As the shortlist for the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or shows, it is Barcelona who have once again been setting the standards over the last year. Likewise, the list of nominees for the 2011 FIFA Men’s Football Coach of the Year also reflects a stable trend, with seven of last year’s contenders again in the running for the coveted accolade, and not without good reason.
Among the candidates are three national team bosses who have this year picked up where they left off in 2010.
Vicente del Bosque owes his reappearance on the shortlist to his enduring quest for excellence. Not content with lifting the FIFA World Cup™ Trophy at South Africa 2010, the affable Spain coach has maintained his focus during La Roja’s UEFA EURO 2012 qualification campaign, presiding over eight wins in as many games as the Spanish secured their place in Ukraine and Poland with a minimum of fuss.
The second of the returning national team supremos is Joachim Low, whose Germany side have built on their impressive performances in South Africa, producing a string of devastating attacking displays in the EURO 2012 qualifiers to match Spain’s 100 per cent record. In winning all ten of their games in Group A, the insatiable Germans struck 34 goals and conceded just seven, a reflection of the crushing consistency they have found under Low.
Completing the triumvirate is Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, who rekindled the love affair between his country's fans and the national team thanks to his side’s unexpected fourth place at South Africa 2010. Working his magic once more at the 2011 Copa America in Argentina, the man they call El Maestro steered La Celeste to their first continental title in 16 years, sealed by a 3-0 defeat of Paraguay in the final.
Four captains of industry
It comes as no surprise at all to see Pep Guardiola and 2010 winner Jose Mourinho back in the frame, the duo having showcased their tactical acumen in the titanic quartet of Barcelona-Real Madrid matches that enthralled the football world last spring.
Guardiola went on to win the second UEFA Champions League of his Barça reign and his third league title, while his Portuguese opposite number, who received critical acclaim for negating Barcelona for long periods in that four-game series, contented himself with the Copa del Rey, his first trophy for Los Merengues.
When I heard the news I thought it couldn’t be true. It makes me feel so proud to receive this recognition for all the hard work that’s been put in at Lille.
Currently celebrating a quarter of a century in charge at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson is another big name back in contention for the coveted coach’s award. The eternally driven Manchester United manager has lost none of his appetite for collecting silverware and was on the glory trail yet again in 2011, guiding his side to a record 19th league title and only being denied another Champions League success by Guardiola’s Barcelona.
Completing the magnificent seven of repeat nominees is Arsene Wenger, whose philosophy of nurturing young talent and cultured football has won Arsenal many admirers in recent years. The past year saw the astute Frenchman overhaul the Gunners line-up yet again, as he sought to keep pace with habitual title rivals United and Chelsea and new boys on the block, Manchester City.
Welcome to the club
After enjoying unexpectedly successful seasons with Porto, Borussia Dortmund and Lille respectively, new candidates Andre Villas-Boas, Jurgen Klopp and Rudi Garcia richly deserve to be in contention, taking their places on the shortlist at the expense of Carlo Ancelotti, Louis van Gaal and Bert van Marwijk.
Considered by many to be the next Mourinho, 34-year-old compatriot Villas-Boas justified that lofty billing by masterminding Porto’s magnificent cup, league and UEFA Europa League treble, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact Os Dragões did not lose a single championship game all season.
Klopp’s achievement was not just to break Borussia Dortmund’s ten-year Bundesliga title drought, but to do so with a young team not ranked among the early-season title favourites, while Lille boss Garcia pulled off a similar exploit in France, taking Les Dogues to their first championship win since 1954 and adding the cup for good measure.
“When I heard the news I thought it couldn’t be true,” said an elated Garcia, reacting to Tuesday’s shortlist announcement. “It makes me feel so proud to receive this recognition for all the hard work that’s been put in at Lille. There’s no doubt I owe this to my club.”