Sherlock Holmes had Dr.Watson and Batman had Robin. The tougher the task in front of the hero, the bigger is the importance of his assistant. Football is no exception to this. The 11 on the pitch, and the manager who controls them are hailed for all the success that a club attains. But away from the limelight, the assistant coaches help their bosses crack that unbeatable strategy.
When the tide is rough and the going gets tough, the assistant coach is often the go-to man for the manager. But most of the times, the assistants are happy to stay behind the camera.
We bring into spotlight 5 such men donning the cloak of the assistant managers who have been instrumental in their team’s success.
#5 Hermann Gerland
Hermann Gerland deserves to be the first mention on this list. A big breakthrough happened in Gerland’s career in 2009 when he rejoined Bayern Munich as an assistant coach under Jupp Heynckes. Since then, it has been a romantic story for Hermann with the Bavarian club where he tasted Champions League glory and won 6 Bundesliga titles. Hermann Gerland was also instrumental in helping Bayern complete a treble in 2012/13 season and helped them win a double thrice.
Gerland's teams mainly rely on 4-2-3-1 formation while sometimes resorting to 4-3-3 attacking setup with a single no.6 in the field. By the look of his team in past years, Gerland prefers versatile midfielders who can operate as box-to-box as well as deep playmakers.
It’s because of such tactical preferences that Bayern Munich had players such as Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thiago Alcantara. During his tenure, Gerland has worked under an envious list of managers such as Jupp Heynckes, Louis Van Gaal, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti. He. Because of his aggressive defensive tactics, Gerland is often referred to as The Tiger.
Gerland has a terrific eye for talent too and the fact that his players like Tomas Muller, Toni Kroos and captain Philipp Lahm were the architect of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team is veritable proof of his ability to spot talent.
#4 Pep Lijnders
The journey from being the technical coach to youth coach to assistant manager took Pep Lijnders to the shores of Portugal and England, where he worked for FC Porto and Liverpool FC respectively.After impressing as a youth coach, he was drafted into Jurgen Klopp’s coaching team for the Merseyside club in 2015. However, after the Jurgen Klopp-Zeljko Buvac fallout, Lijnders became Klopp’s brain and heartbeat for the team. Klopp appreciates Lijnders’ knowledge of using 4-3-3 in a defensive setup. Lijnders emphasizes on the importance of interception and positional transition among midfielders. The vital contribution of Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson in the club’s UCL winning campaign is a testimony to the assistant coach's philosophy.
Thanks to his communication skills, understanding of the setup and his bond with the academy players, Pep Lijnders is often touted to be the next-in-line once Jurgen Klopp steps down as the manager of Liverpool.
#3 Moritz Volz
Born in Germany and made in England is how one can define Moritz Volz. There is nothing exemplary to talk about Moritz Volz’s career except that, during his stint at Fulham, he arrived for home matches on his bicycle. However, he enjoys cult status at Craven Cottage for his passion and commitment. Post-retirement, he decided to join Arsenal’s scouting team as the chief German Scout, having been in Germany since 2010. The fruits of Volz’s efforts are there to be seen at Arsenal as they signed some of the best Bundesliga talents including first-team regulars Bernd Leno, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac.
The offer to assist Julian Nagelsmann, one of the hottest property in football manager world, at RB Leipzig was too lucrative to reject for Volz. Nagelsmann introduced a 3-1-4-2 formation with the wingbacks operating up and down the flank to support defence as and when needed.
Volz’s inputs helped solidify the 3-man defence and technical contribution as to how the wingbacks can shift gears as and when needed. Volz’s experience of being a scout came in handy as Nagelsmann employed the services of some exciting talents such as Dani Olmo, Angelino and Ethan Ampadu at RB Leipzig. It is because of this squad depth, that Nagelsmann time and again tweaks his formation to 4-4-2 with a double base of holding midfielders.
The progressive brand of Nagelsmann and Volz’s attacking style of play has blended well in the Leipzig system as they gave Bayern Munich a run for their money and knocked Spurs out in Champions League.
#2 German Burgos
During the 2010/11 season, a tectonic shift occurred in La Liga when Diego Simeone was appointed as the manager of Atletico Madrid; along with him arrived his former Argentina and Los Rojiblancos teammate German Burgos as the assistant head coach. The duo injected a strong sense of character in the team, shrugging off the mediocrity of past seasons and putting in a series of gutsy performances.
Simeone and Burgos implemented the 4-4-2 formation, with two holding midfielders in the middle and made it a vacuum defence against which even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were left smothered at times. With two defensive midfielders, the midfielders on either side carry the responsibility of supplying the ball to the forwards and recovering the ball high up the pitch.
Burgos and Simeone both believe in aggressive man-marking and intense pressing throughout the game. The latest example of successfully implementing this formation and strategy was the home clash against Champions League title holders Liverpool in the round of 16, where the threat of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane was nullified by Simeone’s men. Though the double 6 hasn’t been a fool-proof strategy, it has worked wonders for Atletico Madrid as the club won 7 trophies besides ending up as UCL runner ups twice.
Be it his 11-game suspension at Mallorca after punching Espanyol player Serrano or threatening Mourinho with “I am no Tito” remark during the Madrid derby, German Burgos probably was always counted among the ‘bad boys’ of football.
But Mono, as he is often called as, will always be credited for adding a dash of brashness to his team, and for being a catalyst in breaking the monopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the league.
#1 René Marić
A simple football lover from Austria started blogging about football tactics and strategies. His blogs were spotted by a football manager of a big club and offered him to work with him. One thing led to another, and our simple football lover is now an assistant manager of a top Bundesliga club. Sounds like a successful script of a super hit movie, right? This fairy tale is a true story, and René Marić is its hero.
After an injury ended his blooming career, René Marić shifted his focus towards ‘learning’ football and dissecting tactics of famous teams. He has a unique creative spark that helps him design tactics to take on bigger teams.
He has put his psychology degree to good use as the super blend of his academics, tactical acumen and creativity makes him one of the most interesting football coaches in Europe. Marco Rose has been a key factor in René Marić’s career, as he was the first one to make full use of his incredible football intelligence. Perhaps, it isn’t shocking that it was Marco Rose’s genius along with Marić by his side that helped Red Bull Salzburg win the 2016/17 UEFA Youth League, the first European trophy in the club’s history. Although Marić prefers the 4-3-1-2 formation, he has developed his teams in such a way that he can alter the formation with the same set of players into 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond or even 3-5-2 flat.
In the world of football where playing styles are described as heavy metal or symphony, René Marić is the Mozart who is a beautiful confluence of art and science.
Zeljko Buvac who is now the Sporting Director of FC Dynamo Moscow, Joao Sacramento, assistant of Jose Mourinho at Tottenham Hotspur, David Bettoni, Zinedine Zidane’s assistant at Real Madrid, and Angelo Alessio, Antonio Conte’s right-hand man at Juventus, Italy national team.