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European coaching's young pioneers

Published: Monday 30 January 2012, 11.27CET
UEFA Champions League-winning coaches are getting younger and the latest issue of Champions magazine examines why they are now "more big brother than sergeant major".

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Published: Monday 30 January 2012, 11.27CET

European coaching's young pioneers

UEFA Champions League-winning coaches are getting younger and the latest issue of Champions magazine examines why they are now "more big brother than sergeant major".

This is an edited version of an article that appears in the latest edition of Champions magazine. Subscribe now.

Fathers, sergeant majors and dictators: football managers used to be all these things. But in 2011, Josep Guardiola was 40 years and 130 days old when he claimed his second UEFA Champions League title as a coach, and André Villas-Boas, then FC Porto boss, became, at 33 years and 213 days, the youngest manager to win the UEFA Europa League.

Eight of the last nine UEFA Champions Leagues were won by coaches in their forties, Manchester United FC's Sir Alex Ferguson the exception. This generational shift means today's coaches are more big brother than sergeant major.

Now in charge of Chelsea FC, Villas-Boas is only 246 days older than midfielder Frank Lampard, but José Eduardo Simões, president of A. Académica de Coimbra, who gave Villas-Boas his first coaching job, knows his age is not an issue: "Keeping your distance is more an attitude. We have a saying in Portugal: 'Work is work, cognac is cognac.' This means everyone has to understand his place."

Augusto Inácio, assistant manager at Porto when Villas-Boas was handed an observational role by Sir Bobby Robson aged just 16, said: "Being young can be an advantage, as footballers can relate to him."

The poster boy for this new generation of coach is José Mourinho, mentor to Villas-Boas. The Portuguese was 41 when he guided Porto to UEFA Champions League glory in 2004. After he did likewise with FC Internazionale Milano in 2010, a victory for Real Madrid CF in Munich on 19 May would make Mourinho the first man to lead three different teams to club football's holy grail – and all before his 50th birthday. 

Like Mourinho, Guardiola has proved that younger bosses do not lack gravitas, having told the players upon taking charge at Barcelona in 2008: "If you think I'm an easy touch, you are wrong – you are going to work hard." He established his authority, selling Ronaldinho and Deco, and fining those who were late for training. Xavi Hernández recalled: "I said to Andrés Iniesta: 'We'd better hop on this train or it'll pass us by.' Pep was on top of everything like a hawk."

Once the players had earned his trust, the hairdryer went back in the kitbag. "Pep doesn't just give orders, he explains why," said Gerard Piqué. "That makes you a better footballer, you learn the reasoning behind his instructions." Mourinho has a similar method he calls "guided discovery".

The average age of managers may be going down, but plenty of veterans are thriving after embracing a new approach. At 66, Jupp Heynckes has reinvented himself with a more relaxed style at FC Bayern München, and is readying himself to take on FC Basel 1893's 36-year-old coach Heiko Vogel in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

Bob Paisley was 62 when he lifted his third European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1981. If Guardiola wins the trophy in May, he will have equalled the Liverpool FC man's record at the age of only 41.

Last updated: 05/12/13 19.23CET

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