|While watching the coaches of Switzerland and Turkey attempt to adapt their tactics to the Alpine monsoon which descended on Basel on Wednesday evening, a question entered my mind. Which one of these two blokes would I most want to share an evening down the pub with? This is, of course, the age-old way that males determine the compatibility of characters and so what started out as just a stroll off the path of concentration soon turned into an exercise in finding my coaching "soul mate".
First I imagined myself going for a beer with Switzerland's "Uncle" Kobi Kuhn. It would be in one of those Olde Worlde-type pubs where the dust in the air catches the sunlight piercing through the small, dirty windows. Old men would inhabit the dark corners, hunched over their newspapers while an arthritic Labrador would struggle to lick its genitals by the roaring fire. Uncle Kobi would order real ale, something with a name like Old Feathered Trollop and I would be polite and have the same. Then we would retire to an authentically ancient wooden booth where Kobi would sigh and savor his pint. He would say little and I would talk of my problems while he nodded sagely.
Hardly a blast.
Leaving Kobi in the Gaffer's Stirrup (that's the pub's name, by the way, not a Swiss athletic support for men of a certain age) I would call Fatih "Laughing Boy" Terim on his mobile. I would just be able to make out the Turkey coach's excited voice and guttural chortles over a blast of cheesy Balearic dance music. I would then meet him at Chrome Dreams, the club his brother-in-law (now divorced) owns. Fatih would already be half-cut when I arrive, his large collared shirt open to the navel. He would greet me with a bear hug and order some spirit which is probably illegal. He would then usher me to a booth where two ladies, introduced to me as Crystal and Tufty, would be sitting. After a few more shots of the lighter fluid Fatih is quaffing like the elixir of life, things would turn nasty. The booze would get the better of Mein Host and he'd start getting tasty with the male half of a couple out for a quiet drink. I would be making my excuses as the first misdirected punch was thrown.
Also not my idea of nocturnal entertainment.
So which coach would be the best company? If I was looking for a classy night out, I'd probably tag along with Joachim Loew. It would be a low-key establishment, quite minimalist…a place where tight black polo neck sweaters would be de rigueur. But after a while, Jogi's incessant calorie counting would get a bit boring and after the third call to Juergen Klinsmann I would just leave in a huff.
While he would undoubtedly have a good knowledge of beer, the Czech Republic's Karel Brueckner would probably be tucked up in bed at about the same time as I would be about ready to hit the town. The poor old boy is nearly 70. The same with Sweden's Lars Lagerbaeck who looks like he would rather be in his favourite armchair with a good book than larging it in some Stockholm nightclub with a gaggle of blonde underwear models. Raymond Domench might be a bit of a surprise, given the French coach's reputation for being a bit of a kook, but one mention of his fascination with astrology and I'd be off.
Big Phil Scolari would probably provide a similar experience on the tiles as Fatih Terim but at the end of the night, the guy he punches out would be me.
Marco van Basten and Roberto Donadoni appear to be students of the game so instead of getting their glad-rags on and hitting the town, both would probably be poring over endless videos of past games with a notepad open on their knee and a steaming cup of cocoa on the designer coffee table.
There can only really be one winner in this competition to be my fantasy drinking buddy: Slaven Bilic.
The Croatian coach likes his smokes, obviously enjoys a few beers, wears a beanie hat with his suit and plays guitar in a rock band. He even has an earring for goodness sake. I'd be on the guest list for a gig he and his band Rawbau are playing in some scuzzy dive in the backstreets of Zagreb; there'd be rowdy but friendly locals rocking out to the show while some happy hookers clap along in the corner. And then after the music, there'd be an after-show trawl of the happening places where Slaven's tab is always open. The night would be so good that I would even forgive him for once playing for Everton.
So that's that sorted then. Mine's a pint, Bilic!
|In terms of a wake-up call, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's stunning 67th-minute strike against the Greeks on Tuesday night rates up their with a bucket of ice-cold water in the face.
I was slowly slipping into a comatose state when the lanky Inter Milan forward struck his sweet half-volley to finally inject some dynamism into one of the most boring matches I have ever had the misfortune to dribble into my beer in front of. I actually very nearly missed the goal as I was preparing to insert a specially honed cocktail stick under a fingernail in an attempt to stay awake. Luckily for everyone involved, Sweden's opening goal brought us all back from the brink.
Until that moment of sublime brilliance, Greece vs. Sweden was sliding towards infamy. It was in danger of going down in history as the first match to be used in certain clinics around Switzerland as an aid to euthanasia. You could see the will to live ebbing away in the faces of the people in the crowd – it sucked that badly. It made Romania vs. France look like Christians vs. Lions.
As I searched in vain to find something other than the dross on the TV to keep me interested, I started to wonder who was to blame for this soccer atrocity. My conclusion – and I say this with the knowledge that even my dear Greek friends will agree – was that Otto Rehhagel's team were the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
Before I get accused of jumping on the Greece-bashing bandwagon which has been steadily rolling through the Alps, I know it takes two to tango. Sweden were equally devoid of any flair or inspiration for large periods of the game and it took an individual's brilliance to push them in front. But let's call a spade a spade – Greece were awful.
King Otto himself offered his own take on his team's failings: "I didn't want my defenders to keep the ball at the back for an extended period of time…I didn't want them to do that. (Sweden) simply played too quickly and our midfield play took too long."
"The Greeks didn't play with heart like they normally do."
Stodgy possession, labored movement and lack of heart: I would have expected the first from Greece but the last two aspects were a surprise. When Greece became champions in 2004, one of the main factors behind that success was the fact that no-one could break them down. They held onto possession and frustrated their opponents before delivering a sucker punch. And while it was very seldom an entertaining sight, it was effective. At least they had the added vim and vigor to attack quickly four years ago and a combined heart of Olympian magnitude.
Last night Greece looked at times like a pub team on tour. They struggled with the pace, got their collective wires crossed and looked for all the world like they were counting down the minutes to a scoreless draw and a cold pint or five in the clubhouse.
"I did what I thought was right," Rehhakles added, almost apologetically after the 2-0 defeat. "But if we play like that we won't win the tournament again." He didn't say "ever" but the amount of revamping needed to make Greece a force capable of shocking the world again certainly suggests a very, very long wait.