Let Managerial Musical Chairs Begin

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The European soccer season is wrapping up, with Real Madrid, Juventus, and Borrussia Dortmund winning titles in Spain, Italy, and Germany, respectively.

Now is the time for many clubs to pick a new manager. A team’s choice will define performance over the next year. Twelve months ago, nobody would have expected Juventus, then an average Italian team, to win the Scudetto. This achievement was only possible under the guidance of club legend Antonio Conte.

As Sir Alex Ferguson has proved with his 26 years at Manchester United, stability is the key to long-term success. Paradoxically, stability can often be a hindrance for national teams.

A national team coach who is in charge for too long will often develop favorites, and be less likely to look at younger players. After this summer’s European Championships, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain should hire new coaches.

Jurgen Klopp, who just won back-to-back titles with Borussia Dortmund, should be offered the job of the Mannschaft. He appreciates the value of Germany’s next generation and uses the same attacking style employed by the national team.

The Netherlands should hire Frank De Boer, a former star player who has just won the title with Ajax two seasons in a row. De Boer was an assistant coach of the Dutch national team when it reached the 2010 World Cup final.

Spain should pick departing Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. There is an undeniable emphasis on the Catalan club at the Spanish national team. The outfit uses Barcelona’s style and many of the same players. Guardiola, the most successful club manager in Spanish history, would be the obvious successor to World Cup winning coach Vicente del Bosque.

While Guardiola’s successor at Barcelona has already been designated, other teams face more uncertainty. Kenny Dalglish must be replaced at Liverpool, after yet another disappointing season for the club. Carlo Ancelotti would be a competent successor, having won the Premier League with Chelsea.

Paris Saint-Germain may be all too eager to get rid of Ancelotti anyway, after failing to win the Ligue 1. This would be a poor decision on the part of PSG’s Qatari owners, as one season is never enough to recover from decades of erratic showing. Should they do so, former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas will be a top candidate to replace him, with his commitment to offensive play.

Ironically, Internazionale and Chelsea have enjoyed solid runs under little-known managers. Both teams sacked their famous coaches in mid-season, and with few qualified coaches on the market, Chelsea chose assistant coach Roberto Di Matteo, while Internazionale promoted youth team coach Andrea Stramaccioni.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Internazionale owner Massimo Moratti have high standards, but setting aside their egos and giving Di Matteo and Stramaccioni a chance would be the best option.

This is unlikely, given Abramovich and Moratti’s spotty records on keeping coaches. Reforming their teams has by now become like teaching an old dog new tricks, with both clubs sporting castes of players who over the years become features in the landscape.

Chelsea should bet on Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal has coached in several countries, and has always shown remarkable ability to adapt to different leagues, as well as a pragmatic coaching philosophy that has always succeeded at Chelsea.

Internazionale should pick Oscar Washington Tabarez, who brought Uruguay to the World Cup semifinals and to a Copa Libertadores victory. Uruguay’s success has been built around a well-organized defense and a direct and non-expansive attack, tactics which suit Internazionale well. Tabarez has the added benefit of knowing how to get the best out of Uruguay and Internazionale star forward Diego Forlan.

A year from now, European soccer will look very different. Much of how it changes will be decided in the next few weeks. A club’s choice of coach will determine whether these changes will be a benefit or a loss.

Theodore Furchtgott is a RealClearSports soccer columnist. He can be reached at Theodore.Furchtgott@gmail.com.

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