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Technocrats holding their own against a formidable era of Super Coaches

The younger technocrats add a new dimension to football which can be seen as strange but makes for amazing games
Thu, Oct 29, 2020

Mikel Arteta playing for Arsenal – the team he now manages – in 2012. PHOTO: Ronnie Macdonald from Chelmsford, United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Jürgen Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti, Arsène Wenger, Roberto Mancini and Mauricio Pochettino. It's not a singing band of various nationalities hurriedly meshed together – these are football's A-list managers, aka Super Coaches.

They aren't necessarily from the same generation either. Mourinho was a translator at Barcelona in 1996 when Guardiola was a player, but their success is often compared as they crossed paths and each created their own individual trajectory.

Some have even argued that Mourinho, who is now in charge of the less fancied Tottenham Hotspur post his Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United stints, is past his sell-by date. Others have questioned whether Guardiola still has his mojo and can continue to hold the fort at Manchester City. They do so at their own peril.

But there's an even more exciting era that's creeping up on them – the technocrats who've dedicated themselves to being scholars of this beautiful game. Sure, they are a threat to Guardiola, Mourinho, Klopp, Ancelotti, Mancini and Pochettino's jobs. However, these Super Coaches have had a huge influence on their thinking, application and even general demeanour. One of the technocrats is nicknamed 'Baby Mourinho'.

For two decades Arsenal fans looked to Wenger to make them tick. Funny story, growing up I used to think he owned the Gunners because of his first name. The longer he stayed at the helm the more I believed this to be true.

Mikel Arteta (38) is in the hot seat now, and both Wenger and Guardiola are the two strong pillars of his growth. Wenger coached him as a player at Arsenal and offered Arteta a role as the head of the club's academy when he retired but reuniting with Guardiola at rivals City as his No. 2 was more appealing.

Then there's 'Baby Mourinho', the 33-year-old RB Leipzig manager, Julian Nagelsmann, whose biggest influences are both Mourinho and Thomas Tuchel (47), another football technocrat and the current coach at French Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain.

Tuchel's radical ideas about football, like doubling the number of substitutes from three to six and cutting down on the number of matches per season, will have your head spinning.

He comes across as a bit uptight, sometimes he's no fun at all. But his tactical acumen is mind blowing. He replaced Klopp at Dortmund and is now tasked with delivering the Holy Grail, the UEFA Champions League, at PSG.

Nagelsmann is still young enough to have a playing career, but he is already considered one of the brightest minds coaching at the highest level in world football. Last year he faced his idol Tuchel in the semi-finals of the UEFA – watching that high intensity game was football orgasm. Tuchel's brain clashed with that of his apprentice, one considered football’s managerial wonderkid.

And then there's Frank Lampard (42), whose career as a player for Chelsea was loaded with accolades. Still backed by the same Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, whose deep pockets ensured his generation were trophy-winning machines, Lampard now has a mandate the size of Kilimanjaro. Chelsea fans who romanticise football (count yours truly in that category) are rooting for Lampard to make it big at Stamford Bridge.

The Super Coaches will be there to guide, continue to nurture and correct when things aren't aligned, but the technocrats can hold their own, like Lampard has shown with his recent touchline squabbles with both Mourinho and Klopp, the Liverpool manager who ended the club's 30-year league title drought in June this year.

Arteta has given Arsenal fans hope that the Premier League trophy chase, which has stretched to an embarrassing 16 years, can be halted.

Tuchel has oil money from PSG's Qatari owner Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani but give him a club with a modest budget and I reckon he could still do a decent job for you.

Out of the four technocrats, Nagelsmann is the least popular and the youngest. He never really played football, cutting his teeth as a scout for Tuchel, to work his way up the football ladder.

But so did Mourinho – a translator turned coach, turned serial winner, who now has the luxury to pick and choose the jobs he wants and the ones he doesn’t fancy…

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