Guest With No Future

by Andrey Semyaninov

Kommersant, Russia
April 17 2006

The first foreign soccer coach in Russia signed his contract on April
14. He is Dutchman Guus Hiddink. Fifteen trainers for the national
teams of seven countries of the former Soviet Union have been hired.

Almost all of them ended up the same.


Former Soviet Republics Make Strides in Soccer Independence

Georgia has been the most strident of the former Soviet republics for
soccer independence. It withdrew from the championship of the USSR in
1990, even before the Baltic republics, and hired its first foreign
coach, also from The Netherlands, in 1998. Former Belgian Genk coach
Johan Boskamp was brought in to coach Tbilisi Dynamo. Although he
didn’t speak a word of Georgian or Russian, and the players did not
know any other languages, things went not badly. Boskamp, a protege
of Dutch coach Rinus Michels, believed that discipline was the secret
to success, and with that philosophy, Dynamo became the champion
of Georgia. More accurately, it remained the champion of Georgia,
since it almost always was in any case.

Then the Georgian Football Federation decided to try an experiment,
which it later regretted. Boskamp, while remaining Dynamo coach, was
also made head coach of the national team. Here there were team members
from Western Europe who did speak other languages. When Boskamp began
to berate the stars of Georgian soccer for lateness, missed practices
and drinking, there was a problem. Some of the players were driven off
the team by Boskamp, others refused to play for him. Georgia finished
in last place in the qualifying round for the Europe 2000 championship.


Georgia risked taking on another foreign coach in the spring of 2003.

Croat Ivo Susak retraced Boskamp’s path from Dynamo to the national
team. He beat the Russian national team 1:0 in his first match,
for which is became the third foreigner to be awarded the title of
Distinguished Trainer of Georgia (along with French rugby coach Claude
Saurel and Russian figure skating coach Elena Chaikovskaya).

That initial victory over Russia was not repeated at the return game
in Moscow, and Georgia finished last in its group again. President of
the Georgia Football Federation Merab Jordania suggested that Susak
restrict himself to a single team, and he chose Dynamo. For lack of
anyone else, Jordania became the coach of the national team.

The next foreigner to head the Georgian national team was Frenchman
Alain Giresse, who is determined to take the Georgians to the 2006
world championship. In the course of a year under Giresse, the team
made five points in seven games and the Frenchman, who had taken
part in the 1982 world championship, was sent packing. Jordania
couldn’t replace him this time, because he was being held by the
law on suspicion of corruption. In February 2006, another foreign
trainer, German Klaus Toppmoller, who led Bayer to the final of the
League of Champions, came with the promise of taking Georgia to the
2008 European championship.

Armenian also tried making foreigners coach of the country’s best
team and the national team. There are two points to the doubles
appointment. First, the foreigner becomes better acquainted with the
local soccer scene, and he gets two salaries.

Therefore, when Argentine Oscar Lopez arrived in Yerevan in 2002,
he was immediately entrusted with the local Punic club in addition
to the national team. President of the Armenian Football Federation
Ruben Hayrapetyan said at the time that “Lopez is the only person who
can lead Armenia to the next championship of Europe.” The Argentine
also assured Armenian fans that it would only be two years “before
the phoenix arose.” Six months later, Lopez asked for a 150 percent
raise in his two salaries, and the flight of the phoenix was cancelled.


Romanian Mihai Stoichita stepped in to earn both of Lopez’s unraised
salaries, and left only good memories behind. He was able to win two
out of the six matches he led (Lopez left at zero for two) then stepped
out again with a polite explanation about family complications. Those
complications turned out to be an invitation from the French club
Bordeaux, but it didn’t hire him any way.

Next Armenia hired two Frenchmen at once, the great player for
Marseille Bernard Casoni as head coach and Bernard Pardo as coach.

Casoni was also known for his role in the corruption case against
Marseille president Bernard Tapie and Pardo for drug smuggling. But
Pardo was of Armenian ancestry. Those are the details that they
are best remembered for. After winning one match and tying another,
they too were fired. In May 2005, Dutchman Henk Wisman was hired in
the two positions. Punic won the championship of Armenia, and the
national team won one match out of eight. The Armenian federation
fired Wisman tow weeks ago.

The closest comparison to Russia’s invitation to Hiddink can be made
in Estonia. They only name Dutchmen coach of their national team in
Estonia. Arno Pijpers worked there from 2000 to 2004, longer than any
other foreign coach in the former Soviet Union. His highest attainment
previous to his Estonian appoint was as assistant to Euro 2000 Dutch
team coach Frank Rijkaard. And he was personally acquainted with
Rinus Michels, of course. Pijpers, who held that “a soccer player
should be taught to work with the ball until age 17, and only then
physically and tactically encumbered,” was simultaneously coach of
the national team and Estonia’s best local club, Flora, which became
the main source of fresh blood for the national team.

Estonia’s has thus been the only post-Soviet team to gain from having
a foreign coach. Nonetheless, the Dutchman’s performance is a source
of conflicting opinion in Estonia. He turned the team around. In the
qualifying round for the 2002 world championship, the team passed
Andorra and Cyprus. But the better adapted Pijpers got to Estonia,
the more scandals came up. By the end of his four-year contract,
Pijpers had spoiled his relations with almost everyone in Estonia. It
was only possible to be picked for the national team from Flora.

Players from other teams were taken on only for Pijpers throw them
out with a bang. Flora and national team members were subject to
an unbearable prohibition of profane language. Pijpers ceaselessly
criticized members of the Estonian Football Association on television
and in the papers. The prickly Pijpers then let it be known that his
salary would have to be raised by a third – if, that is, they wanted
him to sign a new contract.

Guus Hiddink Hopes to Put Russia on the True Path

“He just couldn’t stand it that some damn Estonians had the nerve
to break it of with him,” vice president of the Estonian Football
Association Aivar Pohlak recounted. “There are no two ways about it.

Hiring Pijpers was a big mistake for Estonia.”

The biggest winner from that mistake was Pijper’s assistant and former
Dutch soldier Jelle Goes, who became head coach. They are happy with
Goes, with whom the team has passed Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and,
importantly, Latvia.

Pijpers found work in Kazakhstan. The Dutchman mentioned his training
under Rinus Michels, promised to make the Kazakh national team feared
throughout Europe and was made coach of the national team and local
leader Zhenis at the same time.

The Azeri national team has tried to improve the performance of
its national team with a foreign coach as well. In 2004, Carlos
Alberto, who coached the world champion Brazilian team in 1970, was
hired. But the gulf between Pele and the Azeri players unhinged Alberto
somewhat. In June 2005, when Azerbaijan lost to Poland 3:0 at home,
its fifth loss with only two ties besides in the qualifying round,
Alberto made a gesture that was later described as “shaking his fist”
at the reserve referee. Alberto got a double whammy when he was fired
right in the stadium for the loss, and the FIFA disqualified him and he
could no longer work in Europe. His losing streak continued in Brazil
then, where he led a club into the second league, for which he was
fired, but not before getting in trouble with the local federation
for insulting a referee.

Foreign trainers did not help the national team in Latvia very much
either, although they found a way to put the good qualities of the
foreign specialist to good use there. (The Russian team won’t be able
to do the same with Hiddink.) The Latvian team was led by Englishman
Gary Johnson from 1999 to 2001. His assistant was Alexander Starkov,
who later became head coach of the team, sensationally taking them
to the Championship of Europe in 2004 before moving over to the
Russian Spartak.

The former Watford coach maintained good relations in his homeland,
and six Latvian soccer players found work on English teams while
Johnson coached the Latvian national team. Those players’ careers
depended on Johnson completely. To work in England, a soccer player
has to demonstrate his professional qualifications by paying in no
less than 75 percent of their national team’s matches in a calendar
year. The qualified players in the English premiere league later
fired Johnson when he was unable to beat San Marino at home.

The fashion for foreign coaches even reached Central Asia before
it hit Russia. German Heinz-Jurgen Geode rose through Uzbek soccer
gradually. He started as coach of the national youth team. Then he
became a consultant for the national team when the team was striving
to participate in the 2006 world championship.

Like most of the other foreign coaches in the former USSR, Geode had
worked with a famous coach in the past. He was an assistant to Udo
Lattek on Schalke 04, although he had worked independently only in
the championship of Iran. It was more prestigious and more profitable
to work for Uzbekistan. Just as a consultant for the national team
he earned at least $50,000 a month (according to local rumor). Like
many coaches, consultants and so on working abroad, he brought a
brigade of assistants with him from Germany. According to Geode, they
followed him to Uzbekistan without any expectation of remuneration –
purely for the sake of the rebirth of Uzbek soccer.

Team Members Have Shown More than One Coach that They Can Go Their
Own Way

Geode’s happiness became complete in January 2005, when he was finally
officially appointed coach of the Uzbek national team. But he did
not remain in that post for long. Within two months, Geode and all
his associates were dismissed for “obvious miscalculations.”

Uzbekistan had only tied one match out of three in the final round of
the Asian zone before the championship of the world. Rumor also has
it that they didn’t pay the Germans when they tore up their contract.

Three months later, Geode had been replaced by Englishman Bob Houghton,
who was best known for becoming coach of the Swedish Malmo at age 32
and taking it to the champions’ cup final in 1978/79. In the succeeding
26 years, Houghton’s best job had been with the Saudi Arabian club Al
Ittihad and in China, where was assistant to Boris Milutinovich. At
the time of his appointment, the Uzbek team had lost one match and
tied another.

Not all was lost though. They had to beat Kuwait at home and then
Bahrain and Trinidad and Tobago on aggregate. The Englishman cleared
the first hurdle. He almost made it across the second, but fell victim
to outrageous fate. The hosts won the first Uzbekistan-Bahrain match
1:0 and even made a penalty goal, but the Japanese referee not only
refused, in violation of all the rules, to count it, because of a
technical error, but he refused to allow the team another try. The
Uzbeks appealed to the FIFA, but with fatal results. The FIFA agreed
that the referee’s mistakes were egregious and ordered a rematch,
which ended 1:1. The return game ended 0:0 and Bahrain, even though
it lost 1:3, continued on. Houghton’s contract was not renewed. He
had been considered only a temporary appointment. He was replaced
by Russian Valery Nepomnyashchy. Nepomnyashchy, while not exactly
from distant shores, was as much a cosmopolitan as the rest of the
foreign coaches in the former Soviet Union. In his 20-year career,
he had only worked in Russia for three months.

Hiddink compares well with the other hapless foreign coaches. He has
participated in the final stage of the world championship twice, and
will do so again soon. He led his native Holland to the quarterfinal,
Korea to the semifinal, and in two months he will try to achieve
success with Australia. He has also repeatedly participated in the
League of Champions and has been with Real.

He has somewhere to go back to too. He has been in the PSV Eindhoven
system for more than 20 years. His globetrotting has not been in
search of cushy jobs in exotic locations but at the behest of soccer

Hiddink won’t try to establish himself artificially in this exotic
location. He will work on the Russian national team (as he does
on the Australian) on a rotational basis. There is an upside and a
downside to this approach, but the potential for conflict is greatly
reduced. Local coaches ever like a foreign colleague, and the local
candidates for the post have already made angry denouncements of the
very ideas of a foreign coach on the Russian national team.

Therefore, the farther from the public eye a foreigner remains and
the less he becomes involved in local soccer, the better it will be
for him, the fewer the opportunities will be to get at him.

Hiddink, like the majority of the unsuccessful coaches, does not know
Russia. Nor is it necessarily true that he understands the mentality
of the players. Like his predecessors, he too will be forced to choose
from just 30-40 Russian citizens who are able to play soccer at that
level. That number is continually falling, and the hiring of Guus
Hiddink may be a final attempt to avoid the fate of the Georgian and
Armenians teams.

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