FIFA Ballon d'Or

Ten coaches, ten philosophies

View of Brazil team kit and a tactics board in the dressing room
© Getty Images

Just as coaches are judged by the success they attain, so are tactics seen as their personal calling card. The ten coaches who have made the shortlist for the 2013 FIFA Coach of the Year award all have their own unmistakable styles. Recognised as masters of their trade, they know exactly what is needed to get the best out of their respective teams.

Though their approaches may differ, they each have the knack of making 11 players click on the pitch.

With just six weeks to go before Zurich’s Kongresshaus hosts the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, offers an in-depth analysis of the tactical beliefs of the ten candidates, presented here in alphabetical order.

Carlo AncelottiThe former Italy international left Paris Saint-Germain in the summer for Real Madrid, where he has once again shown his ability to handle a star-studded dressing room. Few coaches are as flexible as Ancelotti, who has developed a gift for adapting his tactics to the players at his disposal and to the opposition, which has allowed him to spring a surprise or two over the years. During his reign at PSG, the Italian lined up with a 4-4-2 formation on 29 occasions, losing only two of those games. At Madrid, Carletto has been alternating between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. Once asked to describe what really matters to him, he said: “Having 11 players who attack when they have the ball and 11 players who defend when they don’t.”

Rafael BenitezThe Spaniard is a perfectionist who leaves nothing to chance, enthusiastically implementing computer-generated training programmes and tactical drills prepared right down to the last detail. “It is now possible to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents and your own team in a very objective way,” said the current Napoli coach a few years ago. “You can use that data to draw up plans: a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C. A player once asked me if there was a Plan D. And he was right. There’s every reason why you should consider every possible hypothetical situation.”

He added: “Why do people always associate beautiful football with short passes or technical ability? I’ve got no time for rigid mindsets. There is no objective definition of beauty on the pitch. Good football is not a question of ideologies, and nor is it the intellectual property of those in the know.” Though Benitez generally opts for 4-2-3-1, he is not averse to a rapid reshuffle if the opposing line-up and the situation demands. 

Antonio ConteConte is the man behind Juventus’ recent revival, having guided the Italian giants to back-to-back league titles since taking over in 2011. One of the major factors in their recent success is the tactical changes he has introduced, casting aside Juve’s time-honoured and occasionally rigid 4-4-2 for a more flexible approach in which a 4-2-4 line-up can quickly become 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. “He has one exceptional virtue and that is organisation,” said his compatriot Ancelotti in heaping praise on Conte for his achievements a few weeks ago. 

Vicente del BosqueSpain’s national team has dominated if not revolutionised world football over the last five to six years. Del Bosque took over from Luis Aragones after their UEFA EURO 2008 triumph and set about fine-tuning their near-perfect tiki-taka passing game, which involves the stringing together of countless passes as a means of opening up tightly packed defences. Del Bosque has also made extensive use of the falso nueve (false No9), choosing a talented ball-player to lead the front line rather than an out-and-out centre-forward, the idea being for the player in question to contribute to Spain’s lengthy passing moves and to drop back into midfield whenever required. La Roja have been fielding a 4-1-4-1 formation for many years now. As part of this system every man, defenders included, is continually on the move, an approach that forces opposing sides to defend a very large space and allows Spain’s possession-hungry players to build their intricate moves.

Alex FergusonLike Arsene Wenger, Ferguson – who this year retired from coaching after winning countless trophies with Manchester United – had the luxury of developing a very specific style of play over of long period of time and of seeing his sides implement a specific set of tactics to the letter of the law. The Scottish tactician stuck to a rigid 4-4-2 for many years, though in more recent times he often opted for 4-2-3-1. One of his most memorable coups came when he fielded a 4-2-4-0 formation against a nonplussed Arsenal side in August 2011, a game that ended in an emphatic 8-2 win for his side.

*Jupp Heynckes *Voted coach of the year in Germany in 2013, Heynckes drew on all his experience and sang-froid to guide Bayern Munich to the UEFA Champions League title. The 68-year-old coach tapped into the talent of an exceptional if occasionally temperamental squad to create a perfectly drilled unit. In doing so he toyed with a number of tactical approaches before coming up with a 4-2-3-1 formation capable of playing a lightning-quick passing game, slicing opposing sides open down the flanks, switching the play from one wing to the other and exerting suffocating pressure up front. The style might even be described as tiki-taka 2.0, although the usually reserved Heynckes had this pointed comment to make before handing the reins over to Pep Guardiola: “Bayern don’t play like Barcelona. Bayern play a more modern, more contemporary and better game. My successor is quite possibly inheriting the best team in the world.”

Jurgen KloppThere are some very good reasons for arguing that the Borussia Dortmund boss is one of the sources of inspiration for the new German style and one of its leading advocates. A tireless motivator, Klopp – who as a player never graced the top flight – has acquired a reputation for being a great strategist and has championed the transition from attack to defence and the offensive pressing game like no other coach in German football has ever done. Klopp habitually goes with 4-2-3-1, manning the double pivot position with a hard-running midfielder adept at one-on-ones alongside a more gifted and tactically aware player.

Jose Mourinho
As everyone knows, “The Special One” organises his teams around a solid, well-drilled defence. The Portuguese, who returned to Chelsea during the close season, is famed for his ability to read games, a gift feared by his rivals, and no one is as adept at setting up sides to prey on the weaknesses of their opponents as the 2010 FIFA Coach of the Year. Mourinho is another proponent of 4-2-3-1, though when his sides are in possession they tend to rely more on the vision of a gifted midfielder than individual skill and the speed of their wide men.

Luiz Felipe ScolariIt was almost a year ago that Felipão took charge of the Brazil side with the express objective of winning the World Cup on home soil. Though pundits and fans alike were sceptical of his chances of success, they have been won round by Scolari, who guided *A Seleção *to the world title in 2002. The small but perceptible changes he has made have already had their effect. Scolari has a preference for players who can give their all for 90 minutes and impose themselves on matches thanks to their speed, stamina and power. Founded on solid defensive units manned by high-quality players, Scolari’s sides play a direct, high tempo passing game and continually probe for ways to outflank opposing defences. He favours 4-2-3-1, a formation in which the ability of the full-backs to push forward at pace gives the front men space in which to manoeuvre. Scolari also has a top-class finisher at his disposal in Fred, a threat for any defence and Brazil’s leading scorer at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.

Arsene WengerThe 64-year-old Frenchman has been in residence in the Arsenal dugout since 1996. Regarded as one of the pioneers of the fluid, short-passing game, Wenger has not changed his philosophy much over the years, though the Gunners have swapped their habitual 4-3-3 and occasional 4-4-2 for a 4-2-3-1 formation. This most aesthetic of coaches has always put the accent on flexibility and creativity, using his invariably gifted players in a variety of different formations. A champion of attacking football, Wenger rarely takes the opposition and the tactics they pursue into consideration when setting up his teams.

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