Hi OTF, with the EUROs coming towards their close, I thought I'd write a little piece about the many different fascinating threads that the tournament's spun, through the lens of how the various managers have over- or under-performed. I've always thought international managers in general deserve a bit more written about them; so often they're a bit of an afterthought to the players that make the headlines.
I hope this proves interesting to read through, or at least functions as an adequate distraction to those chewing their nails as we await a potentially nerve-shredding final
1st - Gareth Southgate (England, 8.5/10)
One of the most questioned figures in international football going into the Euros, he will leave it one of the most vindicated. Gareth Southgate took an awful lot of stick for his team's performance in the Nations League for often playing turgid football, but it has turned out to be an instructive experience that has toughened his side up - you can't argue too much with a record of one conceded after 570 minutes of football! England have been a team built for a marathon, not a sprint.
It's remarkable how many issues Southgate has been able to solve since the World Cup - whereas before his team lived and died by his swashbuckling but vulnerable 3-1-4-2, now his team looks equally capable of playing with systems using both two and three centre-backs. His use of substitutions has also shown improvement. Now seemingly he comes into every game with a plan that covers multiple scenarios over the length of a game; his team on the one occasion it has gone behind has reacted superbly. Southgate even seems to have fixed the issue of playing Rice and Phillips together (if only England were able to solve that issue with a certain other pair of midfielders several years ago!).
To top it all off, the team cohesion off the pitch remains at the best it's been for decades - a first ever European Championship final seems just reward for the way Southgate has steered the Three Lions so far.
2nd - Roberto Mancini (Italy, 8/10)
Mancini found Rome a city of bricks, and has made it a city of marble. Picking up the wreckage of the Ventura-era was always going to be monumental task. and Mancini could have been forgiven if his team weren't quite the finished article. However, his dynamic 4-3-3 with Jorginho as its metronome has looked like one of the best teams at the tournament - the likes of Insigne and Chiesa have looked threatening both on the front foot and on the counter, and his devastating use of the flying Spinazzola had created a problem that almost no team had been able to solve.
Perhaps relying on the not-so-mobile-these-days Chiellini and Bonucci may one day come back to bite him, but whatever happens in the final, Mancini's force of renewal as otherwise swept through the team, and once again made it feared across Europe.
3rd - Kasper Hjulmand (Denmark, 8/10)
It's been a very long time since we've seen a Danish side look this impressive. It's the mark of a fine international manager that finds performances out of players that you don't normally associate them with at club level, and Hjulmand has several examples to point to from his team's showing. Højbjerg and Delaney were made to look every bit as good as any midfield in the tournament bar the Spaniards, Christensen was much more than the basic, plodding centre-back he's seen as by many at Chelsea, and I doubt there were too many Sampdoria fans expecting Mikkel Damsgaard to look like the jewel he did either.
It should also go without saying that keeping the team's spirits high after a day of near-tragedy in their opening match deserves a huge amount of praise, and there is no question that after this summer, Hjulmand will be a figure that his players will always look up to.
If there is to be one criticism of him however, he's perhaps been a bit too hasty to make substitutions in big games to try to play more solidly. Both against the Czechs and England, he disrupted his team's rhythm in this way, and taking Damsgaard off in that semi in hindsight was a major turning point. A semi-final for Denmark it still was though, and reaching that stage of a major tournament for the first time in 29 years ought to be nothing to turn one's nose up at.
4th - Jaroslav Šilhavý (Czech Republic, 7.5/10)
Helped his team navigate a potentially perilous group stage by staying compact and disciplined, and then sprung one of the competition's biggest upsets as the Czechs turned over the Netherlands. Even before the sending-off in that match, his team were getting a major foothold in the game through persistent raids on their weak left flank, but they converted their man-advantage immaculately.
Was unlucky to come out on the wrong side of an evenly matched quarter final with Denmark, and it was his changes at half time that brought them back into the game. The Danes eventually held out, but Šilhavý's side definitely wouldn't have looked out of place in the last four either.
5th - Franco Foda (Austria, 7.5/10)
Austria might not have looked up to much in the first couple of games in this tournament, but Foda's adjustments to his side in which his side shut down a dangerous Ukraine team with proactive pressing to win 1-0 was one of the best examples of a manager learning from experience within the competition.
Foda stuck to his guns facing a formidable Italy which had so far swept aside all comers with little difficulty, and proceeded to cause them the most problems they had faced to that point, coming within a marginal offside call of knocking them out before extra time. Could conceivably have taken his team much further had the luck of the draw not gone against him.
6th - Luis Enrique Martínez García (Spain, 7/10)
"Morata and ten more!" Such was the response that typified the ex-Barcelona coach's stubbornness when the selection of his pilloried number-7 came into question. Beyond that, his choice of centre-back pairings and tombola-esque approach to picking his wide forwards came as additional headscratchers.
