Tomislav Ivic – An Obituary

28 06 2011

by Adam Bate

In football there are two types of great coaches. There are those, such as Sir Alex Ferguson or Guy Roux, who construct a club in their image and remain there for a decade or four. Then there are those like Bela Guttmann who opt for the short sharp shock approach – instilling their beliefs, ensuring an upturn in fortunes and then moving on. The remarkable Tomislav Ivic, who died last week aged 77, was predominantly in the latter camp. He was also one of the most successful football managers in the history of the game.

Born in Split in 1933, Ivic – like so many of the best coaches – enjoyed a moderate playing career. His time at RNK Split did, however, result in him being handed a coaching role at the age of 34 and embark upon a career that would see him manage clubs in 14 different countries as well as four national teams. Along the way he enjoyed phenomenal success. In fact, he remains the only coach to win league titles in six different countries. It is a testament to his abilities as a strategist and is indicative of an enthusiasm for the game that transcended national boundaries.

The first of those many league trophies came with another of his former clubs, Hajduk Split, in 1974. His success there paved the way for that first big move beyond the confines of the former Yugoslavia. And what a move. Tasked with replacing the legendary Rinus Michels at Ajax, Ivic rose to the challenge. He was inheriting a side past its best, but was still able to guide Ajax to the Eredivisie title after finishing third in the previous campaign. Sadly, Ivic’s more pragmatic approach was not enough for the high-minded aficionados of Total Football and a return to Split followed.

Ivic’s time at Ajax was significant in many respects. Far from deterring him from coaching abroad, it instead heralded the beginning of one of football’s great globetrotting stories. It also marked the start of a happy knack that would follow Ivic through much of his career – he possessed an uncanny ability to win the league in his first season at a new club.

Whether this was down to the wily Croat’s shrewd choice of employer or his impressive motivational skills is a matter of opinion, but it seems likely that his intense training methods had a significant impact in the short-term. Joao Pinto, the gifted Portuguese forward, had the dubious pleasure of working under Ivic at Benfica. Pinto said: “He was the only coach who ordered me to train three times a day. Once before breakfast, another after and a third one on the afternoon. Despite that, I enjoyed working with him.”

His methods clearly worked. Ivic claimed the Yugoslav title immediately upon his return to Hajduk Split and then won the Belgian league with Anderlecht at the first time of asking in 1981. A spell at Galatasaray followed before the much-travelled Croat had a stint in the Italian top flight with lowly Avellino. While winning Serie A may have proven a bridge too far, Ivic still managed to added Greek and Portuguese titles to his collection – with Panathinaikos and Porto respectively – before the decade was out.

Ivic also won the European Super Cup and the Portuguese Cup in that 1987-88 season with Porto. He later enjoyed a second period in charge of the Dragoes but was replaced by Sir Bobby Robson and his assistant Jose Mourinho. The Real Madrid coach now seems keen to adhere to the Ivic approach with short stays at successful clubs and the old man was certainly impressed with his young Portuguese replacement. Speaking in 2010, Ivic said: “Mourinho is a genius. Neither Ferguson nor [Fabio] Capello can work with so much success in different countries.”

Ivic’s assessment of Mourinho perhaps reveals what he regarded as his own greatest achievement – that ability to go anywhere in the world and be successful. The 1990s brought a Copa del Ray with Atletico Madrid and a Ligue 1 title with Marseille. It also saw a series of forays into international management. A brief stint as co-manager of Croatia was followed by a time in charge of the United Arab Emirates. There was disappointment in charge of Iran, however, when Ivic was sacked on the eve of the 1998 World Cup.

It would have been a fitting swansong to a wonderful career. Instead, that career drew to a close with a consulting role at Standard Liege. But his legacy had been assured more than twenty years earlier. Tomislav Ivic blazed a trail for the coach without borders and he did it picking up 16 trophies along the way. It is perhaps appropriate that the final word goes to Slaven Bilic, the current Croatia coach, who summed up this legacy in glowing terms:

“Not only Croatia, but the world has lost one of the greatest ever football experts. Creator, coach, leader, and a football revolutionary. One of the few chosen, who will forever be written in record books among the true geniuses who have literally changed the concept of football games.”

Tomislav Ivic passed away in his hometown of Split on Friday 24 June aged 77 years old.


