World Cup Diary / The Coaches Who Make a Difference

Is the best-paid coach worth his salt? And which one thinks his team isn't the prettiest? A look at this cup's most arresting managers.

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U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann celebrates his team's 2-1 win over Ghana. Natal, Brazil, June 16, 2014.Credit: AP

As Mexico joined hosts Brazil in advancing to the last 16 on Monday (Brazil will face Chile, while Mexico takes on Netherlands), we thought we’d do something a little different today and look at the five coaches who’ve stood out for us so far at the tournament.

Before we list our five, we should point out that international coaching is not a young man’s game (either that, or it ages you very badly). Thirteen of the tournament coaches are in their 60s, with Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez, 67, both the oldest and most long-serving manager. At 42, Ivory Coast boss Sabri Lamouchi is the youngest coach. More surprisingly, this is his first-ever managerial role.

The best paid manager at the tournament is Fabio Capello, who earns a cool $11.4 million. And just look how impressive his Russia side has been so far! Way behind him in second place, but also a questionable investment, is Roy Hodgson, who is the $6 million man with the less than bionic England team. Who’s cheapest? Well, it would be rude of us to say, but his name is one of the five listed below…

1 Luis van Gaal

The 62-year-old Netherlands coach talks the talk better than any other coach in the business. Let’s just say that when the plaudits are being handed out, van Gaal is happy to award himself a few. Like this pat on the back following the 2-0 win over Chile on Monday: “We analyzed that Chile gives away more space in the last 15 minutes, so if you field any creative football players you have a chance to cash in.” He also made sure that everyone recognized his tactical genius following the 5-1 mauling of Spain.

A coach with an ego to match any of his players (which is saying something when you coach Netherlands), van Gaal seems to be enjoying his World Cup swansong, before the challenges of Manchester United await.

2 Jurgen Klinsmann

Jurgen Klinsmann (L) and U.S. player Jermaine Jones. June 21, 2014 (Reuters)

One of four Germans coaching sides at this year’s World Cup, U.S.A. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, 49, is arguably the most recognizable face on the sidelines. There was a lovely moment before the U.S.’ game vs. Portugal, when Klinsmann sat in the dugout smiling like a Cheshire cat, soaking up the atmosphere. A World Cup winner as a player, the German has been the U.S. coach since 2011 and overseen the continued improval of the side.

There’s a childlike innocence and lack of guile to the U.S. side that seems like a perfect reflection of Klinsmann himself. Yet the coach exudes passion for the game, and there’s a steeliness that’s reflected in the gutsy performances of his team. Now all this helicopter pilot has to do is stick the landing in the U.S.’ final game against – who else – Germany, with both sides looking for a point to qualify.

3 Jose Pekerman

Jose Pekerman. June 7, 2014 (AP)

It’s not just because he’s the only Jewish manager at the World Cup that Pekerman is worthy of a shoutout here. The gray-haired, 64-year-old Argentine has helped Colombia advance from Group C, standing on the sidelines looking a mix of Arsene Wenger and Newcastle’s Alan Pardew. What was most noticeable during the South Americans’ 2-1 victory over Ivory Coast was just how nervous and anxious Pekerman looked on the sidelines. Unlike, say, Klinsmann, the impression was that Pekerman was not exactly enjoying himself out there.

Yet he’s no stranger to the World Cup, having coached his native Argentina to the quarterfinals in 2006. And just being here is a victory of sorts for the Colombians, appearing at their first finals since 1998. Now, though, expectations are high, with Pekerman spending most of his time downplaying his side’s chances. And if he’s looking for a really big challenge after the World Cup, there’ll probably be a vacancy for the Israel job sometime soon.

4 Miguel Herrera

Miguel Herrera. June 23, 2014. June 23, 2014 (AFP)

Is there a more passionate coach at the finals than Mexican boss Miguel Herrera? The 1.67 meter tall Herrera, 46, is a ball of energy on the sidelines (rather literally, given his surprisingly portly shape). Nicknamed “The Louse” during his playing career, the Mexican is actually the most poorly paid of all the managers at this year’s tournament ($212,000). He’s definitely worth a pay raise after shepherding the Central Americans through a group at the expense of Croatia and Cameroon.

While the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann adopt a crouching stance on the touchline, it’s hard to imagine Herrera being able to get back up if he tried the Andre Villas Boas way of watching the game. Besides, he’d be too busy berating officials, opposing managers and, well, pretty much anyone who crosses his path. He’s definitely got this Mexico side playing as a team, though, and they could be the surprise package in the last 16.

5 Didier Deschamps

France's coach Didier Deschamps (L) speaks with assistant coach Guy Stephan. June 22, 2014 (AFP)

The 45-year-old French coach may still be best known for the derogatory comment aimed at him by Eric Cantona (who called him a “water carrier”), but Deschamps has forged a successful managerial career since being part of the French midfield that won the 1998 World Cup. Let’s be honest, after the dour days of Raymond Domenech, a baguette would have been a more charismatic replacement following the shambles of 2010. Deschamps saw France stumble to the World Cup finals (coming from 2-0 down to defeat Ukraine in the playoffs), but then decided to drop Samir Nasri and assemble the best squad instead of just selecting the best players.

That decision has been vindicated, with France perhaps the most consistent side so far, albeit in arguably the easiest group. The French will probably face Nigeria (or Argentina) in the last 16, with Deschamps reacting in his typically cautious way. “I don't want to put a brake on the enthusiasm… but we're not going to get carried away. We shouldn't think we're prettier than we are.” And yes, it was a Frenchman who said that last sentence.

Today’s games:

Group D:
England vs. Costa Rica, 7 P.M.
Italy vs. Uruguay, 7 P.M.

Group C:
Greece vs. Ivory Coast, 11 P.M.
Japan vs. Colombia, 11 P.M.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, left, hugs coach Louis van Gaal. June 23, 2014.Credit: AP

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