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Opinion: does a manager’s nationality matter in international football?

Based on statistics from Euro 2000 onwards, we assess this much-debated topic.

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel celebrates winning the UEFA European Championship with Stylianos Giannakopoulos.
Greece coach Otto Rehhagel celebrates winning the UEFA European Championship with Stylianos Giannakopoulos.

FOLLOWING IRELAND’S EURO 2012 failure, certain pundits criticised manager Giovanni Trapattoni for failing to adhere to the Irish style of football.

After the opening game against Croatia, AS declared that “the green catenaccio lasted 120 seconds”.

The inference was that the Irish team are not suited to an Italian style of football and vice-versa.

And Ireland are not the only side with a non-national manager to encounter such criticisms.

The appointments of both Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello were met with disapproval by certain English commentators, while other English managers such as Harry Redknapp have often claimed that their national side’s manager should be English.

There are of course two sides to the argument: some people claim a national manager born in the country in question is likely to have a more intimate knowledge of the country’s football system and temperament, while others believe that the sense of detachment that a foreign manager can offer is ultimately beneficial to a national team.

And of course, there are also those who believe the national identity of a manager is largely irrelevant.

So which school of thought is closest to the truth? We’ve looked at statistics, measuring the foreign managers’ performances at every European Championships and World Cup from Euro 2000 onwards.

We’ve judged sides’ success in these tournaments firstly by their ability to get past the first round. We also rate their respective performances based on factors such as world ranking (at the time), footballing history and player quality.

It’s also worth mentioning that managers who were born outside of a country but have links to that country through close relatives, such as Mick McCarthy, were not considered foreign for this study.

Here are the results…

Euro 2000
Bosse Johansson (Swe) – first round with Denmark
0% of managers get to second round

In Euro 2000, only one of the 16 teams had a foreign manager. Bosse Johansson endured a Trapattoni-esque disastrous campaign, as his side lost all three of their games – although, like Ireland, they did face formidable opposition in the form of Czech Republic, Holland and eventual winners France.

2002 World Cup
Bruno Metsu (Fra) – quarter-finals with Senegal
Cesare Maldini (Ita) – second round with Paraguay
Bora Milutinović (Ser) – first round with China
Guus Hiddink (Hol) – semi-finals with South Korea
Winfried Schäfer (Ger) – first round with Cameroon
Philippe Troussier (Fra) – second round with Japan
Sven Goran Erikkson (Swe) – quarter-finals
71% of managers get to second round

World Cup 2002 had a sizable increase in the amount of foreign managers of national sides, with considerable success in some instances. Frenchman Bruno Metsu helped Senegal reach the quarter-finals, beating his fellow countrymen France in the process. Guus Hiddink exceeded expectations by taking co-hosts South Korea all the way to the semi-finals. Even England, under Sven Goran Eriksson, performed quite well, on the back of Kevin Keegan’s disappointing tenure.

(Greece’s players celebrate on the podium in 2004 – Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport)

Euro 2004
Otto Rehhagel (Ger) – winners with Greece
Luiz Felipe Scolari (Por) – finalists with Portugal
Sven Goran Erikkson (Swe) – quarter finalists with England
100% of managers get to second round

Foreign coaches accounted for just under a quarter of the sides at Euro 2004, and on this occasion, their collective performance was close to perfect. Otto Rehhagel was a well-documented success story, and arguably had a greater influence on a team winning an international tournament than any other coach in the history of the game. Luiz Felipe Scolari, while he would have been disappointed not to have won it ultimately, did still get Portugal to their first-ever final at a major tournament. Sven Goran Eriksson, while he was criticised for his tactics by some, will have considered his England side unlucky, given that they were narrowly beaten on penalties by a talented Portuguese outfit.

World Cup 2006
Luis Fernando Suárez (Col) – second round with Ecuador
Sven-Göran Eriksson (Swe) – quarter-finals with England
Aníbal Ruiz (Uru) – first round with Paraguay
Henri Michel (Fra) – first round with Ivory Coast
Ricardo Lavolpe (Arg) – second round with Mexico
Branko Ivanković (Cro) – first round with Iran
Luiz Felipe Scolari (Bra) – semi-finals with Portugal
Ratomir Dujković (Ser) – second round with Ghana
Zico (Bra) – first round with Japan
Guus Hiddink (Hol) – second round with Australia
Dick Advocaat (Hol) – first round with South Korea
Otto Pfister (Ger) – first round with Togo
Roger Lemerre (Fra) – first round with Tunisia
Marcos Paquetá (Bra) – first round with Saudi Arabia
43% of foreign managers qualify for second round

Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of Greece’s success with Rehhagel, almost half the sides at the 2006 World Cup were coached by a foreigner. And inevitably, they mostly experienced less success. Scolari, however, again did well to guide Portugal to the semi-finals, but elsewhere, there were no particularly spectacular performances in comparison to previous tournaments.

Euro 2008
Luiz Felipe Scolari (Bra) – quarter finals with Portugal
Leo Beenhakker (Hol) – first round with Poland
Otto Rehhagel (Ger) – first round with Greece
Guus Hiddink (Hol) – semi-finals with Russia
50% of managers get to second round

Guus Hiddink experienced relative success with Russia before getting trashed by Spain in the semis, though both Poland and Greece failed to get past the first round, and Portugal experienced a disappointing 3-2 loss to Germany in the quarters. Ultimately, it was an average tournament for foreign managers, in contrast with the significant success they had previously experienced.

