From Albert Celades and Frank Lampard to Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte: managing expectations in the Champions League
Ahead of the opening round of the group stage this week, we take a look at relative experience of the main men in charge
No manager cites his inexperience as a strength. But for a player it sometimes seem like a blessing, a source of fearless zest, irresistible self-belief. On Saturday at Camp Nou, seven brutal minutes showed both sides of the coin.
A 16-year-old, Ansu Fati, scored within 120 seconds of his first start for Barcelona. The kid set up the next goal five minutes later.
At which point, it was hard not to glance at the poor, exposed manager of the Valencia team Fati had ripped apart.
Albert Celades wore a look of utter bewilderment. His senior managerial career was only seven minutes old. He was already 2-0 down. His club coaching debut finished in a 5-2 thrashing.
Initiations do not come much tougher than Barcelona away, and Celades was only appointed three days earlier, in toxic circumstances, following the messy sacking of his predecessor, Marcelino Garcia Toral.
For Celades, there is barely time to pick up the pieces. On Tuesday, he will confront the most exacting club competition that exists.
He will be at another difficult venue, Chelsea, and perhaps the only consolation is that Celades, a 43-year-old whose coaching career has been almost entirely spent with age-group teams or as an assistant with the Spanish Federation, faces another manager making his Champions League debut.
Frank Lampard can empathise with Celades: He lost his first top-flight match as a manager 4-0 at Old Trafford.
For Lampard, there has been progress since, notably with a five-goal display at the weekend, a victory at Wolves that thoroughly endorsed Lampard’s conspicuous trust in youth.
A novice in management he may be, but Lampard fully believes the relative inexperience of many of his favoured Chelsea players has a positive upside: He likes their freedom from anxiety and inhibition.
Chelsea and Valencia, clubs from Europe’s strongest domestic leagues, would normally be tipped to qualify from Champions League Group H. But their managerial inexperience raises doubts, as does the presence of a youthful, uninhibited Ajax in the same mini-league.
Ajax came within a stoppage-time goal of reaching last season’s final, having knocked out Juventus and Real Madrid on the way.
In doing so, Ajax sent out as strong a recommendation for trusting in youth as the Champions League has heard for many years. But Madrid’s reaction to their first elimination in four years was worth recalling too: They asked Zinedine Zidane to come back as head coach, 10 months after he had resigned.
Zidane will on Wednesday return to the competition in which he rewrote the rules on how much experience a manager needs: In less than three seasons doing the job, the novice Zidane won three European Cups.
Mostly, though, it is the wiser, seasoned bosses likely to be patrolling touchlines come the business end of this European Cup. Men such as Jurgen Klopp, who intends his Liverpool to defend the crown jealously.
The German finally lifted the most prestigious of all Cups after many bitter experiences. He had managed in three losing European finals before Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last June.
Klopp – who starts off against Napoli’s Carlo Ancelotti, the three-times European Cup winner – and Spurs’s Mauricio Pochettino have been in charge of their clubs longer than 29 of the 32 head coaches embarking on the 2019-20 Champions League. The lesson? Continuity works.
Continuity makes Atletico Madrid strong candidates to go far. Diego Simeone will soon reach the eighth anniversary of his appointment at Atletico – he has been there two and half years longer than Pochettino at Spurs; over four years longer than Klopp at Anfield – and while his transformation of a once-frail institution has been epic, his ideas have been dogmatic and unyielding.
Rugged Atletico have skilful, creative footballers, not least the exuberantly inexperienced Joao Felix, 19, but their strength lies in a clear gameplan.
First visitors to Atletico are Juventus, now guided by a man who, though 60, has limited relevant experience.
Maurizio Sarri came very late to elite management. He won his first significant trophy, the Europa League, only last May. His winners, Chelsea, still let him leave.
Juventus have now asked Sarri to scratch a long itch: Juve have been in two of the last five Champions League finals but not won one since 1996.
Antonio Conte, in his three years at Juve, never thrived in Europe. Nor was his record at Chelsea especially distinguished beyond the domestic stage. Conte’s latest bid to correct the idea he shows his limitations in European club contests is as the new boss at Internazionale.
It will be challenging. Inter are grouped with Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona, where urgent decisions are now being made about whether Ansu Fati is already too experienced to be left playing only in the Uefa Youth League.
Updated: September 16, 2019 08:49 AM