Three Croatian Coaches at the World Cup
From the Los Angeles Times
Coaching Characters Color the Landscape
Get ready for a heavy dose of the offbeat when it comes to the men who
are guiding the soccer dreams of nations all over the world.
By Grahame L. Jones
Times Staff Writer
June 2, 2006
HAMBURG, Germany â€” England Coach Sven Goran Eriksson's much-publicized
affair with a secretary at the English Football Assn. and his earlier
well-documented fling with a Swedish television producer were ancient
history by the time he made his third, much more costly, faux pas.
That was in January, when he was foolish enough to journey to Dubai to
meet an oil-rich sheik said to be interested in hiring him.
Sad to say for Eriksson, the "sheik" turned out to be an impostor in the
employ of an English tabloid newspaper. Eriksson's admission that he
would abandon England for the right opportunity and his incautious
gossip about the foibles of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand
and the rest of England's high-priced and high-living players made lurid
tabloid headlines for weeks.
The federation, which had turned a more-or-less blind eye to the earlier
indiscretions, was not amused and suggested, rather firmly, that
Eriksson might want to step down from the $8-million-a-year job it had
given him in 2001.
After the World Cup, that is, federation officials were quick to add.
So England has a lame duck Swede with a colorful resume coaching it into
the 32-nation, 64-game tournament that begins one week from today.
Strange to say, there is nothing odd about that. In fact, Eriksson fits
right in with the cast of offbeat characters who will be directing
matters from the wings when their players take the stage, starting June
9, in the 18th edition of soccer's quadrennial world championship.
Indeed, the 32 World Cup coaches represent 19 nationalities, topped by
five Brazilians (if Costa Rica's Brazilian-born Alexandre Guimaraes is
included), four Dutchmen, three Frenchmen and three Croatians.
And the Cup runneth over with oddball coaches.
Take Luiz Felipe Scolari, for instance. "Big Phil," as he is known, is
the gruff, no-nonsense character who coached his native Brazil to the
title at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
He parlayed that into a job with Portugal, which he led to the final of
Euro 2004, only to lose to upstart Greece. This spring, when England
came calling in search of a replacement for Eriksson, Scolari rejected
He also turned his famous wrath on the Portuguese media, which had
criticized him for even talking to the English.
"Your coaches negotiate, am I any different?" he fumed at reporters in
Lisbon. The idea "that someone who is born here is a saint and someone
born on the other side of the Atlantic is a devil, that doesn't exist.
"It's time to stop that clown show. I'm just like anybody else. I've got
two legs, two arms and a head."
Colorful language is one thing many of the World Cup coaches have in
common. That and some blunt opinions.
Otto Pfister is Togo's coach. He is also German, but that has not
stopped him from dismissing Germany's dream of winning the Cup as
"Germany have no chance," Pfister said last month. "I don't think they
can even get to the final, or even the semifinalâ€¦. It's quite simple:
you need skill, and Germany doesn't have that."
Pfister also ventured far out on a politically incorrect limb when he
forbade his Togo players from talking to Korean reporters, because South
Korea is one of Togo's first-round opponents.
Just to make sure, Pfister also ordered them not to talk to Japanese or
Chinese journalists either.
The racist overtones are clear but pale in comparison to the blatant
remark recently attributed to Ukraine Coach Oleg Blokhin when he talked
about player development in his country's professional league.
"The more Ukrainians there are playing in the national league, the more
examples there are for the young generation," Blokhin said. "Let them
learn from [Ukrainian players] and not some zumba-bumba whom they took
off a tree, gave two bananas and now he plays in the Ukrainian league."
Blokhin, incidentally, was Europe's player of the year in 1975 and, in
perhaps the most bizarre job-coupling among all the World Cup coaches,
is also a Communist Party member of Ukraine's parliament.
Human frailties are everywhere to be seen among the 32 coaches.
Three of them, for instance, have put relatives on their World Cup
rosters. In the case of Mexico's Ricardo Lavolpe, it is his son-in-law,
Rafael Garcia, an indifferent player but naturally left-footed. At least
that was the reason given for his inclusion.
In the case of Serbia and Montenegro Coach Ilija Petkovic, it was his
son, Dusan, a truly mediocre player. The reaction was swift, with
journalists and former players calling it "scandalous."
Croatia Coach Zlatko Kranjcar also named his son to the team, but Niko
Kranjcar is a decent midfielder and might have made it no matter who
held the coaching reins.
In any case, the elder Kranjcar has other things about which to worry,
such as a rumored drinking problem.
"It's true, I like to drink a glass, even a bottle, of good wine, but
only in good company when I'm not working," he said. "I don't let it
interfere with work."
The current batch of World Cup coaches vary widely in age. They range
from Marco Van Basten of the Netherlands and Juergen Klinsmann of
Germany, each 41, to Togo's Pfister, who is 68.
Seven are in their 40s, 16 are in their 50s and nine are in their 60s.
Their average age is 55.
U.S. Coach Bruce Arena is the longest-serving of the group with eight
years under his belt.
Among the coaches are quite a few with a top-level soccer pedigree. Four
of them already have won the World Cup.
Germany's Klinsmann won as a player in 1990 and France Coach Raymond
Domenech won as an assistant coach in 1998. Scolari did so as coach of
Brazil in 2002, and his compatriot, Carlos Alberto Parreira, won the Cup
with Brazil in 1994.
It takes more than coaching talent to win, of course. Luck always plays
That might explain the behavior of Spain Coach Luis Aragones, who
refuses to allow the color yellow anywhere around his team because he
says he believes it brings bad luck. Recently, he ordered star striker
Raul to remove a yellow T-shirt when he showed up wearing it to
And then there is the good fortune enjoyed by the likes of Poland Coach
Pawel Janas. Asked about the pressure World Cup coaches are under as the
tournament approaches, Janas, smiled.
"It is not the end of the world," he told World Soccer magazine. "Seven
years ago I overcame lymph gland cancer. Can you imagine a bigger
pressure? I have already won the most important battle in my life."
Relying on imports
Only 15 of the 32 teams in the World Cup are coached by natives of that
Country Coach Age Nationality
Angola Luis Olivera Goncalves 45 Angolan
Argentina Jose Pekerman 56 Argentine
Australia Guus Hiddink 59 Dutch
Brazil Carlos Alberto Parreira 63 Brazilian
Costa Rica Alexandre Guimaraes 46 Brazilian
Croatia Zlatko Kranjcar 49 Croatian
Czech Republic Karel Bruckner 66 Czech
Ecuador Luis Fernando Suarez 46 Colombian
England Sven Goran Eriksson 58 Swedish
France Raymond Domenech 54 French
Germany Juergen Klinsmann 41 German
Ghana Ratomir Dujkovic 54 Serbian
Iran Branco Ivankovic 52 Croatian
Italy Marcello Lippi 58 Italian
Ivory Coast Henri Michel 58 French
Japan Zico 53 Brazilian
Mexico Ricardo Lavolpe 54 Argentine
Netherlands Marco Van Basten 41 Dutch
Paraguay Anibal Ruiz 63 Uruguayan
Poland Pawel Janas 53 Polish
Portugal Luiz Felipe Scolari 57 Brazilian
Saudi Arabia Marcos Paqueta 47 Brazilian
Serbia and Montenegro Ilija Petkovic 60 Croatian
South Korea Dick Advocaat 58 Dutch
Spain Luis Aragones 67 Spanish
Sweden Lars Lagerback 57 Swedish
Switzerland Jakob Kuhn 62 Swiss
Togo Otto Pfister 68 German
Trinidad and Tobago Leo Beenhakker 64 Dutch
Tunisia Roger Lemerre 64 French
Ukraine Oleg Blokhin 53 Ukrainian
United States Bruce Arena 54 American