There are few positions in sports as pressure-packed as that of World Cup manager. Here is a look at the 32 men privileged with that pressure heading into the start of the tournament in just three weeks time.
Stanislav Cherchesov, Russia
The man tasked with leading the home nation this summer? Not a foreign emissary like Guus Hiddink or Fabio Capello, not the popular former CSKA coach Leonoid Slutsky, but the comparatively underwhelming 54-year-old Stanislav Cherchesov.
Cherchesov, a former goalkeeper whose last job was in Polish football with Leiga Warsaw, is regarded coolly in Russia. He’s emphasized hard work and transition play, but friendly results have been terrible and the squad is bereft of talent.
Juan Antonio Pizzi, Saudi Arabia
With money no object, and patience in short supply, the Saudis have rifled through three managers in the last year. Former Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk qualified the team and then left after clashing with the FA, Edgardo Bauza had the job for two months, and then Pizzi – who failed to qualify Chile – was appointed.
The Argentina-born has a big job in front of him. He’s only been in charge for some six months, and the upheaval of the last year has taken its toll on the almost entirely domestically based team. Expectations are low.
Héctor Cúper, Egypt
The Argentinian Cúper took the Egypt job in 2015, and his timing couldn’t have been much better: two years later, thanks in very large part to Mohammad Salah, the Pharaohs qualified for the first World Cup in 28 years.
Cúper’s résumé includes stops at Valencia and Inter Milan, and he’s known as a fairly conservative coach. He and his team will go as far in this tournament as Salah can take them.
Óscar Tabárez, Uruguay
The oracle of modern Uruguayan football, Tabárez has been in charge of the national team for the last twelve years and is preparing to lead his country into the World Cup finals for the fourth time.
His hold over the program cannot be overstated. Of Uruguay’s ten most-capped players, all ten played for the man and eight for the majority of their national team careers. With a strong team and a weak group, expectations are high for Russia.
Fernando Santos, Portugal
His teams don’t play particularly enjoyable football, but Fernando Santos is a dead-eye tournament coach. He got Greece to within a penalty shootout of the quarterfinals at the 2014 World Cup, and then took an ordinary Portugal side all the way to glory in France at Euro 2016.
Santos’ teams are extremely hard to break down – Portugal didn’t conceded just one goal in four knockout games at the Euros – and completely bought in. They’re not going to blow teams away in Russia, but they’ll be an awfully tough out.
Julen Lopetegui, Spain
Lopetegui tasked himself with adding a pressing element to Spain’s measured, possession-based style after taking over from Vicente Del Bosque after Euro 2016, and the results in qualifying were excellent – a 3-0 dusting of Italy at the Santiago Bernabeau serving as a pièce de résistance.
Lopetegui cut his teeth coaching youth football, both with Real Madrid’s B team and the Spanish U19s, 20s, and 21s, and he’s also made a point of injecting youth into the team while maintaining its experience core.
It’s been a balancing act, but Spain appears poised to contend in a way they weren’t at the last two major tournaments.
Hervé Renard, Morocco
There are few more successful coaches in the history of African football than Renard, who is the only coach to win the African Cup of Nations with two different countries – Zambia in 2012, and the Ivory Coast in 2015.
Now, Renard is taking Morocco to the World Cup for the first time since 1998. His team was airtight defensively in qualifying, and they work extremely hard for one another. That, along with Renard’s track record in knockout competition, should have Spain and Portugal ever so slightly worried.
Carlos Queiroz, Iran
A failure with Real Madrid and Portugal, Queiroz has found new life as manager of Iran. He’s been in charge of Team Melli since 2011, and has gained considerable acclaim for qualifying them for consecutive World Cups.
Queiroz is colorful – he dared the Iranian FA to fire him in December, has clashed with opposing coaches, and criticized Iran’s preparation – but his team, while short on talent, is well organized and confident. He’ll have them up for the Portugal game in particular.
Didier Deschamps, France
Deschamps survived his team’s upset loss in the final of Euro 2016, and his reward has been the opportunity to continue his work with France’s most talented generation since the one he captained to the World Cup title on home soil in 1998.
In an illustration of their depth, just nine of the squad from two summers ago have made the team for Russia. But though Deschamps had his contract renewed for four more years, he’s been criticized for not getting more, more consistently, from his exceptionally capable team. The pressure is on.
Bert van Marwijk, Australia
Australia had a tumultuous road to Russia – going through two playoffs and traveling more miles than any other team in the world – and, though it ended happily, manager Ange Postecoglou decided he’d had enough: he resigned after the final qualifier, and is now coaching in Japan.
Postecoglou was hugely influential, playing an extremely attacking brand of football, and van Marwijk has big shoes to fill. He’s a pragmatic coach (as the 2010 final attests) but he’ll do well not to tinker too much with Postecoglou’s formula.
Ricardo Gareca, Peru
Soccer-crazed Peru’s qualification for its first World Cup since 1982 was one of the best stories of qualifying.
