Archive for ‘World Football’

April 16, 2011

One man, 48 years, 55 jobs

Being a manager of a football team can be a wonderful thing if you get it right. Just ask José Mourinho – arguably the best manager in world football at present. However, sometimes it’s not all about silverware. Sometimes, when looking back at their career, managers can feel a sense of pride that they’ve had a lasting effect on the game, even if their name isn’t etched onto any trophies. One man who can do this over and over, is Rudi Gutendorf.

Photo: Erik Hartberg via Flickr

Born in the West German city of Koblenz in 1926, Gutendorf’s playing career was ordinary. He spent 10 years at his home-town club, TuS Neuendorf (now TuS Koblenz), where he played as a right winger. But, as seems to be the case with a lot of managerial masterminds nowadays – Mourinho, Wenger, Busby, to name just three – you don’t necessarily need to have had a glittering playing career to have success as a manager, and like the three men just listed, Gutendorf’s calling was evidently off the pitch.

However, dissimilar to the likes of Mourinho, Wenger and Busby, Gutendorf’s managerial career never took him to the pinnacle of world football. Instead, he forged a career managing developing national teams – for which he holds the world record, with no less than 19 appointments on the international stage.

In order, they are: Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Antigua & Barbuda, Botswana, Australia, New Caledonia, Nepal, Tonga, Tanzania, Ghana, Nepal (again), Fiji, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Rwanda and Samoa – a list that began taking shape in 1972 with Chile, and which ended in 2003, when he left his post as manager of the Samoan national side. And if these weren’t enough, he also took change of the Iranian and Chinese Olympic squads in 1988 and 1992 respectively.

Amazingly, though, during Gutendorf’s 48-year managerial career, which began in 1955 when he was just 29 years old with Swiss outfit Blue Stars Zurich, the longest time he spent in one place, and by some distance, was in his second ever job, as manager of another Swiss side – FC Luzern, where he spent six years. Even more amazingly, though, is the fact that only a handful of Gutendorf’s 55 jobs in football lasted over a year.

In 1976 alone, he managed no less than five teams: After leaving German side SC Fortuna Köln at the beginning of the year, he had a spell in the Caribbean as manager of Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada then Antigua & Barbuda, before finishing the year in Africa with the Botswanan national side.

Whilst in charge of Ghana in 1985, Gutendorf gave a first cap to a little-known 19-year-old called Anthony Yeboah, who later, under the shorted name of Tony, would go on to have a brief, yet successful spell in the English Premier League with Leeds United, where he would earn cult status after scoring some crackers, like this one against Wimbledon in the 1995/96 season.

Gutendorf’s career might not have brought reams of silverware, and he might not have had the opportunity to coach some of the world’s greatest players, but the German certainly had one of the most colourful managerial lives in football history.

When Gutendorf was once asked why he had so many managerial appointments, he replied, “One cannot conserve excitement.”

And that, readers, is what football is all about.

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April 11, 2011

The dictator who built a football team

A good harvest does not grow with ease; the more diligent the farmer, the more bountiful the crop.
– Ugandan proverb

There is nothing much to write home about in the current Ugandan national team. Ranked at 86th in the FIFA World rankings , the Cranes have never been blessed with the talent that some of their continental rivals could boast —their most famous player at the moment is probably the Red Bull Salzburg defender Ibrahim Sekagya, who captains the African nation. Once upon a time though, the Ugandans were a force to be reckoned with.

Idi Amin

Idi Amin was President of Uganda between 1971 and 1979. Photo: United Nations

Idi Amin is probably the most well known Ugandan of all time – but it is not a name that most people would closely link to sport. However during his brutal reign during the 1970’s, in which anywhere between 100,000 and half a million of his people were murdered, Ugandan sports, and particularly football, were flourishing.

Amin saw sport as a way of connecting with his country. In the 1950’s, before he seized control, Amin enjoyed nine years as the heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda. He carried that on into his tenure as head of state – in 1972 he challenged the national boxing coach Peter Sseruwagi to a bout. Of course, Amin knocked out Sseruwagi – how can you fight against your blood-thirsty dictator?

Football was a passion of Amin’s too though. He dangled intrinsic and extrinsic rewards in front of the noses of players in the hope of making them perform better – it worked.

Uganda qualified for three consecutive African Nations Cups in that decade, in 1974, 1976 and 1978. In the first two tournaments the Cranes failed to get over the first hurdle, but 1978 turned out to be the apex of Ugandan sport.

The nation managed to secure top position in Group B in the first round, losing to the Tunisians but comprehensively seeing off Congo-Brazzaville and then Morocco. Nigeria were waiting in the semi-finals but national hero Phillip Omondi’s winner gave the Ugandans a dream final against hosts and favourites Ghana.

Ghana too were enduring a time of a political instability. General Ignacio Kutu Acheampong was also aware of the effects that success in sport can have on national mood, and arranged for the referendum on his controversial reform plans – which would have banned multi-party politics – to take place soon after the 1978 final. It was essential Ghana won.

The Ghanaians never looked in threat throughout the game, scoring early in the first half before adding another in the second. Uganda lost 2-0.

Within a year, both Acheampong and Amin were out of power. Ghana, blessed with more talent than their 1978 opponents, won the tournament four years later in Libya. For Uganda though, it was the start of a long period of international footballing deprivation.

The Cranes withdrew from the next two competitions before entering again in 1984. They failed to qualify and to this day haven’t kicked a ball in the African Nations Cup since their ruler Idi Amin listened to the game over the radio in 1978.

And they have come no closer to reaching the World Cup either. In the draw for the qualifying rounds of the last World Cup, Uganda were in Pot C and therefore were determined to be of lesser ability than the likes of Cape Verde, Benin and Mozambique.

The days of being amongst Africa’s elite are long gone – a point proven by their third place finish in the second stage of qualifying, as the aforementioned Benin stormed to the summit of Group 3.

Amin’s reign of oppression and totalitarianism was undoubtedly ghastly. But in terms of Ugandan sport, the Cranes have never had it as good as 1978.