Wenger not Accountable? An Arsenal Fan’s View

15 06 2011

We are frequently told on radio shows and in the print media that nobody in their right mind is calling for Arsene Wenger’s head. Maybe that’s right. But we thought it was worth seeking the views of an Arsenal season ticket holder, and a man who attended a key Arsenal meeting this week. Here’s Paul Silton. You can debate the matter further with him on Twitter @Silts81 … 

I was one of 200 people fortunate to attend the Arsenal Supporters Trust Q&A with Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis on Monday evening. I went in hope, more than expectation, that faith in the vision and management of the club would be restored.

Firstly, let me agree with many that it is admirable for Mr Gazidis to hold this annual session.  He doesn’t have to and not many major clubs do.

He spent 15 minutes talking to us, providing his thoughts of where we are and ultimately trying to stave off the questions he was expecting. None of us were shocked to be told that we had to put things in perspective – we’re a fantastically well run club, we don’t rely on one man’s deep pockets and we still play fantastic football (an assumption that really should be challenged these days).  The most interesting aspect was his ‘profound disappointment’ at how our season turned out. This was stronger than anything we have heard from the manager and therefore quite encouraging.

The evening focused on four themes: The manager, transfer strategy, player respect and ticket prices.

Discussions about transfers and players began with criticism from the floor regarding the current contract situations of Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.  Unsurprisingly Gazidis would not be drawn on specific issues. In the club’s defence he maintained that there had to be a balance between being a financially well run club and paying players the top market rate. Fair enough. But, with Nasri for example, buying a player for £11m, cultivating his talents to allow him to become one of the best creative forces in the Premier League and then putting yourself in a position whereby you won’t make a profit, smacks of financial irresponsibility of the highest order.

The chief executive followed his manager in confirming that this would be an active summer for Arsenal. He reiterated this three or four times. Perhaps more promisingly was the recognition that two key areas to be addressed are in defence and experience. Better late than never I suppose (let’s put to one side that we are on the verge of signing a 24-year-old winger from Ligue 1).

It will surprise few that the issue of ticket pricing was raised. Of course he was ready for this. It is only the second ticket rise in six years and the stadium running costs have doubled.  Admittedly, there was an acceptance that these running costs are increasing in people’s everyday lives but at some point the club had to do something. 

There was more than one question about the conduct of the players. From not clapping away fans at the end of the game, to the captain rocking up at the Spanish Grand Prix while his team mates were playing, to not showing the heart and desire befitting of Arsenal players. Mr Gazidis did not believe that it was a case of heart and desire citing the best away record in the league. This led to him being reminded of performances at Stoke and Newcastle, the performance post Carling Cup, let alone some of the Champions League away games. If they bothered to turn up for those and avoided Barcelona in the next round you could have covered your price increase Mr Gazidis.

Finally we came to the subject of the manager and the one that I feel most passionately about. I was first with the question ‘Do you envisage a situation where you would remove the manager and what does that situation look like?’ This was met with a response offered many times that evening, ‘I will not answer that so not to fuel media speculation’ adding that the manager has his and the board’s 100% backing. I get that. I didn’t expect anything else and frankly I just wanted to get across that there are some people, many in fact, that think his time is up. I have no idea whether they get that in the Arsenal boardroom bubble. And all I want to know is, what does £1,400 a year get you from an expectation point of view? Fifth place? Tenth? How about if we maintained our end of season form over 38 games and got relegated, would he then remove the manager?

Someone made the very valid point that perhaps Mr Gazidis could suggest a change in the coaching structure, bringing in a strong no. 2 to challenge the manager or, perish the thought, a defensive coach. There would be no shortage of former players suitable for the role. We were informed that there was no bigger critic than the manager himself and that, despite public perception, this is something that he reviews all of the time. Now, Mr Gazidis, if Mr Wenger reviews his set up all the time and has concluded that there is no need to change, let me assure you there are bigger critics.