Their buildup to the tournament, though, has been dominated by star striker Paulo Guerrero’s drug ban. He’s now set to miss the tournament, though the country’s president has called on its law enforcement apparatus to intervene on his behalf.
Whatever happens, the well-traveled Ricardo Gareca, tasting the tournament for the first time after being left out of the Argentina team that won it all in 1986, has molded a well-balanced, aggressive team. A win or two, and he’s a national hero.
Åge Hareide, Denmark
Morton Olsen’s resignation after he failed to qualify Denmark for Euro 2016 marked the end of an era. Olsen had been the longest-tenured manager in international football, in charge of the Danes since 2000.
In his place, Denmark opted for more experience. The former Norway coach Hareide has won titles at the club level in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and he’s a fairly commanding presence.
Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina
Sampaoli made Chile one of the world’s most fearsome teams earlier in the decade, and, having guided Sevilla into the Champions League, was the obvious choice to take over from Bauza with his native country struggling in qualifying last year.
The hope was that Sampaoli’s Marcelo Bielsa-inspired frenetic, high pressing system would give Argentina an identity outside of Lionel Messi, but that has yet to happen. It took a Messi hat trick to secure qualification, and the team is still lost without him.
Sampaoli is a hugely capable coach, but he has big job in front of him to get Argentina in shape mentally and tactically before the tournament starts.
Heimir Hallgrímsson, Iceland
Co-manager with Lars Lagerback at Euro 2016, the native Icelander Hallgrímsson, a trained dentist who has also coached professional women’s football is now alone in charge and preparing to lead his side into their first ever World Cup.
Hallgrímsson has kept the team from the Euros almost completely intact, and because of how long they’ve played together, Iceland functions more like a club team than a national team. It’s an extremely tight-knit group, and the coach is an integral part of it.
Zlatko Dalic, Croatia
As is typical, there was drama abound in qualifying for Croatia. No one was particularly sad to see Ante Cacic go when he was fired just days before the final qualifier against Ukraine, but neither was anyone particularly heartened when they learned the identity of his successor.
Dalic’s appointment came out of left field. The 51-year-old was known to his bosses from his stint coaching the country’s U21s, but he had been coaching in the Middle East since 2010 and was only a middling player.
He’s appointed a famous assistant coach in Ivica Olic, but he’s fighting an uphill battle for respect ahead of the tournament.
Gernot Rohr, Nigeria
A stalwart defender for Bordeaux in the 80s, Rohr moved from France to Africa in 2010 and took the Nigeria job in 2016 after spells in charge of Gabon, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and worked wonders almost immediately.
Rohr is known as a disciplinarian and a perfectionist, but he’s done well to trust younger players during his two years in charge rejuvenate a team that has endured a difficult decade. What kind of freedom he allows them to play with in Russia remains to be seen.
Brazil should have hired Tite after the 2014 World Cup, but they made the baffling decision to rehire Dunga instead and paid two years’ worth of moribund performances. Tite finally got the call in the summer of 2016, and he hasn’t disappointed.
The longtime Corinthians coach is a renowned tactician, and he’s done his part to Europeanize Brazil. The team is improved in transition and more cohesive on both sides of the ball than they have been in years.
Tite can communicate too – former Uruguay captain Diego Lugano once called him a “snake charmer” – and Dani Alvas said he’s best coach he’s ever played for. He has his country believing again.
Vladimir Petkovic, Switzerland
A Bosnian-Croat migrant to Switzerland shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian War, Petkovic is a fascinating character: he speaks eight languages and worked for a Catholic social services organization while launching his coaching career.
He’s now coming up on four years in charge of the Swiss, and has already had his contract extended for another two after this summer’s tournament. Results during his tenure thus far have been solid if unspectacular, reflecting the team’s talent level, and a knockout round appearance would likely qualify this summer as a success.
Oscar Ramirez, Costa Rica
A legend with Costa Rican club giant Alejuelense, Ramirez signed on to be Paulo Wonchope’s assistant with the Ticos in 2015 but was thrust shortly thereafter into the hotseat when Wonchope departed after getting into a fight at a game in Panama.
So far, things have gone smoothly. Costa Rica qualified in style, winning the Hexagonal, and Ramirez’s 5-4-1 has been extraordinarily difficult to break down. No one in Costa Rica expects a repeat of four years ago, but this team should compete.
Mladen Krstajic, Serbia
A star center back for Serbia and Montenegro’s combined 2006 World Cup team and Bundesliga veteran as a player, Krastajic was a part of Slavoljub Muslin’s staff and took over when Muslin was fired shortly after qualification had been secured.
With no prior management experience, Krastajic faces a steep learning curve. He’s changed Serbia’s formation from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 and stripped Branislav Ivanovic of the captaincy, and still has questions to answer before the tournament starts.
Joachim Low, Germany
Low is an institution with Germany, and twelve years into his reign, he no plans to go anywhere: despite being linked to Arsenal and Bayern Munich in recent months, he just extended his contract with the national team through 2022.
Low leads hugely sophisticated, data-driven German program, and his teams are consistently cohesive and mentally tough. A seventh straight major tournament semifinal is the minimum expectation, but victory would cement his place in history.
Juan Carlos Osorio, Mexico
Osorio is an eccentric, and he has been criticized mercilessly in Mexico – especially for his squad rotation policy – and his having made it to this stage as Mexico coach at all, after humiliating tournament defeats in the last two summers, is a minor miracle.
And yet, the Colombian is popular with his team and apparently turned down the opportunity to extend his contract earlier in the year. His name has been floated for the US job, but much will depend on how far he can take El Tri this summer.
Janne Andersson, Sweden
Andersson took over after a poor Euro 2016 campaign, and did a fabulous job to get Sweden to this World Cup – going through the Netherlands and Italy, and doing it without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
To his credit, Andersson turned down the chance to bring Ibrahimovic back into the fold ahead of the tournament. The team as it stands doesn’t have a ton of talent, but works hard and is difficult to play against.
Shin Tae-yong, South Korea
Shin coached the U20s and U23s in recent years while serving as assistant for the senior team before taking charge with South Korea laboring towards the end of the final qualification round.
Shin’s hopes are pinned on Tottenham star Song Heung-min, whom the boss fears might be burned out after the long European club season. Expectations are low, and the game against Sweden is a must-win.
Roberto Martinez, Belgium
Belgium has a stupendously talented team, but the incompetent coaching of Marc Wilmots hamstrung it at the last two major tournaments. Martinez, a football intellectual and an absolute gentleman, makes them real contenders.
But, despite an unbeaten qualifying campaign, challenges remain. Kevin De Bruyne criticized Martinez’s tactics last year, and the Spaniard’s preferred 5-3-2 is liable to be overrun in midfield. The team’s mentality is another question – one that helps explain Thierry Henry’s presence as an assistant.
Hernan Dario Gomez, Panama
Gomez is a hugely experienced coach, previously taking both Colombia and Ecuador to the World Cup, and he did a superb job to navigate a meagerly talented Panama team to their first ever appearance at the finals
Gomez isn’t exactly a feel-good story, however. His second spell in charge of Colombia ended in 2011 after he was observed assaulting a woman outside of a Bogotá nightclub.
Nabil Maaloul, Tunisia
The former Tunisian international took the reigns of the national team for a second time just over a year ago, and led the The Eagles of Carthage back to the World Cup for the first time since 2006 after failing to get them there in 2014 and promptly resigning.
Maaloul has injury concerns to deal with, and the unenviable task of contending with both Belgium and England. But his team are well disciplined and strong, especially in midfield, and he’ll relish the chance to finally participate in the finals.
Gareth Southgate, England
Happy with his role leading the U21s, Southgate refused a promotion to the senior management job after Euro 2016, but was pressed in service by default when Sam Allardyce had to resign in a transfer bung scandal.
Southgate’s appointment inspired little fanfare, but the 47-year-old done good work in his eighteen months in charge – turning the squad over by trusting younger players and shedding declining veterans, and experimenting with a back five.
No one expects much from this England team, but Southgate has at a minimum set them – and himself – up for future success.
Adam Nawalka, Poland
Polish football is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, and the Krakow native Nawalka has overseen it since 2013 – taking the national team to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 and now to a first World Cup since ’06.
The coach is popular at home, and his side scored almost three goals per game in qualifying. Robert Lewandowski is to thank for much of that production, but there’s more to the team than just him. Another quarterfinal place is the target.
Aliou Cissé, Senegal
Cissé was handed the Senegal U23 job just six years after the end of his playing career in 2013, and he took over the top job two years later. At 42, he’ll be the tournament’s youngest coach.
He has a talented team, the best Senegal has produced since the 2002 side that beat France, but there are doubts centered on his lack of experience and tactical acumen. Should Senegal fail at this tournament, he’ll face the music.
José Pékerman, Colombia
The Argentinian Pékerman, one of the game’s most respected elder statesmen, was made a Colombian citizen after qualifying the national team for the 2014 World Cup – an accomplishment he called one of the proudest of his life.
The good times have continued to roll from there. Colombia went to the quarterfinals in Brazil, and appear capable of a similar run in Russia. Pékerman connects with his players, and his experience is unmatched in this group.
Akira Nishino, Japan
Vahid Halilhodžić’s Algeria team was one of the best stories of the 2014 World Cup, but the Bosnian ultimately couldn’t survive a rocky qualification campaign and his decision to drop aging stars Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. He was fired in April.
In his place, on extremely short notice, Japan tapped Akira Nishino, the football association’s technical director and a former AFC Champions League winner with Gamba Osaka. Nishino has reinstated Honda and Kagawa, but morale is low.
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