Following last weeks world cup qualifiers, followers of the world game will have read the news that Mexico dispensed with their manager Sven Goran Eriksson after yet another away defeat – Mexico’s 4th in 5 matches and in a world cup confederation that New Zealand could realistically expect to qualify from. Eriksson seemed unable to inspire his team away from home.
One wonders whatever possessed Mexico to appoint him in the first place. After all, what does a Swede who has never set foot outside Europe, in a football sense, know about the culture of Mexico anyway? Coaching foreign clubs is one thing and many, many managers have achieved success in foreign countries at club level – one only has to think about the (English) Premiership, a league that has never been won by an English manager. It’s not going to happen this season either. At Champions League level, in recent seasons there have been as many “foreign” managers win the trophy as not.
Success at international level though is entirely different. To be successful at international level a manager needs not only the obvious footballing qualities but also needs an understanding of the culture, values and motivations that drive a nation, not just a team. Clearly its not a simple task. There’s a pride involved in playing for your country that doesn’t come to the fore in club football and harnessing that is not easy without the long term cultural understanding. It’s no coincidence that no country has ever won the world cup with a foreign manager. Its almost the same in the European Championship where the only foreign manager to prove successful has been Otto Rehhagel, the German who inspired Greece to victory in 2004.
Of course at the lower levels there has been moderate success. Guus Hiddink took Australia to Germany in 2006. New Zealand’s greatest era coincided with having two English managers at the helm – Adshead & Fallon – and there has been a succession of African countries with European managers who have managed to qualify for world cup finals. Jack Charlton too, over achieved as manager of Ireland in the nineties and famously Serbian Bora Milutinovic took five foreign countries to world cups between 1986 and 2002.
But back to Eriksson. He was appointed controversially as England’s first foreign coach back in October 2000. England one of the world’s great football nations with an apparent abundance of talent, yet Eriksson – a successful club manager in a number of countries – couldn’t get them past the quarterfinals in any tournament. Surely a failure. Scotland too, tried a foreign coach with the appointment of Bertie Vogts in 2002. Loss after loss followed until he finally resigned two years later.
Put simply, successful nations have a coach of their own nationality. Perhaps it’s a good omen then that a Kiwi, Ricki Herbert is currently New Zealand coach, as we approach our best chance of qualifying for a world cup in over 25 years.