It is not about the coach, feels Dileep Premachandran
The days when a coach-manager was the architect of a club's success are fast receding into the distance. These days, you have directors of football, transfer committees and other devices to emasculate the man on the touchline, writes Dileep Premachandran
In his only season in charge of Newell's Old Boys, the club whose fans voted him the greatest player in their history, Gerardo Martino finished second in the Torneo Inicial and first in the Torneo Final — the Argentina season continues to be played in two halves.
Argentina's forward Carlos Tevez (left) and coach Gerardo Martino during a training session in Concepcion, Chile, on Wednesday. Pic/AFP
When he took over as Barcelona coach in July 2013, allegedly with the blessing of Lionel Messi — once part of the Newell's youth teams — Martino went 20 games unbeaten. He beat Real Madrid home and away, and drew twice against Atletico Madrid. Had Barcelona beaten Diego Simeone's combative side on the final day of the season, on home turf at the Camp Nou, they and not Atletico would have been champions.
Barca all the way
In the Champions League, Barcelona topped a group that contained AC Milan and Ajax before brushing aside Manchester City in the last 16. Again, their campaign ran aground against the uncompromising defence and endeavour of Simeone's Atletico, who would eventually get to within two minutes of a first taste of Champions League glory.
In the Copa del Rey final, a late Gareth Bale goal for Real broke Barca hearts. Coming a week after the Champions League exit, it also effectively sealed Martino's fate. Come the end of the season, he was gone, destined to be remembered as a failure. Luis Enrique, who took over, came into the job with no real managerial pedigree. Three years with Barcelona B had been followed by a move to Roma, where he supervised the club's worst season in years.
When he then shifted back home to manage Celta Vigo, they finished ninth. Barcelona won 3-0 in both the league matches that pitted Martino and Enrique against each other. A year on, Enrique, who was on the verge of being sacked in January, is being hailed as a visionary while Martino's struggles in charge of Argentina – despite the passage into the Copa America final – have led to more questions about his tactical acumen and suitability for high-profile jobs.
To put it simply, this is nonsense. The days when a coach-manager was the architect of a club's success are fast receding into the distance. These days, you have directors of football, transfer committees and other devices to emasculate the man on the touchline.
Jock Stein, the greatest manager in history, who won the European Cup with Celtic in 1967, coached a side of players all born in and around Glasgow. Modern-day managers, especially at the most powerful clubs, just get the chequebook out and buy success. With the exception of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, few have stuck around long enough to try and build a dynasty.
This simplistic labelling of coaches as special or anointed ones also ignores the most basic fact, the quality of the players that they have to work with. When Pep Guardiola won 14 trophies with Barcelona in four seasons, he was hailed as one of the best there had ever been. Last season, Enrique's Barcelona schooled Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the semifinal of the Champions League.
There were suggestions that Guardiola had been outwitted or even found out as some sort of football charlatan, just as there were 12 months earlier when Carlo Ancelotti's Real eviscerated Bayern 5-0 at the same stage. These tactical analyses, if you could even call them that, conveniently ignored the fact that both Real and Barcelona were immeasurably superior to Bayern in terms of personnel.
Real had Cristiano Ronaldo in red-hot goal-scoring form, with Bale, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria and others also in splendid touch. This season, Barcelona could call on an attacking triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, a combination as good as any the game has seen.
Guardiola had to do without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery for the first leg in Barcelona. Both are on the wrong side of 30, with their best years behind them. Bayern's midfield anchor was Xabi Alonso, whose halcyon days were spent with Liverpool and Real.
Apart from Manuel Neuer in goal, and Phillippe Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, not one of Bayern's starters would have got near the Barcelona XI. Guardiola and Martino are among the best coaches out there. But without the right players, no one should expect them to be miracle workers.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief