Roy Hodgson and Marc Wilmots top list of managerial failures at Euro 2016
Exit the excellent. Three weeks into Euro 2016, the quarterfinal defeats of Italy and Iceland brought comparative rarities. Overachieving, truly impressive managers -- in the Azzurri's Antonio Conte and the Scandinavian alliance of Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson -- have been knocked out. They went with their standing enhanced, while others have not. In many cases, disappointing displays by teams can be traced to poor choices taken in the dugouts. In a tournament notable for some dodgy decision-makers, these have been among the worst offenders:
Marc Wilmots (Belgium)
Arguably the greatest failure of management in France. Belgium arrived ranked as the world's second-finest team and were distinctly second best against both Italy and Wales. Wilmots was outmanoeuvred tactically, failing to find a way to break down three-man defences. Thibaut Courtois' analysis of the Wales defeat -- "same tactics, same problem" -- indicated how lessons were not learned. On both occasions, Wilmots' side did not demonstrate the strategic sense or the spirit to respond when they trailed. Their lamentable set-piece marking, highlighted when Ashley Williams headed in Wales' equaliser, hinted at a lack of organisation. A choice of Marouane Fellaini as a No. 10 against Italy was another rudimentary error. And the way that various gifted Belgians -- Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco -- underperformed scarcely reflected well on the manager.
Roy Hodgson (England)
Whatever FA chief executive Martin Glenn claims, defeat to Iceland is Hodgson's legacy. He resigned as a manager who had lost his own identity in a bid to be bold. He tried to shake off his image as a staid, conservative figure by playing attacking football but without the coherence, cleverness or class to prosper. In the process, England lost the defensive solidity they displayed under Hodgson at Euro 2012. They identified the long throws of Iceland's Aron Gunnarsson as a threat but were not sufficiently organised to defend them.
Hodgson preferred to play 4-3-3 while selecting a squad containing a solitary, out-of-form winger, pressing a range of others into service as emergency wide men. Selecting Jack Wilshere, after just 141 minutes of club football this season, was an error and the decision to make six changes, bringing in the Arsenal midfielder against Slovakia reeked of arrogance. England duly drew, plunging them into the harder half of the draw. All of which could have been costly in the latter stages. Their incompetence against Iceland was such that it mattered not.
Vicente del Bosque (Spain)
Call it a failure to heed the warnings from the past, perhaps. In the 2014 World Cup, Spain faced two teams who deployed a back three in Netherlands and Chile and lost to both. Fast forward two years and they were comprehensively dissected by Antonio Conte's Italy, playing 3-5-2. If Spain were too samey, it was a recurring theme. It was understandable that they played the same brand of football that won them three of the previous four major tournaments, but they did so with lesser players in a midfield now shorn of both Xavi and Xabi Alonso.
Del Bosque also fielded the same starting 11 in each of their four games in France. Del Bosque also fielded the same starting 11 in each of their four games in France. While he certainly could not be accused of complacency of selection -- resting no one against Croatia, even though Spain had already qualified, in contrast to Hodgson's rotation policy -- his side felt sterile by the Italy match. Fresher legs were barely tried. Koke was only granted 19 minutes football and Thiago Alcantara 26; given a proper chance, perhaps either would have made a difference. Or perhaps he should have started with Bruno Soriano alongside Sergio Busquets, giving him two holding midfielders.
Adam Nawalka (Poland)
It might appear harsh to criticise a manager who took his country further than they had been in any tournament since 1982 and whose team departed France without losing a game, or even going behind. Nevertheless, there were common denominators in Poland's two knockout matches, against Switzerland and Portugal. They began brightly in both but faded, seeming to run out of ideas. Their manager was nevertheless reluctant to change anything: his first substitution was delayed until the 101st minute against the Swiss and the 82nd minute against the Portuguese. In both, he only made two changes. Nawalka seemed to settle for penalties both times. It was a dangerous formula. It worked once, but not twice. While the unfortunate Jakub Blaszczykowski missed from 12 yards in the quarterfinal shootout, he might not have been required to take that kick were his manager not as passive.
Marcel Koller (Austria)
Probably no manager's plans unravelled as quickly as Koller's. He began Austria's second game without his best defender, the suspended Aleksandar Dragovic, his best striker, the dropped Marc Janko and his best No. 10, the injured Zlatko Junuzovic. And yet misfortune was compounded by strange decision-making, including the sidelining of Janko, who played just 110 minutes in France. In particular, Koller contrived to hamper his greatest talent, David Alaba, by playing him out of position. The Bayern Munich left-back usually lines up in midfield for his country, invariably successfully, but he was muted as a No. 10 in the stalemate against Portugal, when he was substituted after 65 minutes. Still stranger, Alaba was used as a false nine in the defeat to Iceland, when he was understandably uninfluential. Choosing Dragovic as Austria's penalty-taker in that game hardly helped, either. The defender hit the post with his spot kick.
Leonid Slutsky (Russia)
Russia's abject tournament, in which Europe's most populous nation had arguably the worst team in Euro 2016, has to reflect badly on everyone. Slutsky was far from the only culprit but his reputation should be dented nonetheless. He prioritised the short term by selecting the oldest team in the tournament, but Russia failed anyway, looking disorganised and unmotivated. The injuries that ruled out Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov are mitigating factors, but Slutsky then assembled the undistinguished partnership of Roman Neustadter and Aleksandr Golovin, who were so abject they both had to be replaced at half-time against Wales. Selecting the frustrating Aleksandr Kokorin was another decision that backfired. Omitting the erratic but threatening Aleksandr Kerzhakov from his squad looked another mistake. He offers unpredictability, which Russia lacked.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.