Archives for category: 20 Managers

It’s been eighteen months since the completion of The Equaliser’s 20 Greatest Managers series, a list which attempted to rank football’s most significant pioneers, thinkers and tacticians according to their strategic and philosophical legacies. While the series proved popular and sparked some healthy debate, I’ve always had some nagging doubts about the order and have wanted to revisit it, to amend oversights and update the order, for some time.

What follows is a revised list featuring many of the same names as before, but with several shifts in position and the odd new entry to amend weaknesses in the original series and hopefully reflect some of the changes in opinion and developments within football that have taken place over the last year and a half. Read the rest of this entry »

“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.” – Gustav Sebes, Hungary coach 1949-57

The 25th November 1953 was English football’s anagnorisis. Amidst the fog that enveloped Wembley Stadium that day, Walter Winterbottom’s England team were taught an emphatic lesson in technique, in style and in tactical proficiency. The sense of superiority the English had harboured throughout the first half of the twentieth century was exposed as unfounded pomposity by the Hungarians who, with goals from Nándor Hidegkuti (3), Ferenc Puskás (2) and József Bozsik, tore England’s rigid W-M formation apart with a mesmerising display of synchronised ability. The game finished 6-3 to the visitors and English sporting narcissism lay ruined on the heavy North London turf.

After the game, as the president of the Hungarian FA, Sandor Barcs, spoke to assorted journalists he made a comment that surprised swathes of the English press, “Jimmy Hogan taught us everything we know about football.” The diminutive Lancastrian may have been labelled a traitor by his own FA for spending the vast majority of his coaching career abroad, but his impact on the continent in terms of tactical and instructive development was unparalleled. It is often said that Brian Clough was the best manager England never had; in reality it was Jimmy Hogan.

Born in Nelson just north of Burnley in 1882, Hogan lived through football’s fastest and most significant period of development and became hooked by the game at a young age. Hogan embarked on a playing career with Rochdale Town in 1902, quickly coming to be known as a talented inside forward of some repute. Spells at Burnley and Nelson followed before he moved south to join Fulham, reaching the FA Cup semi-finals with The Cottagers in 1908 before leaving for Swindon Town and, finally, Bolton Wanderers.

A meticulous, obsessive character, Hogan is reported to have had a consuming desire for self-improvement, his extensive fitness regime and the onus he placed on conditioning being remarkably rare for a time when formalised training was generally frowned upon. This compulsion to achieve excellence at all costs would serve Hogan well during what would become a distinguished coaching career, his drive to succeed feeding and shaping the talent of the players who had the privilege of learning from his studied insight and motivation.

During his time as a player at Bolton, Hogan had already begun his delve into the world of coaching, returning to the Netherlands after a summer tour to the country in 1910 to “teach them how to play”. He may only have spent a short amount of time there, but Hogan impressed sufficiently to be allowed to take charge of the Dutch national team for a game and is credited with sowing the seeds of a greater professionalism and more advanced tactical and technical thinking in Holland. Indeed, the Lancastrian is thought of by some as the true father of Total Football, the inspiration to Jack Reynolds and Rinus Michels who made the style famous with Ajax.

***

Having eventually hung up his boots in 1913, Hogan set about looking for full-time coaching work and was put in touch with Hugo Meisl, the head of the Austrian Football Association. Meisl, frustrated at what he perceived to be the underachievement of the Austrian national team, had been looking for a coach to raise the level of technical ability amongst the players and it was Hogan who was recommended to him. Hogan moved to Austria and linked up with Meisl ahead of the 1916 Olympics in Berlin, his brief being to give the Austrians the best possible opportunity to win gold in Germany.

However, with the outbreak of the First World War, Hogan’s ambitions of Olympic glory evaporated as the games were cancelled. The cancellation of the Olympics was not the only logistical problem that the start of the conflict caused for Hogan, he also found himself stuck in Austria-Hungary when the violence began, an Englishman in the middle of ‘enemy’ territory. Days later he was arrested as a foreign national, negotiating passage back to the United Kingdom for his wife and children in March 1915 while he was rescued by the intervention of the British vice-president of Budapest club MTK, Baron Dirstay, who took Hogan on as coach in order to prevent him being taken to a prisoner of war camp.

