Greece is the word: Why foreign coach Ranieri has floundered
Greece and Serbia are due to face one another on November 18th in an end of year friendly, but both countries will be under caretaker stewardship following underwhelming starts to Euro 2016 qualifying.
A giant-killing by the Faroe Islands spelled the end of former Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri’s time in charge of the Greeks, who are now 16/1 outsiders with Coral to win Group F.
Nicknamed ‘the Tinkerman’ for his incessant rotation at Stamford Bridge, it is perhaps this trait that has done for him after just four matches in international management. Across those encounters, of which Ranieri won none, he called up 36 players for selection, including 15 different defenders.
Pragmatism from Italian coaches in recent times has rather failed, with chief proponent Cesare Prandelli quitting the Azzurri national boss role following a disastrous World Cup in Brazil. And yet, the four-time global champions acquitted themselves so well under his aegis at previous tournaments.
What Ranieri lost from the Greek dressing room before he even took the job was the presence of veteran midfield pair Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis. Both are synonymous with the Pirate Ship’s against-all-odds Euro 2004 triumph.
Retired Karagounis might actually be a decent shout to be parachuted in as the new Greece gaffer, despite being a managerial novice. Having worked under the likes of Ronald Koeman, Otto Rehaggel and Fernando Santos, he should’ve picked up a few coaching tips.
For now, Under-21 boss Kostas Tsanas has the reins on an interim basis. He must steady the Pirate Ship and make its traditionally watertight defence so again. Wide forward Niko Karelis may be the only addition from Ranieri’s ill-fated spell that remains.
If Greek woes can be easily explained by too much change, ex-Rangers manager Dick Advocaat’s vacation of the Serbia national post is more of a head-scratcher. Unlike Ranieri, the Dutchman has a wealth of experience when it comes to coaching countries.
Advocaat has his native Netherlands (over two spells), the United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Belgium and Russia all on his CV. His reasons for resigning are best told in his own words.
“I had never faced such a difficult situation in my entire career,” Advocaat said. “The pressure, which was everywhere to be seen, was too much to bear by this team.”
Hooliganism and violence which surround Serbian football are well-documented. The Partizan Stadium in Belgrade, if ever a sporting venue was more aptly named, is perhaps only rivaled in its hostility to visiting teams than by one of the Istanbul grounds on derby day between Besiktas, Fenerbahce and/or Galatasaray.
With Serbia on a single point after three matches, having been awarded victory over Albania when that game was abandoned but also incurring a points penalty, in Group I, which also includes Denmark and Portugal, Advocaat may just have been pre-empting a dismissal of his own.
Late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Simon Kjaer took another three points away from the former Yugoslav nation but, as Coral experts highlighted by picking a 23-man tournament squad from this troubled Balkan region, Serbia have plenty of star quality.
Advocaat was an ageing coach, but he and caretaker Radovan Curcic possess a squad packed full of Premier League talent. In defence, national captain Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) joins Manchester City pair Aleksandar Kolarov and Matija Nastasic.
In midfield, Stamford Bridge anchorman Nemanja Matic sits behind genuine wide threats Lazar Markovic (Liverpool) and in-form Southampton creator Dusan Tadic. Even the backup isn’t bad with former Premier League duo Zoran Tosic, who is Serbia’s top scorer in qualifying from the flank, and one-time Blackburn Rovers holding player Radosav Petrovic to call upon.
Perhaps, then, it is either ends of the pitch where Serbia are struggling. Ex-Wigan Athletic stopper Vladimir Stojkovic is an average goalie, while the paucity of striking options is such that Advoacaat brought former Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Zenit St Petersburg frontman Danko Lazovic in from the cold at 31.
There may not be a centre forward in the moulds of Mateja Kezman or Savo Milosevic now for Serbia, so some inventiveness may be called for. Could Roma’s Adem Ljajic be brought back in and used a false nine? The Roma player is rather tarnished over controversy caused when he refused to sing the national anthem a couple of years ago, but this tactic could be a way to win fans round.
What Serbia seem to have is a chronic case of England syndrome; players performing wonderfully at club level, but seldom so for their country. Group I is not difficult on paper with the resources open to Advocaat’s full-time successor, and this team should at least make the play-offs.
it would be no great to surprise to see Denmark, Portugal and Serbia all advance from this pool to the France finals. That is reflected in the Eastern European outfit’s odds of winning Euro 2016, which sit at 80/1.