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SOCCER

This High-Profile Coaching Quartet Facing the Music

October 15, 2000|GRAHAME L. JONES

Imagine being an oil tycoon who has splurged more than $342 million on soccer players in the last five years.

Imagine that your sixth coach in that same time period has just lost the opening game of the season and has lashed out at those players, calling them "spoiled children" who deserve "a kick up the backside."

What do you do?

For Masimo Moratti the answer was simple. A mere three days into the Italian Serie A season, Inter Milan's president fired Marcello Lippi, one of the most successful and highly regarded coaches in Italy.

That was Oct. 3. Since then, there seems to have been an unending succession of extraordinary controversies involving some of the biggest coaching names in the game. For instance:

* In Brazil, Wanderley Luxemburgo was summarily fired on the same day as Lippi after returning from Sydney without an Olympic gold medal. He also faces a government probe into alleged tax evasion.

* In Germany, prosecutors are investigating Christoph Daum, who is supposed to take over as the national team's coach, for possible fraud. At the same time, the eccentric Daum has defended himself against drug-use claims by submitting a sample of his hair for testing.

* In England, Kevin Keegan resigned in dramatic fashion Oct. 7 after a loss to Germany in a World Cup qualifier that was also the last game played at historic Wembley Stadium. Keegan, who has been accused of tactical naivete by his own players, amazingly admitted that the job was beyond his ability.

Seldom, perhaps never, before have so many lurid allegations and so much conflict surrounded coaches in four of the world's top soccer-playing nations at the same time.

And it didn't help that Romario, the striker who led Brazil to its 1994 World Cup victory in the United States, chipped in with some biting comments of his own after Luxemburgo denied him the chance to play in the Sydney Olympics.

After Brazil had been knocked out in the quarterfinals by eventual gold medalist Cameroon and after Luxemburgo had been fired, Romario delivered a scathing verdict on coaches.

"The coach should keep out of the way," he said after scoring four goals in a 6-0 thrashing of Venezuela in Maracaibo, Venezuela, in a World Cup 2002 qualifying game overseen by Luxemburgo's interim successor, Candinho.

"He is an important figure, of course, but is more likely to lose a match than win it. Matches are won by players."

But not if the wrong coach is in charge, apparently.

Keegan, a three-time European player of the year, was a popular choice as England's coach when he was named to succeed Glenn Hoddle 20 months ago. But his brief reign proved once again that a gifted player does not necessarily make a gifted coach.

The doom and gloom surrounding Wembley on a rain-soaked afternoon was bad enough in the wake of a 1-0 loss to what the Times of London called "the old enemy."

But it was entirely predictable after Keegan made the bizarre decision to counter Germany's five-man midfield with a three-man midfield of his own.

Long before that disastrous decision, Martin Keown, an England national team player, had written in a ghosted newspaper column that Keegan was "tactically inept."

So it proved.

"I knew things weren't right in the first half, but I struggled to think what they were," Keegan admitted after Germany had overrun England.

As the Times said: "The improvement once Keegan altered his formation at halftime only emphasized the grossness of his blundering."

Keegan resigned immediately after the defeat, delivering an extraordinary and unprecedented mea culpa.

"I probably had a longer run than I could have expected," he said. "I just don't feel I can find that little bit of extra that you need at this level to find that winning formula."

Taking the blame didn't help. The next day the English media still lambasted him, calling him a "coward" and a "deserter."

In Germany, meanwhile, fans were torn between celebrating interim Coach Rudi Voeller's third consecutive triumph (following a 4-1 victory over Spain and a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Greece) and the drama surrounding Daum.

Today, the German soccer federation (DFB) will hold a meeting at its headquarters in Frankfurt to try to end the row between Bayer Leverkusen's Daum and Bayern Munich's business manager, Uli Hoeness, who has said Daum is not fit to be national coach if the allegations surrounding him are proved true.

German prosecutors are investigating Daum for fraud and embezzlement after a former business associate accused the coach of owing him money from a property deal in Mallorca. Adding to the soap opera quality of the scandal is the fact that the business associate is the former husband of Daum's current girlfriend.

Equally bizarre are the quotes that have been attributed to Luxemburgo in his legal battles in Brazil.

"I have had problems with checks bouncing," he said at one point. At a news conference at a Copacabana hotel he echoed another former fallen leader: "I am not a crook," he said. "I do not have to hide in my house.' '

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