Enchanted with the stylish, flowing way in which football was played in Central Europe, Hogan didn’t attempt to change the philosophy of his players at MTK, but rather made gradual improvements to their tactical understanding and technical proficiency. Hogan’s methodology reaped great rewards, MTK winning the 1917 and 1918 titles playing widely lauded football under his stewardship before he eventually headed back to Britain following the conclusion of hostilities in Europe.

The 'Mighty Magyars'

His time in Hungary may have been relatively fleeting, but it is Hogan’s philosophy and methods that are held to be the blueprint for the great Hungarian side of the 1950s, the Mighty Magyars who inflicted that painful defeat on England in the bitter winter of 1953. The thoughtful ethos of short passing and fast movement off the ball was one which stuck with Hungarian football for several generations, an aesthetic style that Hogan had championed. He was a true footballing revolutionary.

***

On his return home Hogan was treated extremely poorly by an English FA that viewed him with great suspicion and refused to listen to his ideas. As Norman Fox described in a Guardian piece from 2003:

‘When the war ended he returned to England and was told that men who had suffered financially as a result of the war could claim £200 from the FA. He was almost destitute but when he went to London the secretary, Francis Wall, opened a cupboard and offered him a pair of khaki socks. “We sent these to the boys at the front and they were grateful.” The unsubtle message was: “Traitor”.’

Incensed, Hogan departed him homeland once again, moving to Switzerland where he spent several years with Young Boys Berne before returning to MTK and then joining SC Dresden in Germany in 1925. Hogan toured German clubs on lecture tours, instructing players and coaches alike in tactical philosophies and When we think of Hogan his time in Germany is not what first spring to mind, but such was the impression that he left that, on his death in 1974, his son received a letter from the German Football Federation describing him as “the father of modern football in Germany”. Hogan’s singular influence on European football simply cannot be overestimated.

At the start of the 1930s, as the political situation in Germany became increasingly concerning, Hogan returned to Austria to work once again with his old friend Hugo Meisl. With the likes of the great Matthias Sindelar in the side, the Austrians undoubtedly had the talent to achieve great things but seemed to suffer from a crippling naivety and lack of self-confidence. It was Hogan who instilled the tactical intelligence that the side was lacking, employing a defensive yet fluid version of the W-M formation that was given its first outing against England at Stamford Bridge in December 1932. Austria may have lost that game 4-3, but the British press eulogised about the visitors, flooding newsprint with words praising the Austrian’s exceptional passing football and evidently superior technical ability. It was a defeat, but the legend of Hogan and Meisl’s Austrian Wunderteam had been born.

Hugo Meisl

Throughout the 1930s Austria thrilled Europe with the quick pass-and-move game that had been impressed upon them by Hogan, a style which instigated an ideological shift across much of the continent and, alongside the work of Herbert Chapman in England, gave tactics a far more elevated standing within the game.

During the 1934 World Cup the Wunderteam, with Hogan’s adaptation of the W-M which was founded on the freedom of movement and extra creativity given to the centre-half, reached the semi-finals before losing to Italy. Meisl’s team by all accounts played a beautiful brand of football that directed their collective artistry towards the end of victory in a manner never seen before.

***

By 1934, however, Hogan had departed Austria was back in England coaching his old club Fulham in the Second Division. He moved on to manage Aston Villa a year later, staying in the Midlands for four years with mixed results (there was both relegation from the top-flight and then promotion back to it) before deciding to call time of his formal managerial career. He remained in the game as a youth coach for several years afterwards, watching the game develop from afar, the fruits of his labour taking shape.

