FIFA World Cups™ only come around every four years, but for teams that succeed in making an impression, they live on in the memory a great deal longer. For those not invited to the party, there is only the bitter taste of regret and, as is the nature of football, failure has been followed by recriminations for many of these disappointed onlookers.
At international level, that generally means only one thing. As players can’t be traded, a desire for change is invariably achieved at the expense of the one man who can be moved on: the coach. Indeed, all it takes is a brief look at the nations who had hoped and, in some cases, expected to reach South Africa 2010 to see how few of them have remained faithful to the coaches who came up short.
Loyalty from both sides
Egypt are a notable, and understandable, exception. Their play-off loss to Algeria capped a miserable qualifying campaign, but Hassan Shehata is still widely seen as the Pharaohs’ greatest-ever coach, and reinforced his credentials earlier this year by becoming the first manager to win three successive CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles. Egypt actually found themselves having to fight to keep the 60-year-old amid interest from Nigeria, who had been one of three FIFA World Cup participants beaten en route to the continental crown.
Another team heartbroken in the play-offs but happy with their coach are Republic of Ireland. Like Shehata, Giovanni Trapattoni has found himself in considerable demand since the qualifiers, and the 71-year-old revealed recently that he has rejected approaches from Juventus and would not be interested in succeeding Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan. “I have had opportunities to go back to Italy, but I am satisfied with my job,” he said. “I think we have a good team and it is one that has room to improve, so I want to stay.”
Despite falling at the final hurdle, the Republic were seen to have improved under Trapattoni’s reign, and this appreciation of progress made also kept Erwin Koeman in the Hungary hot-seat. For Slaven Bilic, it was an exemplary previous record that pacified his employers after a dispiriting preliminary campaign, while the Croatia coach himself reneged on a previous pledge to quit by committing himself to the national team for a further two years.
Jose Peseiro is another coach who has been given the chance to make amends, this despite conceding that he took “full responsibility” for Saudi Arabia’s failure to reach a fifth successive FIFA World Cup. Ecuador have also kept the faith with Sixto Vizuete, who came in to the job in 2008 with La Tri’s FIFA World Cup campaign already all but doomed and affected a discernable improvement. Egil Olsen will also push ahead to the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers at the Norway reins, having restored pride following a similarly disastrous start to the South Africa 2010 preliminaries.
Gao shows the way
Plenty of others, however, have not been so lucky. In Africa, Humberto Coelho was sacked by Tunisia after a 1-0 defeat by Mozambique that ended their FIFA World Cup dreams, with Faouzi Benzarti recruited from Esperance as his successor. Herve Renard, meanwhile, switched one set of South Africa 2010 absentees for another by moving from Zambia – whom he led to the last eight at January’s Cup of Nations - to Angola, where he succeeded Manuel Jose.
Similar changes took place in Asia, where Bahrain – beaten in an intercontinental play-off for the second FIFA World Cup running – replaced Czech Milan Macala with Austrian Josef Hickersberger. United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, reacted to their qualifying failure by recruiting a proven FIFA World Cup miracle-worker in Srecko Katanec, the man who led little Slovenia to UEFA EURO 2000 and onwards to their first FIFA World Cup two years later. The most significant changes took place in Iran, however, with the Asian giants going through three coaches in the space of a month, with Afshin Ghotbi eventually establishing some stability after Ali Daei’s disastrous reign had been followed by a bizarre two-week stint by Mohammad Mayelikohan.
All these teams ringing the changes are aiming for the kind of positive bounce enjoyed by China PR since their change of coach. Gao Hongbo took charge in April 2009 following another limp qualifying campaign under the guidance of Vladimir Petrovic, and immediately raised morale with a draw against Germany and a win over Iran in his first two matches. Better was to follow this year when Gao’s side qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 and then went on to end a humiliating run of 27 matches without a victory against Korea Republic, inflicting a 3-0 defeat on the Taeguk Warriors en route to winning the East Asian Championship.
Search for a hero
Perhaps the highest-profile changes have taken place in Europe, where coaching heavyweight Guus Hiddink left Russia for Turkey and was ultimately replaced in Moscow by fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat. The former Zenit gaffer's appointment was not without controversy – he returned to Russia after spending just six months as Belgium coach – although Les Diables Rouges moved quickly to plug the gap by recruiting Georges Leekens, the man who led them to France 1998. Bosnia-Herzegovina also turned to an old hero, appointing Safet Susic – the Balkan nation’s greatest-ever player - to succeed Miroslav Blazevic, who quit following the play-off loss to Portugal.
Ukraine’s Alexei Mikhailichenko was another coach who opted to fall on his own sword after losing in play-offs, with the more experienced Miron Markevich appointed as his replacement. In Sweden, we witnessed the end of an era as Lars Lagerback’s decade-long reign came to a mutually-agreed conclusion, leading to the recruitment of Rosenborg’s Erik Hamren as his successor. Scotland, meanwhile, have replaced George Burley with former Dundee United manager Craig Levein, who has set about restoring optimism to a deflated side and also extended an olive branch to ‘Boozegate’ pair Allan McGregor and Barry Ferguson, the team’s former captain. Events at Hampden cannot, however, compare to the turbulence experienced by Czech Republic, who have had four new coaches in the space of the year, with Michael Bilek, formerly Ivan Hasek’s assistant, now leading the side.
The major change in South America took place in Colombia, with Hernan Dario Gomez – the man who led Ecuador to Korea/Japan 2002 – taking the helm following Eduardo Lara’s departure. CONCACAF also witnessed its fair share of upheaval, with Ronald Gonzalez having taken interim control of Costa Rica following their dramatic failure and Trinidad and Tobago legend Russell Latapy now in permanent charge of the Soca Warriors.
For these men, South Africa 2010 is already history. The building for a new, and hopefully brighter, future has already begun.
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