Maradona and Dunga fail to buck a trend

Maradona and Dunga have both seen their national teams’ exploits stunted in South Africa and, as seen in the papers immediately following Argentina and Brazil’s exits, the debate about great players not making great managers resurfaces.

But the truth is a little more convoluted. We knew from the outset that Maradona was not a good manager – his squad selections, player omissions and frequently changing tactics have been strenuously well documented. His function was to inspire rather than instruct and many have already commented that appointing him solely for the World Cup (instead of during qualification) may have proved a better circumstance. But these points are now moot.

Dunga has an entire nation’s history weighing down on what was, otherwise, a very good record as manager. The truth is despite every victory there were always rumblings that the manner of Dunga’s victories was too far removed from the tenets of flair football that Brazil’s public demand. Tactically speaking however, Dunga repeatedly showcased an astute managerial mind and his team became frighteningly efficient – we should also not forget that it was a couple of errors that set in motion the Dutch fight back.

The most glaring examples of great players becoming great managers can be found in a German and a Dutchman. Franz Beckenbauer managed to win the World Cup as a player and make two World Cup finals as a manager (winning it as head coach in 1990 against Argentina). His managerial career boasted a German title (1993-94) and UEFA Cup (1995-96) with Bayern Munich and a French league title with Marseille in 1991. Johan Cruyff is largely responsible for the brand of football so widely enjoyed at Barcelona and reached spectacular heights with the 1990s dream team. So great players have and probably will continue to make an impression in the managerial world. A more interesting and relevant debate than whether great players make great managers is whether past footballers, in general, are better equipped at management. Jose Mourinho, himself not a celebrated player, has an open stance on the matter:

“I believe that to be on the pitch as a player can be very important, but it is not compulsory. It is a bit like studying or going to university. It does not mean that you will be a success, but it does give you an advantage.”

Managers such as Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, and Mourinho did not play at the top level in any distinguished fashion. Yet Fabio Capello on the other hand has spoken in the past about the intimate understanding past players – especially very good players – have with their squad and the dynamics of real life play. The argument isn’t simply academia vs. experience, though; Capello himself supplemented the talents he had as a player by coaching at the famed Coverciano school in Italy. And whilst the list of good players who made bad managers is continuously added to, we overlook the circumstances of many considered ‘flops’. The difficulty for a manager is that they’re only judged on their players’ performances rather than a method that we, as an interested third party, can discern.

If Dunga is added to the list of successful players who couldn’t make the transition to management I don’t think it is wholly warranted considering his record and tactical decisions. But the route to becoming a manager (and thus a ‘great’ manager) is not specified – as with a lot of aspects to the game luck and timing as well as talent become important factors.

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