Hogan may not be the most successful manager in terms of weight of silverware, but he is without doubt the most important individual figure there has ever been with regard to the professional and theoretical development of football. Hogan represents the developmental genesis of the game, the catalyst from which sprung the vast majority of modern ideas surrounding tactics, technique and physical conditioning. Without Hogan’s ingenuity we would likely not have had the Wunderteam or the Mighty Magyars, we may not have seen other great managers that developed his ideas such as the great Bela Guttman.

Without Jimmy Hogan football simply wouldn’t be the tactically diverse, organised and professional game it is today. He was a wandering footballing prophet and his ideas remain enshrined as the alpha of modern football. In my mind, there is no manager who deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time more than James “Jimmy” Hogan.

“Football is like an aeroplane. As velocities increase, so does air resistance, and so you need to make the head more streamlined.” – Viktor Maslov

Viktor Maslov’s is a name that has been somewhat lost amidst the sands of time, his influence often attributed to those who came after him and his significance diluted by the chronic myopia that seems to affect a disconcertingly large number of contemporary football historians. This amiable Russian, however, can legitimately lay claim to what is arguably the most influential legacy that any football coach has ever imparted through their body of work. Maslov was, as I will hopefully come to make clear, one of the true patriarchs of what we now recognise as the ‘modern game’.

Born in Moscow in 1910, Maslov was surrounded by the darkness of war and the electricity of revolutionary fervour during the early years of his life, eventually overcoming the societal maelstrom to embark on his footballing career with RDPK Moscow in 1930. A year later he joined one of the Russian capital’s newest clubs, Torpedo, and it was to be with the ZiL-owned team that Maslov made his name as a player, by all accounts an unspectacular but efficient midfield player with a good eye for a pass. Maslov stayed at Torpedo until 1942, captaining the side between 1936 and 1939, before eventually calling time on his playing career at the age of 32 in 1942.

Maslov wasted no time in fulfilling his desire to become a coach, taking over as Torpedo boss immediately after he finished playing and had four short spells in charge – periods which yielded one Soviet league title in 1960 – before eventually departing for Rostov-na-Donu in 1962. A single season in Rostov brought little and, tempted by the offer of the top job with Dynamo Kiev, Maslov left for Ukraine in 1964.

Before his time with Kiev, Maslov had been thought of as a reasonable if unspectacular coach who had achieved modest results with a strong Torpedo squad. During the six years he spent at Dynamo, however, his footballing philosophy and technical ability as a coach came to the fore as he forged ahead with the revolutionary implementation of many of the tactics which have come to be such a staple of modern football.

The early 1960s represented the peak in popularity of the 4-2-4 formation, Russian clubs having adopted the system in their droves following the USSR’s success with it at the inaugural European Championships in 1960. Maslov, however, had studied the Brazilian 4-2-4 at the 1958 World Cup and had recognised the importance of bringing one of the forwards back to create a three-man midfield when required.

The Russian took the idea one stage further, dropping both of his wingers back to create a midfield quartet and, by design, the 4-4-2 formation. Sir Alf Ramsey’s England of 1966 may often be credited as the pioneers of 4-4-2, but in reality Viktor Maslov had reached the same strategic conclusion several years earlier.

Using the 4-4-2 to devastating effect, Maslov’s Dynamo side dominated Soviet football during the late sixties as they stormed to the 1966, 67 and 68 Soviet titles as well as the 1966 Soviet Cup. Maslov, almost single-handedly, had shifted the balance of power in Soviet football from Moscow to Kiev, success almost literally following his physical passage across the vastness of the USSR.

Famed for the collective ethos encouraged by Maslov (Dynamo became known for their communal discussion of tactical ideas, both players and staff together), the Ukrainian team continued to generate advances in strategic thinking and are believed to be the first team to regularly implement zonal marking and pressing in their defensive play. Indeed, as Maslov once said, “Man-marking humiliates, insults and even morally oppresses the players who resort to it.” His philosophy was patently clear.