For me the best question of the night and, coincidentally, the one where the answer drew the biggest laughter was as to who the manager is accountable to. Now for most football clubs this is pretty straight forward. But not a club whereby so much of what you see today is derived from one man.  And the answer encapsulates so much that is wrong right now. You see, apparently, Arsene Wenger is accountable to the fans.  Not the owner who has invested hundreds of millions to take control, not the chief executive whose job it is to oversee the club’s progression, but us fans. Fantastic. How do we do this then? Weekly polls? Clapometer?  And who qualifies to vote? The 200 of us there that night? 60,000 at the Emirates? Perhaps the six million on our Facebook page? Just let me know and I’ll get the campaign going.

What that answer shows is what we have all feared. Arsene is not accountable to anyone.  It’s his club and he’ll do it his way. And that’s the problem. That’s why there is so much disillusionment. His way hasn’t worked. We’ve moved to a 60,000 stadium, we pay the highest tickets in the world and we watch one man’s youth development project. And I came to this evening hoping to hear something different, hoping to be encouraged that next season may be different. But it won’t be. It’s fourth or fifth. I have never been more convinced that we are a club slowly drifting out of contention and out of the Champions League.  Thanks for your time Mr Gazidis. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

Nani / Almunia (o.g) – Arsenal vs Man Utd – 2010

9 06 2011

Here’s Tom Goulding with an excellent addition to the ‘My Favourite Goal’ series. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomGoulding

I don’t think this goal gets enough credit.

The hashtag #goalswhichgetforgottenbecauseoftheircontext on Twitter (which never really took off, for some reason) was bandied around a few months ago, and you got the usual picks – Essien vs Barcelona, Goulding vs Ardingly 3rd XI. This goal should now be added to that glittering list.

The setting is Arsenal vs Manchester United on 31st January 2010. The game was 3rd vs 1st in a season in which Chelsea, 2nd at the time, eventually won the title. Now, as a Spurs fan, part of my enjoyment of this goal is undoubtedly that it is against Arsenal. As someone who has grown up with football in the Wenger era, the pleasure of seeing my rival team lose and get humiliated has rarely occurred, and if it has, it has usually been at the hands of teams better than my own. Enjoying the failure of my arch rivals is rarer than most fans; Arsenal have lost at home only 13 times in the past 8 seasons, and so when it happens, it is something to take pleasure in. You might claim that this is sad, and you’d probably be right. That is the unfortunate predicament a football fan is sometimes in – a bitter tribalist who finds it impossible to spin reality in a way which elevates his own team above his rivals.

To the goal. 32 minutes have gone and it is 0-0. Nani picks up the ball out wide and takes on the left-back Gael Clichy. It is great to see a player take on a man – it gives us a duel, a one on one battle in which somebody wins and somebody loses. It is a bare test of aptitude. However, Cesc Fabregas comes to help so there are now two men on him. What to do? Nani feints to cross and produces an inside chop in between both his opponents, undoubtedly learnt from the master of the chop. This leaves Clichy and Fabregas standing there helpless, rendered only spectators. He approaches Thomas Vermaelen with pace, drops the shoulder and glides past him.

When most people beat a couple of defenders, they get all excited, have a rush of blood to the head and smash the ball into row Z. Not Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha. He chips the ball, making it glide over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia towards the far post; a sand wedge chip shot, cutting across the ball, designed to get it over a particular obstacle and down as quickly as possible, whether that be the lip of the bunker or an opposing goalkeeper. With United players running in, Almunia has to do something; but he can only tip it into the goal.

Nani has forced the goalkeeper into a position where he has to palm the ball into the exact place from which he is paid to keep it away. Nani has left three Arsenal defenders completely bamboozled, with an extraordinary display of skill in the type of match where efficiency and keeping-it-tight is stressed at all times. He had the ball out on the wing, far away from the goal, with two opponents surrounding him, and he has said “I’m going to put the ball in the far corner of that net. And I’m going to do it with an exquisite level of skill, and I’m going to embarrass Arsenal Football Club while I’m at it”. That’s why it is one of the best goals of that season. And I mean that.

The goal was overshadowed by the emphatic scoreline, Arsenal’s continued lack of success against the big teams and United’s second goal in that game, a breathtaking counter-attack. But I remember it well. It had a linear beauty to it, from the chop inside at the start to the devilish spinning of the ball over the doomed goalkeeper. Wonderful.

The goal is surprisingly hard to find on YouTube… here’s a link to it on a Turkish site (0:45): Almunia (o.g) – Arsenal vs Man Utd – 2010