With the domestic leagues on hold during the international break, this weekend many football fans will be left stranded in front of blank television screens, while we wait what seems an eternity for our beloved clubs to grace the pitch again.
Although many of the top players get to catch up with their fellow countrymen on international duty, what is it that soccer’s elite coaches do to pass the time? Do they also sit quietly, eating breakfast alone, wishing they were at their local pub’s enjoying some pints at an hour even fraternity brothers would deem too early? Or do they, like some of us, play the “good partner” role and deceive their loved ones into thinking they are skipping the weekends soccer games to spend time together?
The truth is that most of the world’s top coaches have gone to Nyon, Switzerland for this year’s UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum. This annual event, first held in 1999, is where the managerial elite join to discuss their views on key European football issues such as, tactical trends and refereeing. The meeting, which is chaired by Sir Alex Ferguson, allows the chance for coaches to swap ideas in a low pressure environment.
One of the attendees is Zenit St. Petersburg’s boss Andre Villas-Boas who says he feels ‘excited’ to be back.
“You meet your colleagues in a more open environment out of competition,” he said. “You get to share different ideas from these meetings. You always come up with suggestions that might influence UEFA one day.”
This list of coaches who attended is truly impressive: Arsène Wenger (Arsenal FC), Luis Enrique (FC Barcelona), Josep Guardiola (FC Bayern München), José Mourinho (Chelsea FC), Jürgen Klopp (Borussia Dortmund), Roger Schmidt (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City FC), Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan), Míchel (Olympiacos FC), Carlo Ancelotti (Real Madrid CF), Laurent Blanc (Paris Saint-Germain), Jens Keller (FC Schalke 04), André Villas-Boas (FC Zenit), Jorge Jesus (SL Benfica), Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus), Mircea Lucescu (FC Shakhtar Donetsk), Unai Emery (Sevilla FC), Nuno Espírito Santo (Valencia CF) and Rafael Benítez (SSC Napoli).
For any fan interested in tactics that is a room to envy. One of the big tactical discussions involved the evolution of the counterattack. Though it may seem commonplace in today’s game, the counterattack has really progressed in the last decade as managers look for new ways to expose improving defenses.
“Thirty years ago, counterattacking was maybe only one or two players,” Sir Alex Ferguson states. “Today, in counterattacks, you have players flooding forward in fives and sixes, really positive, quick passing. The state of the pitches has helped – the pitches are fantastic nowadays – so coming out of defence with passes is much easier than it was 30 years ago.”
The event is especially important for younger coaches to learn from the most experienced coaches in the game and gives them the chance to bounce new ideas around the old guard as well.
“It brings a lot to me, because I haven’t been coaching for a long time at this level,” said Roger Schmidt, who is in his first year in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen. “It’s good to hear the views of other coaches who have more experience – it is very valuable to me. That’s why I am happy to be here.”
Among the many helpful aspects to the forum it is also nice for outsiders to imagine all of the general awkwardness in one room. Whether it be Carlo Ancelotti greeting Jose Mourinho, a man he has now replaced in two different jobs, or Rafael Benitez bringing up the 2005 Champions League Final to Ancelotti (Liverpool scored 3 goals in 8 minutes in the second half and won on penalties over Ancelotti’s AC Milan), there are bound to be some strange interactions among all the genius during this years elite coaches forum.