With an increasing emphasis on total organisation in all areas of the field, the hallmark of Maslov’s Dynamo became the team’s ability to over-man across the pitch, negating opposition movement with the brilliance of their positioning and the aggressiveness of their pressing. As Jonathan Wilson writes, “Their (Dynamo’s) midfield was hunting in packs, closing down opponents and seizing the initiative in previously unexpected areas of the pitch.”

Romantics may blame Maslov for bringing about the end of the era of true attacking flair by abolishing the traditional winger and dramatically decreasing the amount of space available to opposition forwards, but the developments the Russian brought about worked brilliantly for Dynamo and have emphatically stood the test of time.

Yet Maslov’s innovations were not limited simply to on-field strategy, the masterful coach was also a pioneer in the field of sports nutrition and conditioning. Dynamo were noted for their superior levels of fitness under his management and, obsessive about even the smallest of details, Maslov introduced strict dietary plans to maximise the physical potential of his squad. His methods may have been rigorous and at times strenuous for the players, but they were undoubtedly effective and paved the way for both modern tactical thinking and the detailed sports science that we see today.

Having enjoyed a golden six years in Kiev, Maslov returned to Moscow in 1973 for one last spell with Torpedo. Going back with a reputation far more glittering than that with which he had left, great things were expected of Maslov back in his home town but he failed to turn Torpedo into a team capable of challenging for the title. Like so many other great managers before and since, it seemed like Maslov’s creative energies had been sapped after leaving Kiev, the revered coach unable to rouse himself to enter wholeheartedly into a new project. His next job, with FC Ararat Yerevan in what is modern-day Armenia, was to be his last, the great man retiring in 1975.

Maslov died just two years after his retirement in 1977 at the age of 67, leaving behind one of football’s most significant legacies. He may not be as well known as he ought to be outside of Eastern Europe, but the man known simply as ‘Grandpa’ by many of his players shaped the direction of modern football in a most distinct and decisive way. Viktor Maslov was not only a great manager, but the founding father of modern tactical thinking.

“The Dutch are at their best when they combine the system with individual creativity.” – Hubert Smeets

Rinus Michels’ association with Ajax was a truly lifelong one. Born in February 1928 just a stone’s throw from the Olympisch Stadion, Michels began playing in the club’s junior ranks in 1940 aged 12 and quickly marked himself out as an industrious young forward. Having had his career put on hold by the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War Two, Michels eventually broke into the Ajax first team in 1946.

The man who would one day come to be recognised as the mastermind behind “Total Football” certainly didn’t waste time making an impression in the senior side, scoring five on his league debut against ADO Den Haag. With Michels becoming an increasingly important player for the Amsterdam side, Ajax won consecutive league titles in his first two seasons in the first team (1946/47 and 47/48) and further strengthened their reputation as the most attractive, most successful team in the Netherlands.

Indeed, Michels’ first campaign in the side saw him play under the stewardship of the legendary English coach Jack Reynolds, the man credited with laying the foundations for Total Football almost certainly having a significant influence of the thinking of the young Rinus Michels.

After his retirement from the playing side of the game in 1958, Michels immediately embarked on a coaching career, managing amateur side JOS in two spells between 1960 and 1965 before returning to Ajax ahead of the 1965/66 domestic season as the replacement for the forward-thinking Vic Buckingham. The six years that followed dragged Dutch football out of its surprisingly conservative shell and transformed it into a hotbed of tactical innovation, the very forefront of footballing development. It was Michels’ vision of how the game should be played that put the wheels of Total Football in motion.

Like the great Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Michels believed that football was primarily about the usage and control of space. Their shared theory was that making the pitch ‘big’ when you have the ball makes it easy to retain possession, while making it ‘small’ when without the ball makes life much more difficult for the opposition. At the root of this approach was an obsession with both pressing and the need for versatility amongst the players – Michels wanted his players to be capable of playing in any given outfield position with equal proficiency at any given time.

