Sunday, July 04, 2010

"Do you remember Walter...?"

THE FIRST England manager – but, alas, not the last – to lead a woeful World Cup campaign had it easy, Fabio Capello might well moan.
So little was thought of Walter Winterbottom, one paper mentioned him just twice during the 1950 tournament.
Once when he advised his players to take afternoon naps, once when he checked hotel chefs could serve steak-and-kidney pudding.
England’s performances this summer can hardly have been less stodgy.
Yet Capello is not the only coach now commanding more column inches than his players have had hot dinners.
The cult of the manager scales new peaks - perhaps aptly, when such superstars as Rooney, Ronaldo and Kaka have been as anonymous as cartoon mascot Zakumi.
At least the leopard can blame vuvuzelas for stealing his symbolic South African thunder.
This World Cup has boasted perhaps the most experienced and prize-laden line-up of coaches, from the trophy-hoarding likes of Capello, Lippi and Hitzfeld to airmile-collectors Le Guen, Queiroz and Eriksson.
Yet after Raymond Domenech’s rudeness, Marcelo Lippi’s melodramatic mea culpa and Matjaz Kek’s press conference punchiness, the four left standing are among the least obtrusive of the lot.
At his second World Cup, Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez – once Capello’s unfortunate and all-too-brief Milan successor - has been coldly ruthless in killing off not just one but two African challenges.
In those mad final moments against Ghana – sorry, ‘BaGhana BaGhana’ - on Friday, he kept somehow calm amid the most fearsome racket outside Rafael Nadal’s left hand.
His shuttling of the transformed Diego Forlan between poacher and playmaker roles has been inspired, while midfield toilers Perez and Arevalo back up the style – and guile – of Luis Suarez.
Spain’s hangdog Vicente del Bosque – a Champions League double-winning Real Madrid reject – might just be the politest coach here, perhaps why he’s now being linked with Japan.
Not only is he sharing the cameo roles between all of his substitutes, he still insists Fernando Torres is both fit and in-form.
No such delicacy from Holland’s Bert van Marwijk, a grizzled misery whenever dragged away from tinkling the ivories in his hotel lobby.
Yet he has achieved a near-miracle by dragging functional and – just about – unified performances from another traditionally-fractious Dutch squad.
Almost as mysterious is how his son-in-law Mark Van Bommel escaped a second World Cup booking, enjoying the good fortune denied Germany’s Thomas Muller.
Of the semi-final four, Germany’s Joachim Low is the most media-savvy ‘star’ – not something foreseen in unspectacular slogs with clubs in Austria and Turkey.
The suave German coach – well, as suave as cardigan-wearer can be – bears his worldliness rather better than Ghana’s Milovan Rajevac or Paraguay’s Gerardo Martino, men who look to have lived hard lives.
Not just hard lives, but a heavy night before – with Rajevac looking rather like Rising Damp’s Rigsby and Martino rivalling Jose Antonio Camacho as ‘World’s Sweatiest Manager’.
Tabarez may be dubbed the ‘Maestro’, for his schoolteacher previous.
But Low can bear the air of a slightly-smug, just-about-patient lecturer, explaining his schemes to split England’s leaden centre-backs apart or repeatedly tear down Argentina’s right like identifying a computer game glitch.
Curious to recall Capello came into the World Cup with a lavish new contract, while German talks were put icily on ice – the then-unloved Low condemned for alleged greed.
Some reports suggest his contract technically expired last Wednesday, making Saturday’s Argentina annihilation one he provided auf dem Haus.
Not a bad bargaining chip to play against the German FA, who got lucky themselves when landed with Jurgen Klinsmann’s little-heralded assistant six years ago.
If there is, though, no German reunification for Low and his own FA chiefs, perhaps ours might consider a job offer come August.
Doing so might not make us any better – but, after seeing the effect even on Capello, it might be our best hope of making Germans worse.
Even if poor neglected Walter, way back when, might have found such stuff impossible to swallow.

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