The news that Pep Guardiola is travelling to Russia this week is probably no surprise, once the former Barcelona manager admitted his break from the game was not going to be as lengthy as first suggested. A move to international football will seem like a break anyway given its part-time nature, and in comparison to running the multiple championship winners, Barcelona. And if Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, has seemingly failed to lure Guardiola to Stamford Bridge in the first instance, a job with Russia is the next best thing no doubt. After all, Guus Hiddink moved between the two roles at will in 2009 when he was appointed Chelsea caretaker.
Another relationship that the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich developed was with former Israel manager, as Avram Grant, was brought to Stamford Bridge in 2007. Probably not surprising as the links between the immigrants in Russia and Israel have made the nations close for many decades. But it also comes with some commercial links with Israeli football agent, Pini Zahavi, who is very a well connected with Abramovich.
Indeed, it was Zahavi's original contacts that delivered the London club to the Russian oligarch who at the time was looking for a foothold in football. On the foot of that the appointment of Avram Grant as Chelsea manager was a huge move by any definition, but logical to explain. If Guardiola accepts the role with Russia then Abramovich and Zahavi avoid losing their apparent chosen Chelsea boss to any other club and can move him once Roberto di Matteo’s term ends.
In Germany there are no such oligarchies but there is an aristocratic football class who control most things within the game, best signified by the hands-on roles at Bayern Munich by 1974 world cup winner Uli Hoeness, the former international and Club Executive Chairman Karl Heinz Rummenigge. Not to mention Franz Beckenbauer the honorary President who by default still casts his long shadow over the club. If not the German game as a whole given his achievements as player for Bayern Munich, the German national team - as a player and manager. Remaining still one of only two people to ever win the World cup as both a player and a manager.
Having been part also of the 1997 blue print that established the future for German football the outcome at EURO 2012 will weigh heavily on the Beckenbauer's mind, as the nation falls one more time at major tournament semi-final. Losing their last final appearance in Vienna to a Spain side that has gone on to set the kind of records that the Kaiser himself is so personally accustomed. After all during his time Bayern matched the achievements of Johan Cruyff’s Ajax by winning the European Cup three consecutive years. Then in 1974 Germany defeated a resplendent Dutch team in the final on his home ground in Munich.
In seeing Spain on the final Sunday of EURO 2012 beat Italy he will realise that losing to Spain right now is not such a bad thing. However, Joachim Loew will know that Beckenbauer’s opinion still matters in all things football and it could be an uneasy summer.
For Holland the influence is still significant from Johan Cruyff as the idea of total football pervades every Dutch generation who all reminisce about those summer days of 1974. Or indeed through winter days in Argentina four years later when the Clockwork Orange reached the River Plate stadium in Buenos Aires for another world cup final - only to find themselves up against the hosts yet again – Argentina. For the purists these two games are matched only by the Netherlands in EURO 88 when by beating Russia at the Olympic Stadium – finally demolishing the ghosts of 1974.
In South Africa the Dutch team reached the final of the world cup two years ago, but did so playing in manner that disappointed most Dutch football fans. Their manager Bert van Marwijk deciding on a negative game – rather than rely on the beautiful one that came more naturally to many of his players. The fact that this game plan persisted at EURO 2012 was an indictment as quality players like Rafael van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could not find a starting place, with an over reliance on the pugnacious Mark van Bommel to run the Dutch midfield an error.
As his Father-in- Law, van Marwijk might have been more sensitive to the fact that van Bommel had learned nothing I the intervening two years ago, where he was fortunate on numerous occasions in the 2010 final not to have been sent off. At EURO 2012 he continued an ugly style that seemed to suit him, rather than work better for the team and build attacking play. In fact in the last group game against Germany his replacement van der Vaart showed glimpses of that spirit, proving the beautiful game is still part of the Dutch football fabric.
Which may be of benefit to Ruud Gullit, so long the advocate of the stylish game as a player, albeit his managerial record to date is rather indifferent. But should he be the KNVB - Ducth Football Federation's - choice it maybe that he finds the formula that works better for Holland in the 21st Century. Which in time can also deliver results - given their stock of talented players earning their keep at major clubs all over the world.
Having stated his interest in the job he has to also hope that the recent breakdown of his marriage to Johan Cruyff’s niece, Estelle, does not bring any extra curricular influences to bear on his job application.
In England the closest thing to an a football father figure is Sir Bobby Charlton, a player of significant achievement following the 1966 world cup win, but who has dedicated his life to his beloved Manchester United. And one who so proudly continues the tradition handed down from Sir Matt Busby. and testament of which has been the consistency brought by Sir Alex Ferguson over the past 25 years. Delivering - it has to be said - an unimaginable trophy room that was never foreseeable when the Scot started out in the late 1980’s.
However the national game in England lacks a leader akin to a Pele in Brazil, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Dino Zoff in Italy or indeed Diego Maradona in Argentina. Or even the adopted Alfredo Di Stefano in Spain.
The premature passing of Bobby Moore in 1993 probably deprived the English game of that iconic figure that could unify the national interest at all levels - and capture the imagination of the public as well. In a way that Sir Geoff Hurst or Sir Trevor Brooking have not been able to do over the years – despite their talent on ten field. In fact, it was probably the role that became most significant for Sir Bobby Robson, who by default, and thanks to his extensive achievements during his exceptional life, made him the most authoritative voice in the English game for many years.
As at times the role had fallen to a variety of interests, be it Jimmy Armfield or Howard Wilkinson, both of whom were unable to galvanise a unified direction.
But maybe it does not need that one figure.
In Spain ironically it has been a the influence and vision of Johan Cruyff at Barcelona that moulded a club that for many years chose Dutch managers - as opposed to others - and evolved a game under Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard that former team captain Josep Guardiola just followed when it became his turn to take charge of the team. On the basis of that vision the Spanish national team discovered success by applying the style used by Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, Piquet and Busquets and nurtured it further.
But still forms the basis of the winning style for Spain and has now delivered for the Spanish national team a record third major consecutive title.
In France that role fell to Michel Platini – until he went off to UEFA.
Now he just runs European Football
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