However, in his early years as manager of Ajax the concept of “Total Football” simply didn’t exist. Michels was known as a tough disciplinarian and a manager who promoted the constant refinement of technique, and, when Ajax won the Dutch title in his second season in charge, their aesthetic football was noted but not believed to be anything out of the ordinary. In fact, Michels freely admitted that he didn’t have a fixed footballing philosophy when he became manager at Ajax, instead allowing his ideas to develop over time and, combining logic and creativity, arrived at the conclusion which came to be recognised as Total Football.

Two of the major changes Michels made at Ajax were to revolutionise training methods and then to ensure that all players were signed to professional contracts by the end of his second season in charge. The changes he made to the training regime were centred on drastically increasing the amount of work the players did with the ball, the coaching staff continually emphasising the important of technique above all else. Michels, it seems, believed that once the players had reached a sufficiently high level of technical prowess, more complex tactical systems could follow, a theory that started to prove itself towards the end of the 1960s.

Acting quickly to introduce a new strategic blueprint, Michels ditched Ajax’s traditional W-M formation in favour of a 4-2-4 which featured Piet Keizer, Johan Cruyff, Sjaak Swart and Henk Groot as its stellar forward quartet. It was this system that brought Ajax the result which first gained Michels and his new crop of players continental recognition, a 5-1 thrashing of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool in the second round of the 1966 European Cup. The victory shocked Europe and awakened observers to the new power rising in the Netherlands, a team that were starting to play some of the most mesmerising football that has ever been seen.

Ajax didn’t go on to win the 1966 European Cup, but they did win the league title on four occasions between ’66 and ’70 as well as finishing runners-up to Milan in the 1969 European Cup. As Jonathan Wilson points out in Inverting the Pyramid, Ajax came to be known for their attacking brilliance but Michels focussed on building from the back in his early years with the club. Velibor Vasović was brought in from Partizan Belgrade as sweeper and formed a strong defensive partnership with the excellent Barry Hulshoff, providing the extra security the numerous creative attacking players needed as a counterbalance.

Despite Ajax’s great success during the second half of the 1960s, Michels relentlessly pursued perfection and, after a particularly disappointing draw with Ernst Happel’s Feyenoord in 1970, modified the 4-2-4 (which he came to believe made it difficult to regain possession) into a more balanced 4-3-3 with Vasović becoming a libero and acting as the third man in the midfield. The change in shape, combined with an increasingly intense form of pressing and an aggressive offside trap meant that, by 1970, Ajax were playing Total Football in all but name. The system was in place, but it would become most famous and get its name at the World Cup in West Germany four years later.

 

The Oranje of 1974

 

Having left Ajax in 1971 for a four year stint with Barcelona which had seen Michels re-implement Total Football, sign Cruyff for a world record fee and win the 1974 league title, the Dutchman agreed to take the reins of the national team ahead of the World Cup of the same year. The squad he took to West Germany was filled with some of the most tactically intelligent players there have ever been, players well versed in the intricacies of Total Football who came extremely close to winning football’s biggest prize.

After a glittering run through the competition which included sublime victories over Bulgaria, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and East Germany, it seemed inevitable that the Dutch mastery of Total Football would see them overcome the hosts in the final. However, in what has come to be, somewhat over-romantically, painted as one of football’s greatest tragedies, Michels’ team fell to the West Germans in the final. Despite having taken the lead, the likes of Cruyff, Haan, Neeskens and Rep unable to prevent Paul Breitner and Gerd Müller snatching victory for the hosts and bringing a cruel end to what was, historically, undoubtedly the Netherlands’ best chance to win a World Cup.

The Clockwork Oranje returned home empty handed, but had entertained a global audience with their supreme mastery of Michels’ complex but beautifully balanced system. The legend of Total Football had been written into footballing folklore.

In 1975 Michels returned to Ajax for a single season, guiding a team that was entering decline after the incredible highs of the late sixties and early seventies to third place in the league before leaving the Amsterdam club for the last time in 1976 and spending two more seasons at Barcelona, winning the 1978 Spanish Cup in the process.

Time with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League and FC Köln was to follow, Michels eventually returning home for two more spells in charge of the Dutch national side between 1984 and 1988. It was to be the second of those periods which emphatically sealed Michels’ place in history, the great manager shaping a new generation of Dutch talent into one of the strongest forces in world football.

With a team including the likes of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koemen and Frank Rijkaard, Michels re-invented Total Football for a new generation as his team used space with a characteristic expertise and played with a flowing confidence that saw them become European Champions in 1988. It may have come 14 years later than many had imagined, but Rinus Michels was the man who brought the Netherlands their first major international title – something for which he will never be forgotten.

1988 was to be the final major achievement of Michels’ incredible career, a career which had seen him revolutionise football with his own unique interpretation of how the game should be played. One of football’s greatest visionaries and the man who brought the complex elegance of Total Football into the mainstream, Rinus Michels’ legacy is one of imagination, one of aesthetics and one of success. The breathtaking footage of the 1974 Dutch team in action stands as a permanent monument to his greatness.

“I don’t believe in good luck. When someone has won so much in twenty years, can it be luck?” – Helenio Herrera

A nomadic coach and a man of a cosmopolitan nature, Helenio Herrera was born in Buenos Aires around 1910 (the exact date was never recorded) to exiled Spanish anarchists and was granted French citizenship after moving to the Moroccan city of Casablanca aged just four. Constantly on the move, Herrera played football professionally as a full-back of some repute between 1931 and 1945, initially featuring for Racing de Casablanca before representing a number of clubs spread throughout the length and breadth of France.

In 1944, while still on the books as a player at Puteaux in the suburbs of Paris, Herrera was appointed coach at the club in the wake of liberation from Nazi rule and impressed with his leadership of the small amateur club. Less than a year later Herrera had called time on his playing career and joined Stade Français as manager, also taking a job on the coaching staff of the French national team.

When Stade Français passed into the hands of new owners in 1948 Herrera moved to the land of his parents, spending a brief time with Real Valladolid before joining Atlético Madrid in 1949. It was to be his time at the Estadio Metropolitano de Madrid that brought Herrera his first true recognition as a coach, winning consecutive domestic championships with Los Colchoneros in 1950 and 1951.With balletic Moroccan midfielder Larbi Benbarek the creative heart of his team, Herrera’s Atléti drew praise from around Europe and established his growing reputation as one of the continent’s most innovative coaches.

However, not being a man to spend too long in one place, Herrera left Madrid in 1952 and, after a particularly itinerant period which saw him take in Malaga, La Coruña, Seville and Lisbon, eventually arrived at Barcelona in 1958. He may have begun to construct his reputation in Castile, but it was to be in Catalonia – a region fighting against Francoist repression – that he and his methods achieved legendary status.

Believing that his phenomenally talented group of players (a group which included Sándor Kocsis, Luis Suárez and László Kubala) had been intimidated by the achievements of Real Madrid in the early years of the European Cup, Herrera set about instilling a great self-confidence and pride within FC Barcelona. Famed for his motivational slogans and rousing speeches, Barcelona’s eccentric genius of a coach instilled a greater discipline amongst the players and got them to be more comfortable and less nervous with each other off the field, something which was eventually reflected in their aesthetic style of play.

Although he is famed for being the master of catenaccio, something to which we will return shortly, it is important to recognise the entertaining attacking play Herrera’s Barcelona were known for. L’equip Blaugrana won consecutive titles in 1959 and 1960, scoring 182 goals over the course of the two seasons and establishing themselves as the most attractive team in Spain, if not in the whole of Europe. Herrera may get stereotyped as a destructive, negative tactician, but during his time in Spain he was nothing of the sort.

Indeed, when he was fired from Camp Nou in 1960 after defeat to Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the European Cup he was, according to Catalan folklore, carried down the Ramblas on the shoulders of adoring fans.

