2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs/Countries: Argentina U20s, Argentina, Toluca, Tigres UANL, Colombia
Honours: U20 World Cup: 1995, 1997, 2001; South American Under-20 Championship: 1997, 1999.
One of three Argentine managers leading a South American side into the World Cup in Brazil -- Chile's Jorge Sampaoli and Argentina's Alejandro Sabella are the others -- Jose Pekerman has breathed new life into Colombia's national side since taking charge in January 2012. After he replaced Leonel Alvarez, Colombia, who had started underwhelmingly, enjoyed a huge upturn in form and ended up qualifying for Brazil with something to spare.
Pekerman's playing career as a central midfielder -- he came through the same Argentinos Juniors youth system which a decade later would produce Diego Maradona -- was cut short by a serious knee injury at the age of just 28, while playing in Colombia for Independiente Medellin. Thereafter, he took up coaching, and did reasonable jobs in charge of the youth systems of Chacarita Juniors, Argentinos -- where he oversaw the early development of, among others, Juan Pablo Sorin and Fernando Redondo -- and Chilean giants Colo-Colo.
His talent for nurturing youth led to a gig with the Argentine FA, where he was in charge of the under-20s from 1994 to 2001, winning three out of four U20 World Cups and laying the foundations for the 2005 and 2007 victories at the same level. In 2003, already working as sporting director at Deportivo Leganes, he almost took over as manager of the Spanish second division club, but due to his lack of club experience at the top level, Spanish rules didn't allow him to.
After taking charge of the Argentina senior side in 2004, he led his nation to a runners-up finish in the 2005 Confederations Cup before taking them to Germany in 2006, where they turned in some of the tournament's most memorable performances -- most notably a 6-0 evisceration of a Serbia and Montenegro side who had conceded just one goal in ten qualifying matches.
Questioned after substituting Juan Roman Riquelme as Argentina exited to Germany in the quarterfinals, Pekerman stood down, and went on to qualified success with Toluca and a less happy (and very short) spell as Tigres manager, both in Mexico.
His time with Colombia began well -- a 2-0 win over Mexico in a friendly -- and he has continued in the same vein, revitalising a previously misfiring attack and leading Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup since France '98. He has ensured that Colombia, who rose to fourth in the FIFA rankings under Phis stewardship, will be dangerous opponents for anyone in Brazil.
Strengths: Has worked with a lot of very, very talented players, and knows how to get the absolute best out of them. Loves his sides to play attacking football, and with the talent at Colombia's disposal, that makes him an ideal fit for them.
Weaknesses: In his homeland at least, a question mark will continue to hang over his decision-making under pressure regarding that substitution in 2006. Should he have hooked Riquelme? Was Esteban Cambiasso really the right man to replace the playmaker, given Pablo Aimar and Lionel Messi were sitting on the bench?
Career high: Managing your side to a World Cup win in your own country, scoring 27 goals and conceding just four in seven matches has to be hard to top, surely. Okay, it was at Under-20 level, but even so...
Career low: The manner of Argentina's loss to Germany in the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal.
Tactics: Attack, attack, attack! And keep it clean -- his Argentina youth sides made a habit of picking up fair play awards, and even at full national level he managed to break a traditional stereotype of Argentina teams -- no big surprise, considering a lot of the players at the 2006 World Cup had come through his own system.
Quotes: "I want to make it clear that I'm here because I know all about the potential of Colombian football." Pekerman outlines his vision on the day he was unveiled as Colombia manager.
Trivia: Following his forced retirement as a player, he spent a while supporting himself by driving a taxi in Buenos Aires. Pekerman also claims to be a distant cousin of Gregory Peck; the manager says his grandfather, who emigrated to Argentina from Ukraine, had a brother who moved to the United States around the same time, and who subsequently fathered the mid-20th century Hollywood star. Unfortunately, Peck's family tree doesn't support Pekerman's grandfather's story.
Words: Sam Kelly