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Boss or No Boss (Managers, Part II)

So long, 'Arry!

So long, ‘Arry!

Harry Redknapp’s resignation as Queens Park Rangers’ boss likely means the end of his 32-year managerial career. Despite his colourful quotes and allegedly dubious transfer dealings, the man was still a winner… sometimes. He did take a flailing Portsmouth team, save them from the drop, and then went on to win the 2008 FA Cup (the last English manager to win a major English trophy). While ‘Arry found work… these guys are still looking for jobs.

vahidd1Vahid Halilodžić
Age: 62
Nationality: Bosnian
Honours: 2004 Coupe de France with PSG

Vahid Halilodžić is probably known more in the present day for what he didn’t win than what he did. The Bosnian should be feted in Algeria for bringing that country farther than it’s ever gone in a World Cup. The men in green played well in Brazil, pushing Germany to extra-time before the eventual champions came out ahead, 2-1. He then resigned in tears, blaming a resentful populace and media for unconscionably castigating him, despite his results.

Halilodžić’s accomplishments have been quiet, yet solid. He coached Lille OSC through promotion in 2000, and then into third place the next season; they’ve been up and competitive almost every season since (except this one). His move to PSG in 2004 resulted in winning the Coupe de France at first go, and propelled the club into second place. Although his second season resulted in his dismissal, his stints as coach of the Côte d’Ivoire (where he was dismissed despite qualifying for the 2010 World Cup) and Algeria national teams showed that he is capable of leading teams on the big stage.

glacombe_921161139

France’s answer to Tom Skerritt…

Guy Lacombe
Age: 59
Nationality: French
Honours: 2006 Coupe de France with PSG

Guy Lacombe became something of a cup specialist, winning the 2004 French League Cup with Sochaux in their second straight final. He then moved to Paris Saint-Germain and won the Coupe de France in his first season in the capital. However, his league results were middling at best… but he moved onto Rennes and Monaco, leading each side to the French Cup finals in 2009 and 2010, respectively. By January 2011 though, Monaco was in 17th place and Lacombe was fired.  Les Rouges et Blancs never recovered and were sent to Ligue 2.  Lacombe now works for France’s National Technical Director, François Blaquart.

Felix-Magath_EPA_2846160bFelix Magath
Age: 61
Nationality: German
Honours: 2005 & 2006 Bundesliga titles, 2005 & 2006 DfB Pokal winners with Bayern Munich; 2009 Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg

Few managers have as much pedigree as both a player and a coach as Felix Magath. Few managers inspire as much dread amongst players as well. As a player, Magath won every major European trophy, save the UEFA Cup (although he was in a final), with the mighty Hamburger SV team of the late 70s and early 80s.  He was also a member of the West German side that won the 1980 European Championship.  As a coach, he won successive league-cup doubles with Bayern Munich in 2005 and 2006; three years later, he won the league again, this time with Wolfsburg.

But then you hear the stories about his training regimens, his falling out with players, his desire for absolute control. Fulham loanee Lewis Holtby was reportedly aghast when he found out that his former tormentor was taking over at Craven Cottage. But “Saddam” could not save Fulham from the drop, and now no club in Germany wants him back.  Still… some English club must need a good ol’ fashioned spanking.

MazzarriWalter Mazzarri
Age: 53
Nationality: Italian
Honours: 2012 Coppa Italia with Napoli

Before Walter Mazzarri, Napoli’s recent history was not great. Relegated in 1998, promoted in 2000, and then relegated again right away, Gli Azzurri slipped into insolvency and oblivion. The team reformed in 2004 in Serie C1 and took four years to climb back into the top flight. Enter Mazzarri a year later. He brought them into the Europa League at his first go. The next year, it was the Champions League.  The year after that, Napoli won the Coppa Italia.  He topped that by leading Napoli to second place; they were never going to challenge Juventus, but they certainly beat traditional powerhouse AC Milan, along with upstarts Fiorentina.  After that season, Mazzarri bizarrely decided to take over at diminishing Inter Milan.  That lasted five months.  Cavoli!

VictorMunoz-reacts121201R300Victor Muñoz
Age: 57
Nationality: Spanish
Honours: 2004 Copa del Rey with Real Zaragoza

Victor’s managerial league record is not great. The former Barcelona, Sampdoria and Spain star couldn’t replicate his success as a player. He was in charge of several middling La Liga teams, along with stints in Greece, Chechnya (replacing Ruud Gullit at Terek Grozny) and Switzerland. But in January 2004, he stepped into the manager role mid-season at his boyhood club, Real Zaragoza and led them past Barcelone in the 2004 Copa del Rey quarterfinals, before taking out Real Madrid in the final. He would return to the Aragonese side last spring and then leave only eight months later. But for a brief moment 11 years ago, Victor was the King of Spain.

Coming Up: A man who’s name is synonymous with collapse in London and Madrid, and another who’s name means collapse everywhere else!

Brent P. Lanthier

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Inter Tinkers with their Manager… Again

Gasperini: Don't look back in anger

It took five matches for Internazionale to fire Gian Piero Gasperini… the fifth manager to leave the club in three years.  But only in the world of sport does a organization hire its leaders from a steady pool of failures.

The rumours are that Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri has been given a two-year contract to take over from Gasperini.  No stranger to football’s revolving door, Ranieri has managed 10 teams over the last 20 years; this will be his seventh Serie A club. In that time, he has only won two major trophies: a Coppa Italia with Fiorentina… and a Copa del Rey with Valencia.  Yet this is the man who has allegedly been chosen to lead one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Inter fans and management must be perturbed that their recent domination of Italian football has come to a jarring and screeching halt.  Long known as “the other Milanese club”, i Nerazzurri shook off its inferiority complex by winning five consecutive Serie A titles under Roberto Mancini and José Mourinho, topping off the run by winning the quadruple: the league title, the Coppa Italia, the Supercoppa, as well as being crowned both European and world champions… defeating mighty Barcelona along the way.  Life was good for Inter Milan. Then Rafael Benitez arrived.

Rafageddon unleashed again

Sure, Rafa led them to a World Club Championship. But they did it by beating club teams from South Korea and the Congo… one of the poorest nations in the world.  Not so fast, cry Inter fans.  They beat the world’s best to get there.  But Rafa’s infernal reputation of maniacal stubbornness is well deserved, and it didn’t sit well with the club’s superstars.  By Christmas, Inter would be down by 11 points from their San Siro rivals and Benitez was shown the door.  He has yet to manage in a single match since.

While not a bad choice, the Spaniard’s replacement was perhaps difficult for Inter fans to accept.  Not only did Leonardo play over a hundred matches for hated AC… he was also part of the Brazilian team that beat Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994.  No matter: the new gaffer lead Inter on a run that pulled them to the brink of another championship.  But in the end, the club failed to defend the league, and were laughed out of Europe by a mediocre German side. While Inter managed to hold onto the Coppa, the writing was on the wall.  Leonardo left Italy for the bright lights — and a big pay cheque — in Paris.

Enter Gasparini and an immediate cloud of suspicion. Rumours abounded that the former Genoa gaffer was only chosen because others refused the job.  Fabio Capello is still under contract to the England FA.  Young Andres Villas-Boas snapped at the chance to manage Cha-ching! Chelsea, after only one season at Porto.  Even Marcelo Bielsa followed up Chile’s impressive display at last year’s World Cup by signing up to manage the Spanish powerhouse… of Athletic Bilbao.

It all must have been secretly humiliating for owner Massimo Moratti.  If it was, it only got worse as the season got underway.  After succumbing to their hated rivals in the SuperCoppa, Inter emerged from the one-week players’ strike to lose to up-and-coming Palermo… one of the teams leading a Southern renaissance in Italian football.  That was followed by a CL league loss (at home!) to Turkish side Trabzonspor, who weren’t even supposed to be there.  A draw against Roma might have been acceptable, if it was not for a humiliating defeat Tuesday night to newly-promoted Novara.  Gasperini uscita… Ranieri entri.

Zanetti: Is it exit time for Inter's Iron Man?

There are some — including the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson — who argue that Moretti should never have hired Gasperini… not because he is a bad manager, but because his system doesn’t gel with Inter’s squad.  Gasperini favours variations of 3-4-3.  But at Inter, that meant using an ancient back-five of Samuel, Lucio, Maicon, Cambiasso and Zanetti as defensive anchors (the average age of the South Americans is 33).  Gasperini let his fullbacks roam just behind the wingers, and the aforementioned central players like to play up-field…. leaving Inter vulnerable on the counter.  Consequently, ball after ball has gone sailing over the heads of the defenders, with only an increasingly erratic Julio Cesar to stop it.

Offensively, the club is only marginally better off.  The “Will He Leave, Won’t He Leave” speculation surrounding Wesley Sneijder had to have been a distraction, considering the Dutchman’s pivotal role in the formation.  Plus, the fiasco signing of cup-tied Diego Forlan from Atletico Madrid is unforgivable.  If you believe in omens, it does not portend well for The Big Grass Snake.

Obviously, the scudetto is still too young to start picking out trends.  But with non-traditional leaders like Palermo, Napoli, Fiorentina and Udinese continuing where they left off last season, Inter may have to look deep within itself and try to decide what it needs to do to turn itself around.  Ranieri will likely perturb players with his constant manipulation of the side, not unlike Benitez.  We will see if The Tinkerman soothes or chafes raw egos at the club.

From my perspective, Inter fans can take solace in two things:

1) Super Sneijder and Forlan seem to be developing an understanding, despite the recent run of form.  Both players were magnificent in South Africa, with Forlan leading what could be considered South America’s new powerhouse.  If they can get service, look out.

2) AC Milan is only playing marginally better, stealing a draw last week against Barcelona in the CL.  Italy’s axis of power may be shifting.

Brent Lanthier

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AC Milan: Il Diavolo is in the Details

C'mon Thiago, give us a kiss...

One club is considered the best in the world; the other is a team that has found its way back to the top of its domestic league.  Both were surprised this weekend by so-called lesser sides.  Tonight, it was Barcelona that showed its quality over AC Milan.  Unfortunately for Barca, the scoresheet didn’t reflect it.

Two goals by Milan’s Brazilian stars bookended the game and stole a point for the Rossoneri.  The World Champions dominated up until that point: Barcelona had 80% possession at the 75th-minute mark… a calling card for the Catalonians.  Gaffer Pep Guardiola says he’s not worried… nor should he be.

It’s the Italian club that should be wringing its hands.   The consensus is that AC Milan will have a tough time defending the scudetto…  and judging by their last two performances, they may prove the pundits right.  Not only did Barca’s tiki-taka have Milan on the back heel for most of the match, but the Italian champs kicked off the Serie A season on Thursday by having to fight back against a new-look Lazio.  Add the Roman club to Milan’s growing list of league rivals:

– Internazionale is aging but still potent.
– Juventus may be an Old Lady, but she may find a sabbatical from Europe rejuvenating.  
– Udinese was the better team against Arsenal in CL qualifiers, and could build on last year’s success.
– The South seems to be rising again with Palermo beating Inter 4-3 (again, the Nerrazzurri looked slow and old)… and Napoli being picked as a dark horse for the title.

Zlatan the Terrible

And while he didn’t play tonight, Milan still has its good luck charm: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  Every team he has played on since 2004 has won its domestic title (if you include Juventus’ revoked trophies).  He is a big, black belt-wearing nutter who has a goals-per-game average of at least 50% in the last six seasons.  Plus, NOW he’s eating his Wheaties.

Brent Lanthier

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Out with the Old, Inter with the New

Whole Motta love from Leonardo

Premier League clubs, take note.  It seems that the key to revitilizing your squad involves hiring a manager whose resume doesn’t include a stint at a club that rhymes with Shiver Pull.

Such is it with Internazionale. The World Champions never got off the ground under Rafa Benitez.  Even in this summer’s exhibition game in Toronto — against Greek champions Panathinaikos — the Milanese side lacked imagination and flow.  By the end of 2010, Inter sat seventh — 13 points behind their rivals AC Milan, who are threatening to take away one of the trophies their crosstown rivals won in their treble season.

So out goes Rafa and in comes Milano legend Leonardo.  Questions were raised in the Italian north whether the Brazilian could revive the tired and injured-riddled rivals of his former club.  Those questions were put to rest within three minutes during today’s match against Napoli.

The game was riveting from the get-go, with the ball going end-to-end — the antithesis of stereotypes about Italian football.  It was Thiago Motta who sparked the Inter revivial — finishing a Balkan sequence from Dejan Stankovic and Goran Pandev to put them up 1-0.

But Napoli are near the top of the table for a reason.  A corner from Liverpool reject Andrea Dossena went straight into the box, and a brave Michele Pazienza stuck his head in, bringing the Neapolitans level.

Fast forward to the 33rd minute when Diego Milito flubbed a wide cross in front of the net, sending the ball sailing over the crossbar.  But less than a minute later, Inter were back in the box and Esteban Cambiasso made no mistake.  The unmarked Argentine raced in and took a remarkable cross from Maicon in the far corner and converted. 2-1 Inter Milan.

It should be worth noting how Maicon seemed to drive the team forward.  The powerful Brazilian seems to have recovered from injury and awakened from his slumber in the first half of the season.  The fullback was a constant threat on the right, finding the ball wide and providing service for Inter’s attackers.

Motta celebrates his second goal...

But it was Motta who provided the book-ends for Leonardo’s first win in charge.  The former Barca man found the end of Pandev’s corner kick in the 55th, sealing victory for the Nerazzurri.

Massimo Moratti says he considered hiring Leonardo in June, but eventually settled on Benitez.  You can bet that English clubs like Liverpool, Aston Villa and West Ham have also spent the last six months regretting their choice of manager.  All three clubs may yet pull an Inter before the month is through.

Brent Lanthier

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Il Sud Rises Again

Very Neapolitan: An Uruguayan and an Argentine, playing in Italy.

Ask most Italian football fans about their favourite teams, and the usual suspects are mentioned: Juventus, Roma, Lazio, AC Milan, or Inter Milan. These have been, without question, the top dogs of Serie A for the last two decades. All of these teams have one thing in common: they are based in the wealthier northern or central regions of the country. In recent times, southern Italy was considered the wasteland of Italian football.  Until now that is.

Not since the days of Diego Maradona has southern Italy fielded a competitive team for the Champions League, and maybe even the Scudetto. For the first time in ages there are two such teams in the south, both with a real shot at fourth place or higher.

Naples is once again full of optimism as Napoli currently sit tied for third and Sicily is equally thrilled now that Palermo are tied for fifth with Sampdoria, Roma, and mighty Inter. Napoli look to have developed quite a strike force, with Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi popping in a combined 13 goals this season. Add in the sublimely talented midfielder Marek Hamsik (who has 6 goals himself), and the pizza capital of the world looks to have a team that has come of age.

A Sicilian kiss-off would cost 70 million Euros...

Palermo’s rise can be attributed to the wonderful play of Javier Pastore, who is perhaps the most sought after young player in Serie A. Rumours are awash that both Barcleona and Real Madrid are very interested in the young Argentine (with a price tag rumoured to be around 70 million euros), who has scored seven goals already this season and is being hailed as the next world superstar.

One thing is for certain; no matter where Napoli and Palermo finish this season, they have once again restored the pride of southern Italian football.

Hadi Zogheib

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Wayne’s wild Man. U-turn

What the…? In a show-me-the-money move more shameless than his initial ‘I want out of Man Utd’ act, Wayne Rooney has done an abrupt U-turn and signed a five-year deal with the Devil…uh, Red Devils. This confirms everything I ever suspected about the supernatural abilities of Sir Alex Ferguson, who no doubt used his paranormal powers to convince ownership to double Rooney’s wages, and got the supposed wantaway player to stick around at Old Trafford.

It’s a story more surprising than Liverpool keeping a clean sheet in Napoli, or the scuffling Scousers flying to Italy with Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson at the controls. And no matter where you stand, it’s enough to drive one to drink…or do something illicit. Right, Paul Gascoigne?

If you’re a fan of the Red Mancs, you might as well celebrate with a $115 beer. The rest of us will have to settle for something a little less extravagant. But hey, it’s Friday, and we like drinking (remember, we here at At The Rails take you from the bar to the terrace, and back), so don’t just settle for plonk…seek out one of these beauties if you can and console yourself with the fact that Rooney still faces three weeks on the shelf with an injured ankle, hasn’t scored in open play since March, will have to overcome some serious resentment in the locker room, and just re-upped with a team whose supposed commitment to chasing trophies and signing top-quality players is somewhat dubious, given that the interest rate on club debt is higher than its current point total.

Of course, as bad as Glazernomics are, things could always be worse. Raise your glass for forlorn Pompey fans, whose cash-strapped club looks to be disappearing entirely.

Hands off, he's still ours!!

And, as Sports Illustrated’s Miles Jacobson points out on Twitter, there’s an easy way for the Mancs to make some more cash: now all those fans who burnt their Rooney shirts will be buying new ones. Hey Scott, there’s one with AON on it if you like.

Meanwhile, our Arry, like Ian Holloway before him, reckons the whole incident is just another example of spoiled little rich kids grabbing all the power in the world of sport. Fair enough, Arry, but perhaps you should be focusing on keeping Everton off the scoresheet for longer than 67 seconds in Saturday’s match at White Hart Lane. Sure, David Ginola, once a footballer, now a golfer, thinks the Yids are poised to become the class of North London. But another start like Wednesday in Milan, and Arry might as well hit the links as well.

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z breaks down the Serie A

The Doctor is back. Fearless prognosticator Hadi ‘Dr. Z’ Zogheib, who broke down every group at World Cup 2010 this summer, returns to forecast the new Serie A season in Italy. With the start of the Calcio just a few days away, here’s a look at some notable transfers and what to expect in the coming campaign.


INTER MILAN

In – Mancini ( AC Milan),  Nicolas Burdisso (loan return, Roma),  David Suazo (loan return,  Genoa),

Out – Mario Balotelli ( Man. City),  McDonald Mariga (Parma),  Luis Jiminez (Parma)

No major changes to last season’s treble winners and, after last season, why change?  The loss of Balotelli is more a loss of potential, but this squad will once again rely on guile and experience in attempting a repeat of last season’s success.  The big question is how the players respond to new manager Rafa Benitez after Jose Mourinho’s defection to Real Madrid.  Nonetheless, the Nerazzurri will once again be the team to beat.

ROMA

In – Fabio Simplicio (Palermo), Guillermo Burdisso (Rosario Central)

Out – Nicolas Burdisso (Inter, loan return)

Cash-strapped Roma have so far failed in their attempts to re-sign Argentine international Nicolas Burdisso (although there is still time), so little brother Guillermo will have to do for now.  Fabio Simplicio was a wonderful coup, given his talent and recent success at Palermo.  The club that pushed Inter all the way to the end last season will hope Francesco Totti and co. can utilize their wonderful team chemistry to have another successful season in the capital.

JUVENTUS

In – Simone Pepe (Udinese, loan),  Marco Storari ( AC Milan),  Leonardo Bonucci (Bari), Niccolò Giannetti (Siena, loan), Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool, loan)

Out – Sebastian Giovinco (Parma), Tiago (Atletico Madrid,  loan), Christian Poulsen (Liverpool), S. Almiron (Bari)

Big changes in Turin as Juve hope to bounce back from a dismal 2009/10 campaign which saw them finish seventh. Storari will carry the load in goal until Gigi Buffon is fit again, while Italian international Pepe will provide the width and speed that were lacking last season. Can Milos Krasic be the next Pavel Nedved? Juve fans certainly hope so.

SAMPDORIA

In – Luciano Zauri (Lazio, loan),  Nicola Pozzi (Empoli), Simone Zaza (Atalanta),  Daniele Dessina (Cagliari, loan return), Paolo Sammarco (Udinese, loan return)

Out –  Luca Castellazi (Inter), Daiele Padelli (Bari, loan), Robero Soriano (Empoli, loan)

Last season’s surprise outfit will have a tougher time finishing high in the table this season as it they’ll have to battle on multiple fronts (Serie A and Europa League). Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano formed one of Serie A’s most lethal strike forces last year and they will have to reproduce their form if they have any hope of another top four finish. Once again, home results should carry Sampdoria to the top half of the table.

AC MILAN

In – Kevin Prince Boateng (Genoa, loan),  Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Genoa), Mario Alberto Yepes (Chievo), Marco Amelia (Genoa, loan)

Out – Marco Storari (Juventus),  Marcus Paixao Diniz (Parma, loan), Mancini (Inter, loan return)

Lots of big names leaving, but so far none are coming the other way. Dzeko and Ibrahimovic remain transfer targets, but unless they land a big name or two in the coming week, look for another so-so season for the Rosseneri.

NAPOLI

In – Cristiano Lucarelli (Parma), Edinson Cavani (Palermo, loan), M. Bogliacino (Chievo, loan)

Out – German Denis (Udinese), Matteo Contini (Zaragoza), Luca Cigarini (Sevilla, loan), Jesús Alberto Dátolo (Espanyol, loan)

The southerners will be stronger as a result of their off-season moves, especially the additions of Lucarelli and Cavani. Poor finishing cost this team a Champions League berth last season, so the greater scoring punch of these new additions could see them make a significant move up the table.

PALERMO

In – Ezequiel Muñoz (Boca Juniors), Francesco Benussi (Lecce), Massimo Maccarone (Siena), Mauricio Pinilla (Grosseto),

Out – Simon Kjaer (Wolfsburg), Mark Bresciano (Lazio), Roberto Guana (Chievo), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Fabio Simplicio (Roma)

Palermo will have a tough time repeating last season’s fifth place finish, especially with the loss of defender Kjaer, midfielders Simplicio and Bresciano, and striker Cavani.  These pieces are simply too tough to replace, and the men in pink will suffer as a result.

Dr. Z’s Serie A Predictions:

1 – Roma

2 – Inter

3 – Napoli

4 – AC Milan

5 – Juventus

6 – Sampdoria

7 – Palermo

Hadi Zogheib

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