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“His emphasis on fitness and psychology had never been seen before. Until then, the manager was unimportant.” – Luis Suárez

Now one of the most highly respected managers in world football, Herrera was immediately offered the job at Internazionale following his departure from Catalonia, one which he gratefully accepted. Inter, then owned by Angelo Moratti (the father of current owner, Massimo), had been through a turbulent period prior to Herrera’s arrival and had failed to win anything of significance for the best part of a decade. Promising success to Moratti, Herrera was signed on a then-record salary for a manager (£35,000 p/a) and began imposing his methods on the Nerazzurri.

A total disciplinarian and control-freak, Herrera demanded influence over many facets of his players’ lives, everything from their diets to their sleeping patterns was dictated by their well-travelled manager. Indeed, it was Herrera who invented the concept of the ritiro, taking players away days before their next game in order to focus on the coming match and exercise even greater control over the exercise they did, the hours they slept and the food they ate. The majority of the players, if reports are to be believed, hated the retreats, but they soon paid off handsomely for the San Siro club.

Inter won their first Serie A title for nine years in 1963, going on to claim their first ever European Cup in 1964 with an emphatic 3-1 victory over the Real Madrid of Puskás and Di Stéfano in the final. In 1965 Herrera’s team went one better, winning the domestic and European double before claiming yet another Scudetto in 1966 to cap a golden era for La grande Inter. Herrera had emphatically delivered on his promise of success, but it was Inter’s tactics rather than their accumulation of silverware that had got the footballing public of Europe talking most fervently.

What came to be known as catenaccio was a development of a tactical approach pioneered in Switzerland by a coach called Karl Rappan, a man who attempted to find a tactical system which allowed for both systemic discipline and individual freedom simultaneously. His quest led him to deploy a system known as verrou (bolt) which was essentially a more defensive interpretation of Herbert Chapman’s W-M formation. The most distinctive element of the verrou was its deployment of a spare man in defence, the verouller, what we would recognise today as a sweeper or libero.

Rappan’s theories were first used in Italy by Giuseppe Viani at Salernitana in the late 1940s, the strides the team made using the system that had become known as catenaccio making the system popular on the peninsula. However, it was not until it was adopted by Nereo Rocco at AC Milan and then Herrera’s Inter in the 1960s that it became a truly mainstream and acceptable tactical method.

Setting up his team with four man-marking defenders and a libero, Herrera’s Inter were extremely defensive on paper but the reality was not quite as simple. With captain Armando Picchi the free man in defence, legendary attacking full-back Giacinto Facchetti was afforded the freedom to get forward and added to the stellar forward line which included Suárez and Sandro Mazzola.

In fact, Herrera was known to be irritated at the reputation for negativity that became attached to catenaccio, believing it to be a result of less capable teams imitating the style rather poorly. That said, defensive security was undoubtedly the priority of the catenaccio philosophy, “conceding one less” rather than “scoring one more” being its central tenet.

Despite the debate which surrounds the ethos of catenaccio, what is absolutely beyond doubt is that the system worked superbly for Inter throughout the 1960s. However, towards the end of that particular decade the quasi-divine luminescence that the Nerazzurri had been basking in had begun to fade. Rumours of steroid abuse amongst Inter players were rife and, though the accusations were never proved and thus should not detract from the team’s achievements, dogged the club towards the end of Herrera’s reign in 1968.

The innovative, disciplinarian coach joined Roma shortly after leaving Inter, winning the Coppa Italia in 1969 but never being able to lift the Giallorossi to the heights he had achieved with the Milanese club. Brief and underwhelming returns to Inter and Barcelona as well as a short time at Rimini followed before his retirement in 1981, Herrera’s creative and organisational energies apparently expended during the halcyon days at San Siro.

Like many of the great coaches, his career may have fizzled out towards the end, but for his pioneering work in developing nutrition and psychology in football, not to mention the sustained success he achieved with the catenaccio philosophy he claimed to have invented, Helenio Herrera more than deserves to be recognised as one of the most influential managers of all time.

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