seemingly on a daily basis up until the 13 July 2014: That football is a game where WINNING is all that counts. A team previously criticised for being unable to ‘grind out’ one-goal margin victories when the going got tough were now doing precisely that.
No less admirable than his success was his example of how to behave under pressure in the lead up to the tournament. Despite considerable animosity from within the press and football figures from within Germany, his dignity, confidence in his own ability, protection and support of his players, interlaced with humour when appropriate, is and remains a superb example to others on how to conduct themselves in such a highly pressurised occupation, or indeed in life in general.
It is always going to be difficult to compare a club coach’s achievements with those at international level, due to the completely different circumstances and time scales they operate under, and Jogi is up against some fine achievements from his rivals, but if the award is not given to the coach who achieves the very maximum his profession has to offer, in a foreign climate so many miles from home, creating history in the process, it surely would be better if there were two separate awards.
I have grown up with the World Cup. It was the reason why I became a football fan, age eight, more years ago than I could care to mention, and my life landmarks are marked and remembered by World Cup tournaments. To therefore not reward the coach that achieves the pinnacle of a World Cup triumph is an insult not only to that great tournament, but the many generations of fans that have been captivated by it over the years.
Germany’s Road to World Cup Glory – re-live every moment of Joachim Löw’s incredible achivement through my special section