Looking at the next Conte, Simeone
After the success of Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte in recent seasons, it seems that generation -- those whose playing careers straddled both the 20th and 21st centuries -- is set to produce a number of excellent coaches. Five more are taking their bow at major clubs this season -- here's the lowdown on their expectations for 2014-15.
Claude Makelele, Bastia
Few players are so dominant that their name becomes synonymous with their role, but the "Makelele role" became widespread, at least in England, because of the French midfielder's impact at Real Madrid and Chelsea.
A no-nonsense, sturdy holding midfielder who never ventured forward, if Makelele's coaching style is similar to his playing style, expect Bastia to be solid and well-drilled. They certainly need to improve defensively -- despite finishing in mid-table last season, only the three relegated sides conceded more goals.
Perhaps that explains why Makelele's most notable signing has been in goal. Veteran Mickael Landreau -- who played in the national team alongside Makelele -- has retired, and therefore Bastia have made an excellent loan acquisition of PSG's Alphonse Areola, France's U21 goalkeeper.
Makelele has plenty of experienced players to work with, however. Former Arsenal centre-back Sebastien Squillaci has impressed back in Ligue 1, Ivorian midfielder Romaric remains useful and Djibril Cisse still offers tremendous pace upfront, despite turning 33 in a couple of weeks. Other key players, like Francois Modesto and another loan signing, Belgian Guillaume Gillet, are also in their 30s.
The manager's on-field leader, however, is the man who plays the Makelele role. Yannick Cahuzac is tough-tackling defensive midfielder and, having been born in Corsica and played for Bastia his whole career, is the obvious choice as captain.
Makelele will be a tough man to impress.
Willy Sagnol, Bordeaux
Another former French international taking charge of a Ligue 1 club, Sagnol was actually Bordeaux's second choice for the position -- their first was Zinedine Zidane, who played for the club for four years in the mid-1990s. He chose to stay in Madrid, and Sagnol was appointed instead, after a promising stint as France's U21 coach, turning down the Lyon job in the process.
So far, the most interesting thing about his tenure has been his press conferences. When quizzed about Joey Barton -- a slightly odd choice of question -- he didn't tread carefully.
"Barton, yes, he is stupid. He has never won anything, his career is full of problems," Sagnol fired back.
Meanwhile, he's not interested in journalists' opinions of his team.
"For me, a journalist has no technical competence when it comes to football, and a manager knows nothing about journalism," he says. "I often talk to my journalist friends. They say, 'We have been watching matches for 20 years.' But I have been watching films for 20 years, but I do not consider myself in a position to critique pieces of cinema."
After a disappointing seventh-place finish last season, Sagnol will be expected to finish in the top four. Goals should come from towering striker Cheick Diabaté, although the departure of diminutive playmaker Ludovic Obraniak, who has joined Werder Bremen, is a blow. Grégory Sertic, the talented midfielder who has recently declared for Croatia, is the team's main playmaker.
As for Sagnol's old right-back position, there shouldn't be too much debate. Mariano Ferreira Filho was the club's only ever-present player last season, and he is a rampaging Brazilian full-back that should be to his manager's liking.
Pippo Inzaghi, AC Milan
Of all the Milan legends from that era -- Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Rui Costa and the rest -- you wouldn't have considered Inzaghi as management material. But after an underwhelming half-season from another hero of that generation, Clarence Seedorf, Inzaghi is stepping up from the youth team to coach the full side.
The main acquisition so far is Jeremy Menez, who has returned to Serie A -- where he occasionally excelled for Roma -- after a disappointing spell at PSG. There is unquestionably great attacking quality in the Milan side, with Menez joining Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Keisuke Honda and with highly-rated Hachim Mastour set to be given opportunities.
The problem is that these are all highly inconsistent players, and Inzaghi's main job is getting the squad organised and motivated. Last season brought Milan's lowest league finish in 16 years, but it's clearly not because of the lack of talent. It remains to be seen whether Inzaghi commands more respect than Seedorf.
Inzaghi seems keen on a possession-oriented game, perhaps more similar to the Milan side of the mid-2000s than in recent seasons, and in training that's concentrated heavily on getting his attackers to pass the ball with great speed -- Milan's play last season was often shockingly slow. Intriguingly, he's also recruited Gianni Vio, who won plaudits at Fiorentina's dedicated set-piece coach.
It shouldn't be too long before we have Inzaghi vs. Inzaghi in Serie A. Pippo's younger brother Simone has also enjoyed great success with the youth team of his former club, Lazio, and was nearly handed their main coaching job this summer. He should be in position within two years, but will Pippo still be at Milan?
Cosmin Contra, Getafe
A rampaging right-back who spent four years at Getafe as a player, Contra was the obvious choice as their next manager. He had two encouraging spells back in Romania as a coach, which sandwiched a good half-season at Fuenlabrada -- a third-tier club based 15 minutes down the road from Getafe.
Getafe is a strange club, based on the outskirts of Madrid. Their stadium lacks atmosphere and is usually empty, and the club's finances are always a cause for concern, lacking money to buy established players. It takes a strong coach to motivate the players and form a solid, cohesive unit in such surroundings.
However, Contra has made an interesting signing in Frenchman Karim Yoda. He impressed Contra with his performances in Romania's top division, helping Astra Giurgiu to their highest-ever finish of second place. An all-round midfield powerhouse in the mold of Patrick Vieira, he could make a big impact in La Liga.
Getafe's main strength is the pace of their attackers -- and in keeping with Contra's playing style, Getafe are particularly dangerous down the flanks. Diego Castro and Pedro Leon impressed last season, and Contra will probably urge the full-backs to get forward and support them keenly.
Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid Castilla
Zidane is the exception on this list, as the only coach working outside the top division. But as the poster boy of his generation, it's tough not to be excited about his work with Real Madrid's B team, especially because it seems like he's being groomed to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the top job. In effect, Real are trying to recreate Barcelona's development of Pep Guardiola.
There's actually a chance Castilla could play in the second tier next season, in the unlikely event both Racing and Murcia are denied a license to compete because of financial problems. In a way, Zidane might prefer to work in the third tier, with slightly less pressure and the knowledge that his side can be promoted, which wouldn't be possible from the Segunda.
Zidane's role will be mainly about developing talented youngsters, however. Particularly intriguing is that he'll be in charge of his own son, 19-year-old Enzo, who uses his mother's surname, Fernandez.
Enzo has been promoted from the Juvenil A squad to the Castilla squad for 2014-15, wears the "10" shirt Zidane came to symbolise for France and shares elements of his father's game, particularly in the way he glides across the pitch with possession.
Zidane's three younger children -- Luca (16), Theo (12) and Elyaz (8) -- are also involved in Real Madrid's youth academy, albeit a long way from working with him. But who knows? In a decade, Zidane could be coaching Real's senior side with his four sons across the midfield.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.