Domestic trophies no longer enough for Europe's top coaches

Massimiliano Allegri  has just made history at Juventus, becoming its first coach to win the Italian title five times in succession, the club's seventh consecutive scudetto overall. Yet again, however, he failed to win the Champions League, a trophy that Juventus hasn't hoisted into UEFA's confetti shower for 23 years. There is consequently much fan and media speculation in Italy that he may be on his way out.

At Paris St. Germain, Thomas Tuchel is in a similar situation. Another domestic title won by a gaping margin, but a desperately unlucky and narrow elimination at the hands of Manchester United in the Champions League means that for the second year running his coaching nous is being called into question. That a recent 5-1 league defeat in Lille was subject to no less than six pages of analysis in French sports daily L'Équipe gives you an idea of the pressure the Qatar-financed team's now under to succeed at all times. A surprise defeat this past weekend in the French Cup final, on penalties to mid-standings Rennes, won't have helped Tuchel's cause.

Over to Germany. Bayern Munich leads the Bundesliga by two points with three games to go, and last week reached the German Cup final, albeit thanks to a very dubious penalty call that allowed them a 3-2 win at Werder Bremen. Yet coach Niko Kovac, in his first season at Bayern, has been undermined from the start by less than supportive comments from club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Crashing out of the Champions League to Liverpool last month has fueled the whispers that he'll be gone by the summer, regardless of domestic success. In recent years, Bayern's had the league sewn up by winter's end.

Finally, to England to consider consistent Champions League 'failure' Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, currently on course to sweep all three English trophies, but still yearning for Europe's biggest prize that has not only eluded him at City for three seasons, but also escaped his grasp in his prior three years at Bayern. It is, apparently, the only remaining measure for success among the super clubs. No one's calling for Guardiola to be fired at City, yet you'd hardly be surprised to see him move on by mutual consent. The intense, almost overwrought approach of the modern young coach seems to come with a limited shelf-life.

It's arguably justified for a major European club to demand so much from its head coach, not least because of the fantastical salaries they now make. There's also a sense that with the quality of players at their disposal, there is no excuse for not winning their national league, except perhaps in England and Spain, where the bar of 'least accepted success' is lowered to mere Champions League qualification. Domestic silverware is apparently no longer proof that you're a decent coach.

On the other hand, it's desperately unfair to judge a coach by success in a cup competition when you consider how narrow the defeats were for Paris St. Germain and Manchester City this season. Both were the victims of marginal, very late video calls that would have been missed by referees and quickly forgotten by everyone else as recently as a year ago. Not even diligent, detail-obsessed individuals like Tuchel and Guardiola can factor in, say, a shot being blasted against a defender's elbow in the penalty area.

Yet the big clubs have created the slanted financial playing ground that makes the European prize the only one they really value. You can therefore expect Ajax coach Erik ten Hag and his Tottenham Hotspur counterpart Mauricio Pochettino to be in high demand this summer if either of their teams succeed in becoming European champions on June 1. In much the same way as having been U.S. president allows you to cash in for decades by charging eye-watering prices to deliver banal speeches all over the world.

The perfect example is Jose Mourinho, who won the Champions League with FC Porto in 2003 (all credit to him for that), and in 2010 with Inter Milan (the last triumphant shout for catenaccio). His teams were always dour, defensive and no fun to watch, yet his trophied resumé allowed him to go on and earn vast amounts at Real Madrid and Manchester United, where his belligerence and negativity served to severely damage both clubs' reputations as soccer institutions. The unemployed Mourinho's name is still connected with the European elite every time there's talk of a vacancy.

No one can seriously suggest that Mourinho would be a better option at the moment for Juventus, Paris St. Germain or Manchester City. And the malcontents in the directors' box or among the fan-base would do well to remember the math -- only one team a season can be champions of Europe. Having a stylish, attacking team built on unlimited cash resources, though, will not be enough to guarantee that Tuchel, Allegro and Guardiola can expect anything like the job security Alex Ferguson enjoyed at Manchester United for almost three decades. When men and corporations with big money make their demands, there are only two options -- success today, or change tomorrow.

That change will also come sooner or later in the form of a European Super League, as revealed late last year. For the elite clubs there's only one snag with that model. No matter how much you meddle with the format, there can still be only one winner.

(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)

2 comments about "Domestic trophies no longer enough for Europe's top coaches".
  1. Richard Broad, April 29, 2019 at 4:39 p.m.

    ...but Mourinho is "THE CHOSEN ONE".

  2. beautiful game, April 29, 2019 at 8:59 p.m.

    Allegri had nothing to do with the CL loss; Ajax was the better team on the day. One of the biggest fiasco coaching jobs was by Barcelona coach Valverde who in the 2017/2018 went into the last league game unbeaten; and he personally contributed to the loss...and what about getting knocked out by Roma in CL by losing 3-0.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications