Spanish coaches are fast gaining a reputation for innovativeness. Just as former Inter Milan coach Helenio Herrera is widely credited for dreaming up the catenaccio format of suffocating defensive football and Ajax Amsterdam’s Rinus Michels is hailed for the revolutionary concept of Total Football in which players can switch positions during play at will, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is feted for being the first coach to aspire to field eleven creative midfielders.
That’s how Daniel Alves ended up as the most creative right back in history with over one hundred assists for Lionel Messi alone. It’s how Javier Mascherano was moved from a holding midfield role to centre back despite being vertically challenged (not short for purposes of political correctness). Pep, the football alchemist, was also the first man to insist on using a sweeper keeper in order for his teams to start play from the back. It’s why Victor Valdes kept goal for Barcelona despite his limitations and why Manuel Neuer morphed into the world’s leading sweeper keeper under Pep’s tutelage.
Former La Roja boss Vicente del Bosque, who created Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning side, took Pep’s ideas and improved them. By the time Spain successfully retained the Euro 2012 title pummeling Italy 4-0 in the tournament’s most one sided final on record, del Bosque was fielding a 4-6-0 formation with Cesc Fabregas the world’s first and most effective false nine. The aforementioned innovations, including the use of a sweeper keeper, were and are still meant to create a team with the highest possible football intelligence quotient or IQ.
Fast forward to Qatar 2022 and La Roja boss Luis Enrique is fielding Manchester City midfielder Rodrigo ‘Rodri’ as a central defender. The aim is to improve Spain’s overall football IQ by accomodating both Rodri and Sergio Busquets in the starting line up. To suggest it’s working a treat is an understatement. Spain have successfully bucked a trend of losing their first World Cup match and looked the part in dismantling Costa Rica 7-0 in the tournament’s most emphatic victory.
But innovations need not be on playing personnel alone. USA coach Gregg Berhalter is using a simple tried and tested method of letting players choose their captain – democracy – to great effect. By handing players the initiative to elect Tyler Adams ahead of Christian Pulisic as skipper, Berhalter killed threr birds with one stone. First, he empowered the players, bettered team spirit (lesser manager’s name the skipper) and freed the team’s most creative player, Pulisic, from the burden of sole leadership. The result is USA qualifying for the knock out rounds unbeaten with Pulisic winning two Budweiser man of the match awards.