World Cup 2010
Carlos Alberto Parreira (Bra) – first round with South Africa
Otto Rehhagel (Ger) – first round with Greece
Lars Lagerbäck (Swe) – first round with Nigeria
Fabio Capello (Ita) – second round with England
Milovan Rajevac (Ser) – quarter finals with Ghana
Pim Verbeek (Hol) – first round with Australia
Paul Le Guen (Fra) – first round with Cameroon
Gerardo Martino (Arg) – quarter finals with Paraguay
Sven-Göran Eriksson (Swe) – first round with Ivory Coast
Marcelo Bielsa (Arg) – second round with Chile
Ottmar Hitzfeld (Ger) – first round with Switzerland
Alexis Mendoza (Col) – first round with Honduras
33% of managers get to second round

There were slightly less foreign managers at the most recent World Cup compared to 2006, in conjunction with their dwindling levels of success. This tournament provided two particularly exceptional managerial performances. A Serb, Milovan Rajevac, guided Ghana to the quarters, where they were very unfortunate to lose out on penalties against Uruguay. Meanwhile, Argentine-born Gerardo Martino also took Paraguay to the quarters, where they were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Spain. Moreover, the 33% success rate was the lowest since Euro 2000, and will perhaps signal a decrease in the amount of countries looking to hire foreign managers for the next World Cup.

(Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni reacts during the Euro 2012 clash with Spain – Gero Breloer/AP/Press Association Images)

Euro 2012
Fernando Santos (Por) – second round with Greece
Dick Advocaat (Hol) – first round with Russia
Giovanni Trapattoni (Ita) – first round with Ireland
33% of managers get to second round

Ireland, as we well know, failed to emerge from their group, as expected, while Russia also disappointed, despite a convincing defeat of the Czech Republic in the opening game. Greece, while being convincingly beaten by Germany in the quarters, still did well to escape their group.

Overall records:

22 successful attempts to get to second round
43 attempts overall since Euro 2000
52% succeeded overall

So of the 43 attempts to get to the second round at major international tournaments, 22 were successful. So by that basis, 52% is the success rate for foreign managers, indicating there is little if any difference as to whether the manager of a national side was born in the country or not. However, there are flaws with this approach. For example, many of the big footballing nations (Brazil, Germany and Italy for example) never opt for a foreign manager, giving national managers a slight advantage, as they invariably have better players to work with. So perhaps a more accurate way of measuring a foreign manager’s effect is by judging their performance based on that country’s pre-tournament expectations. We’ve divided performances into three categories: overperformances, underperformances and performing as expected. The results, in chronological order, can be seen below.

Performances on a country-by-country basis
Bosse Johansson: Denmark – as expected
Bruno Metsu: Senegal – overperformed
Cesare Maldini: Paraguay – as expected
Bora Milutinović: China – as expected
Guus Hiddink: South Korea – overperformed
Winfried Schäfer: Cameroon – as expected
Philippe Troussier: Japan – overperformed
Sven Goran Eriksson: England – as expected
Otto Rehhagel: Greece – overperformed
Luis Felipe Scolari: Portugal – overperformed
Sven Goran Eriksson: England – as expected
Luis Fernando Suárez: Ecuador – as expected
Sven Goran Eriksson: England – as expected
Aníbal Ruiz: Paraguay – as expected
Henri Michel: Ivory Coast – as expected
Ricardo Lavolpe: Mexico – as expected
Branko Ivanković: Iran – as expected
Luis Felipe Scolari: Portugal – overperformed
Ratomir Dujković: Ghana – overperformed
Zico: Japan – as expected
Guus Hiddink: Australia – overperformed
Dick Advocaat: South Korea – as expected
Otto Pfister: Togo – as expected
Roger Lemerre: Tunisia – as expected
Marcos Paquetá: Saudi Arabia – as expected
Guus Hiddink: Russia – overperformed
Luis Felipe Scolari: Portugal – as expected
Otto Rehhagel: Greece – as expected
Leo Beenhakker: Poland – as expected
Carlos Alberto Parreira: South Africa – as expected
Otto Rehhagel: Greece – as expected
Fabio Capello: England – underperformed
Lars Lagerbäck: Nigeria – as expected
Milovan Rajevac: Ghana – overperformed
Pim Verbeek: Australia – as expected
Paul Le Guen: Cameroon – as expected
Gerardo Martino: Paraguay – overperformed
Sven-Göran Eriksson: Ivory Coast – as expected
Marcelo Bielsa: Chile – as expected
Ottmar Hitzfeld: Switzerland – as expected
Alexis Mendoza: Honduras – as expected
Giovanni Trapattoni: Ireland – as expected
Fernando Santos: Greece – overperformed
Dick Advocaat: Russia – underperformed

Overall stats
2 – underperformed
12 – overperformed
29 – as expected

Interestingly, out of all the foreign managers’ attempts, 12 are deemed to be overperformances, while only two drastically underperformed. This suggests that a foreign manager is most likely to have a positive influence on a side. Of course, such measurements will always depend on a certain level of subjectivity. For example, you could argue Ireland in fact underperformed at Euro 2012. But the results are telling nonetheless, and represent a legitimate retort to the likes of Harry Redknapp.

Read: Löw Blow! German newspaper wastes no time in having a bailout dig at Greece>

Read: Reasons for Ireland’s European disappointment…>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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