Players win games and coaches lose them, or so the saying goes. But while Euro 2012 -- and any other tournament for that matter -- is primarily about the performers on the field, managers can have an immense impact, as well. Can they handle the big egos in the squad? Do they find a way to get their best 11 players on the field? And perhaps most important of all, when the unexpected strikes -- and it usually does at the worst possible time -- can they adjust in a way that leaves their team coming out stronger?
In all, the first fortnight of Euro 2012 has seen more than a few managers resoundingly answer each of these questions in the affirmative.
5. Joachim Low, Germany
When you manage a team as loaded as the Mannschaft, it’s tempting to think that all you have to do is roll out the balls during warmups, give a few words of encouragement and let the players take over. But Low has been faced with his share of tricky challenges, not the least of which was trying to emerge from the Group of Death (something he did without dropping a point). Yet there’s more. He has managed to get Mats Hummels to replicate his club performances with the national team, and the rest of the back line has solidified around him. That said, set pieces remain a worry. And Low also stuck by oft-criticized striker Mario Gomez, his faith repaid with three goals of high quality.
Such are the expectations surrounding Germany that should the team stumble, Low will get all of the blame, but so far, his work has been impressive.
4. Fernando Santos, Greece
It’s easy to forget that less than 45 minutes into Greece’s first match against Poland, the Galanolefki's Euro campaign seemed set to unravel. The Greeks were down a goal, had lost a starting defender to injury and had another ejected in a game that they had to get something out of to have any hope of progressing to the knockout stages. Yet even after Greece rallied to extract a draw against the co-host, a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic put the team in the seemingly impossible position of needing to beat Russia to advance. Yet that is precisely what happened. In the process, Santos showed off his flexibility in acknowledging that his decision to play Jose Holebas at left back wasn’t working, replacing him with Giorgos Tzavelas, while the team spirit has remained excellent as well. All told, Santos has proven himself to be a worthy successor to legendary Greece manager Otto Rehhagel.
3. Michal Bilek, Czech Republic
Bilek gets the award for the most impressive resurrection of the first round. The Czechs were an absolute disaster in their opening 4-1 defeat against Russia, with the defense looking especially suspect in transition. But the insertion of Tomas Hubschman into a holding midfield role proved a master stroke as it allowed Petr Jiracek to slide into the right side of midfield, where he’s been devastating. His insertion of David Limbersky to left back allowed him to move Michal Kadlec into the center of defense, further solidifying the back line, and the Czechs have conceded just one goal since. For a man who was heavily criticized during the Czechs' qualifying campaign, Bilek has made all of the right moves, and his team deservedly topped its group.
2. Cesare Prandelli, Italy
Expectations are always high for Italy, but Prandelli’s ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances has been remarkable. An emerging match-fixing scandal robbed him of starting defender Domenico Criscito before a calf injury to Andrea Barzagli further depleted his back line. Yet rather than persist with his preferred 4-3-1-2, Prandelli trotted out a 3-5-2 with nominal midfielder Daniele De Rossi operating as a sweeper. It worked a treat against Spain and Croatia and when Barzagli returned to health, Prandelli reverted to four at the back for the Ireland match. The Irish surprised everyone by pressing Italy high up the field, so Prandelli simply added another player into midfield to help win second balls and get his team playing on the deck again. Now Prandelli has Italy through to the knockout stages, helping to purge the Azzurri's memories of the debacle that was the 2010 World Cup.
1. Roy Hodgson, England
How often have you heard a manager state that he needs more time to get his system in place? It happens a lot, yet Hodgson has proven that a little more than one month is more than enough time to get things right -- amazing considering how many dilemmas he had to sort out. When Roy started, he was without a captain, had an unsettled central defense, faced a conundrum over how best to compensate for Wayne Rooney’s two-game suspension, and suffered injuries to three likely starters: Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill.
Yet Hodgson navigated past all of these potential landmines with aplomb and even managed to steer his side to the top spot in Group D. The quarterfinals typically have been where England’s tournament hopes go to die, but even if that bit of history repeats itself, Hodgson can hold his head high given his performance under highly difficult circumstances.