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Burden of expectations

Strategist - P.K. Banerjee

After playing for the national team for 12 years, I took to coaching and remained an active coach for more than three decades. Today, looking back, I stay convinced about one thing — coaching at the highest stage could be the most stressful job on earth. It’s a trade where the brickbats fly at you after every failure while the good work sometimes go unnoticed because of people’s general lack of tactical knowledge.

On the eve of the World Cup, I can well imagine the kind of pressure some of the coaches could be feeling, despite being well-established names in the profession. Brazil coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has a World Cup and a Confederations Cup against his name but still could be spending sleepless nights.

The burden of expectations remains the biggest problem for Scolari. Sixty-four years ago, Brazil lost the World Cup to Uruguay on home turf. It was a national tragedy for the Brazilians. Now the World Cup is being staged in Brazil again and, every citizen of this great soccer nation expects Scolari to keep the Cup at home.

But can Scolari do it? I think, he can, despite having some questions over his team’s weakness in the air and dead-ball situations and some tactical abilities. What I like about Scolari is his ability to quickly adapt to the situation.

In 2002, he had a far more talented set of players like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronadinho and Roberto Carlos. It allowed him to take a far bolder and adventurous approach.

Things are not the same in 2014. Scolari has rightly taken the decision to rely on a younger lot of players like Neymar and Bernard and keep the tired legs of Ronaldinho, Kaka or Robinho out of the squad. It is a conscious decision that is surely going to help Brazil, who have not lost any of their last nine internationals.

I have a feeling Scolari would employ the similar style that won them the Confederations Cup with Fred, Hulk and Neymar attacking with pace and power and Marcelo and Dani Alvez providing the aggressive support from behind.

In the Confederation Cup, Spain looked ordinary against Brazil but I still firmly believe that Vicente del Bosque’s boys are one of the favourites for the title. There is widespread talk that the tiki-taka approach has lost its charm as the opponents have started blunting the style by defending in numbers.

But Del Bosque could adapt the 2012 Euro style of play with midfielder Cesc Fabregas as their most advanced player. Now that Diego Costa is having an injury problem and Fernando Torres is a shadow of his former self, Del Bosque would change his tactics.

Despite his low profile style, Del Bosque is a superb tactician. He is a players’ coach and hugely popular with the boys. Those who feel the Spanish coach won’t have too many options with his slightly ageing side are wrong.

I don’t believe he would necessarily go for repeating the roles of David Silva, Andres Iniesta and Xavi like the previous World Cup. The approach could be surprisingly different this time.

Scolari and Del Bosque had previously won World Cup as coaches but my focus would also be on Jurgen Klinsmann.

I give a lot of credit to Klinsmann because he has developed the US into a kind of winning combination. After having taken Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup, Klinsmann showed the guts to take up the challenge of coaching the US.

His team now play a free-flowing game and is considered to be a hardworking side that will adapt to all kind of situations on the field. After all, Klinsmann has guided the US to 16 wins in the recent past and a first-place finish in the qualifiers.

Like Klinsmaan, Didier Deschamps also has won the World Cup as a player. But that’s the only similarity between the two.

Unlike the German, Deschamps is a bit of an old fashioned coach, who believes in strict discipline. Given the fact that France were in complete disarray in the previous World Cup, Deschamps has done a terrific job of raising a cohesive national side.

It is a pity that Franck Ribery got injured on the eve of the World Cup, but Deschamps’s theory of giving importance to attitude over talent is surely going to help France surprise their opponents.

Last but not the least, I would remain eager to watch the style and tactics of Dutch coach Louis van Gaal. After all, he would take over the reins of Manchester United. However, I think Van Gaal faces a tougher task in Brazil.

Firstly, the Netherlands are a notoriously difficult side to run because of a divided dressing room.

To add to it, they run into Spain in their opener. His first stint as a national coach in 2002 ended in a disaster. We would be eager to watch how much he has improved over the years.