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 Posted by Gabriele Marcotti
Jun 24, 2014

The rise of Jorge Luis Pinto

Studies show that Costa Rica is one of the happiest places in the world to live. Now the underdogs of Group D give their supporters another reason to party late into the night.

"All jocks think about is sports ... all we think about is sex."

If you remember the 1984 classic "Revenge of the Nerds," that line will sound familiar. It's what Lewis Skolnick (the nerd) replies when Betty Childs (the head cheerleader) asks him why nerds are so good in bed.

Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto isn't a nerd, of course. Not as far as we know. But the fact that he was never a jock -- he never played professionally and went from studying physical education to studying the game in all its forms before getting his first coaching gig -- makes him different from most other managers you'll see at the World Cup.

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He's cut from another, more cerebral, more intensely X's and O's cloth -- think Andre Villas-Boas or Arrigo Sacchi -- than most of his colleagues who were also players. And it's reflected on the pitch.

These are men who come from outside the footballers' old boy network and thus had to work many times as hard to find a way in.

Pinto realized as a teenager that he was never going to be good enough to play professionally, so he got a diploma in physical education instead. Desperate to get into the game, he approached Gabriel Ochoa Uribe, the legendary Colombian coach, and convinced him to give Pinto a job as an assistant fitness coach at Millonarios, in Bogota.

He parlayed this into a three-year "study trip" to Brazil where, among others, he struck up a close relationship with another former fitness coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who would go on to lead the Selecao to the 1994 World Cup and is Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's assistant (some might say co-manager).

This led to a five year stint on the coaching staff at Union Magdalena, after which he got a degree at the Deutsch Sporthochschule in Cologne, Germany.

All the while, Pinto studied, learned and networked. And it paid off. Millonarios hired him as technical director in 1984, leading to a 13-year stint in the Colombian top flight, at four different clubs. From there, he moved to Peru (Alianza Lima) where he won his first title. After another few years in Colombia, it was off to Costa Rica, at Deportivo Alajuelense, where he won back-to-back championships. After another season back in Colombia, at Atletico Junior, he was given the Costa Rica job in 2004.

He was let go after a poor start to qualifying for the 2006 World Cup (Costa Rica did eventually make it to Germany), but following a brief stint with Colombia's Deportivo Cucuta, he was back in international management. This time it was with Colombia, his native country, but a poor showing at the 2007 Copa America eventually cost him his job. There followed club stints in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela (where he won another title) and back to Colombia before being put in charge of Los Ticos in 2011.

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Have notes (and whistle and stopwatch and clipboard), will travel. That's been his life -- 30 years, 19 different jobs -- and he's pretty transparent about it. He has his own website where he says: "Football is my life, my passion, my job and my entertainment."

Indeed, the site is filled with tactical notes and diagrams, as you'd expect from a guy who is rather monothematic in his interests. He lives for the game and his teams are a projection of himself on the pitch.

Costa Rica are among the best-drilled sides at the World Cup. They play a kind of 5-2-2-1 formation which, depending on game situations, seamlessly turns into a 3-4-3.

Like Villas-Boas (and Sacchi before him), Pinto believes in defending high up the pitch, which can be a gamble at times, particularly since he doesn't have a particularly quick back three.

Indeed, Mario Balotelli nearly busted them wide-open when Los Ticos played Italy, latching on to a ball over the top from Andrea Pirlo. But Pinto knows better than most that there's an opportunity cost to every tactical decision. If the high line means conceding the odd ball over the top, so be it: The benefits of congesting the midfield and keeping opposing players far from his goal outweigh the risks.

Like most counterattacking managers, he relies on a speedy forward (Joel Campbell), but where he differs a bit is in the use of his wide men, Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos. They pin back the opposing full-backs and regularly come inside to support, a luxury made possible by his long and exacting training sessions (the one before the Italy game clocked in at three hours).

Given his fitness background, the athletic side of preparation is a given, as is his meticulous pregame study. Pinto likes to barricade himself in a hotel suite with his staff for hours of film study and relentless tactical re-evaluation.

Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto -- Costa Rica
Jorge Luis Pinto's meticulous preparations have paid dividends at this World Cup.

So why does such a meticulous -- and, obviously, clever -- guy end up hopscotching through South America with 19 different stops in three decades?

"He has an obvious weakness: his personality," Ochoa Uribe, his first mentor, said in a 2006 interview with the daily El Pais.

"I've seen him have furious rows with colleagues, referees and club officials. He can be very disagreeable. Other times, I've seen him suffering on the sidelines, isolating himself from those around him. I've told him many times that when he gets upset he should take a deep breath, count to one hundred. And if he's still angry, he should count to one hundred again..."

At 61, Pinto has mellowed a bit. (Just a bit, though: Witness his furious reaction in Denver in March after Jurgen Klinsmann insisted the USA vs. Costa Rica qualifier continue, despite blizzard-like conditions.)

To be fair, Los Ticos have given him few reasons to count to a hundred in this tournament. They've executed to perfection, and Pinto's gambles have paid off handsomely, not least because they were taken at the right time. He has already equaled the country's best-ever World Cup run, matching the 1990 side that reached the round of 16. And, after knocking off both Uruguay and Italy, he wants to add England to his collection of prestigious scalps.

Not having played the game, he's had to scratch and claw for a place in the football food chain. Forget about coming in through the back door. His path was up a fire escape, along a ledge and in through a bathroom window. And that makes it all the sweeter.

Gabriele Marcotti

A London-based journalist and broadcaster who covers world soccer, he is the author of three books, the world soccer columnist for The Times of London and a correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere dello Sport. You can catch him on ESPN FC TV and read him here twice a week.