All hail football’s “teacher coach”
How the mighty fall. German superclub Bayern Munich has fired Jürgen Klinsmann after just eight months in the job, an amazing state of affairs when you consider that Klinsmann, Germany’s folk hero at the 2006 World Cup, was so in demand he could have signed anywhere and for just about any amount of money.
But after starting his club coaching career brightly, amid the attendant mists of hype and optimism, his reputation began to wane and, after crashing out of the UEFA Champions League and the DFB Cup, a 1-0 home league loss to Schalke 04 at the Allianz Arena in Munich sealed his fate. Bayern, a club used to sitting atop the Bundesliga perch, is also currently sitting in equal third with Hamburg and Stuttgart behind Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin, but only three points behind Wolfsburg with five games to play.
A not insurmounstable lead, but for the Bavarian giants, to even be in third at this stage of the season is unacceptable by any measure, let alone with a former Germany national-team coach at the helm and stars of the wattage of Luca Toni and Franck Ribery on their roster.
Brutal, perhaps, but this is not a club that mucks around – even with national heroes.
What Klinsmann’s story underlines is the danger to many clubs of falling for a “player coach” over a “teacher coach”.
A “teacher coach”, a term Iran manager Afshin Ghotbi introduced me to, is as exactly as it sounds: someone, usually a man who never achieved much as a player himself, who has done all the groundwork to assume a position of such responsibility, who has fastidiously studied every facet of the game, who is familiar with training and tactical innovations, who has gathered experience and wisdom through legwork and failure, who can impart valuable knowledge to his players and know they will listen and inspire them to become better footballers and human beings in the process.
Ghotbi is one. Pim Verbeek is one. As is Guus Hiddink, Jose Mourinho, Klinsmann’s Bayern predecessor Ottmar Hitzfeld and his Nationalmannschaft replacement, Joachim Löw.
The Socceroos have had a few over the years, such as the aforementioned Hiddink, Terry Venables, Frank Arok and Joe Vlasits.
The “player coach” is the complete opposite: a manager that has arrived in his vaulted position by virtue of the career he had on the park and the notoriety he achieved as a result. Usually they are young, have scant qualifications and are ill-equipped to assume the mantle of life guide to footballers not that much younger or inexperienced than themselves.
Think of Alan Shearer, Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit, Diego Maradona and, closer to these shores, Graham Arnold and Frank Farina.
They might luck out with one or two good seasons but over a longer period of time – if they are allowed to coach that long – and under pressure their deficiencies quickly become apparent.
In football, as in life, there is no substitute for experience and just playing football and scoring goals does not a coach make. That’s not to say “player coaches” can contribute some valuable things to a dressing-room, as we have seen with Maradona and the thrall in which he is held inside the sheds of the Albicelestes, but up against good teams and shrewd tacticians of the calibre of a Mourinho or Hiddink, the likelihood is sooner or later they will be found wanting.
And that, sadly, is precisely the fate that has befallen Klinsmann.
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