However, his team's control of the midfield across all his games cannot be denied. Spain created more quality chances than anyone else - Spain's character may have wavered (several times in fact), but tactically his team was consistently set up to play to its strengths. That his eventual demise in the semi finals came alongside his best showing in that department (Olmo's role as a false nine at times helped overwhelm Italy's midfield), comes only as the cruelest twists of fate.
7th - Vladimir Petković (Switzerland, 7/10)
He might have needed a game against a sleepwalking Turkey to rescue his campaign, but his shootout triumph over reigning world champions France should go down as one of his and Switzerland's proudest moments. His team ruthlessly exploited his opponents down the flanks in the first half, and in the second showed the character after missing the penalty and going 3-1 down to keep up the intensity in midfield and take advantage of France's mistakes to equalise.
Petković hadn't even been born the last time the Swiss won a knockout tie at a major tournament, but he wasn't too far away from making it two on the spin against Spain, and his team were good value for their 1-1 scoreline until a soft red card decision went against Remo Freuler. In the end, he'd managed to fashion a team that looked well within their depth with Europe's elite, after an unconvincing start.
8th - Marco Rossi (Hungary, 6.5/10)
Rossi and his Hungarians were given no hope following the group stage draw, yet they came within less than ten minutes of doing the improbable and making the knockouts and knocking Germany out in the process. The Magyars were combative, and frustrated all three of their past-champion opponents with their approach.
If only they could have held their nerve and seen out that game in Munich, Rossie would have found himself even higher up on this list, but the fact that he made his team as competitive as it was, shorn of their creative talisman in Szoboszlai, is no mean feat.
9th - Janne Andersson (6/10)
Just as they were in the World Cup in Russia, Janne Andersson's Swedish 4-4-2 were a bastard to break down, if not pretty to watch. One can get away with it if one has a player of the calibre of Emil Forsberg to carry the team's creativity though; his team stayed compact and sprung the trap to top the group, and might have had three wins out of three if Marcus Berg could convert the game's best chance against Spain.
Alas, their last-16 tie against Ukraine didn't quite go to script, but it did show that Andersson's side could play in a more dynamic style when required. Couldn't truly be faulted for his team wilting in extra time with ten men; in a game of fine margins, you don't always get the luck you deserve as a manager.
10th - Steve Clarke (Scotland, 6/10)
Another major tournament, another group stage exit for Scotland, but I don't think you pin too much of the blame on the manager this time. The team showed both grit and guile, if not goals - some of the chances that fell to Dykes and Adams Clarke must have wished he was able to head in himself, and that's before we mention that two of the goals they shipped were up there with the best in the competition.
If nothing else, the gutsy point taken from Wembley against one of the finalists should show how much this Scotland team has progressed under Clarke from the not-too-distant memories of being pumped in Kazakhstan.
11th - Roberto Martínez (Belgium, 5.5/10)
There'll definitely be no nostalgia for the Wilmots days, even after Belgium's last-8 exit in what might be their last really good chance to win at a European Championship for a while. Martínez' 3-4-3 still functions much better than his predecessor's efforts at both ends of the pitch - Belgium these days are a lot tighter at the back than his carefree approach at Wigan and Everton would suggest.
Unfortunately, for the very best opponents, it's gotten a little predictable. The 1-0 over defending champions Portugal was an impressive result, but perhaps also illusory, and Martínez seems to have developed a crutch in playing favourites with has-beens such as Nacer Chadli, where other options might have been preferable. Hardly a disaster-tournament for him though; don't expect too many to be calling for his head just yet.
12th - Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine, 5.5/10)
Was somewhat lucky to see his side go through as the weakest of the four third-placed finishers, but deserves recognition for th tactical changes that ended up drawing Sweden into the wilderness in extra time in their last-16 tie.
Defensive discipline remains his side's achilles heel; Ukraine were the only side not to double mark Kane for most of the match, and the fact that he was able to score twice tells its own story. Still, he and the fans have plenty to look back on fondly on from this tournament - their buildup has invariably slick, and was capped off by a couple of outstanding goals at its best.
13th - Markku Kanerva (Finland, 5.5/10)
Engendered a real team spirit whilst having to deal with arguably the weakest squad on paper of all the teams at the tournament - there were no Jari Litmanens for Kanerva to call up. His team lacked severely in guile, but not in guts, and we shouldn't forget that they were over three quarters of the way to eking out a draw against one of international football's most devastating attacking teams.
Was unfortunate not to be able to celebrate their debut win as much as they would have been able to under other circumstances.
14th - Robert Page (Wales, 5/10)
Considering most observers expected Wales would struggle to get out of their group, Page can be reasonably satisfied with making the last 16. His failure to find an answer to Denmark's use of Christensen to gain an advantage in midfield after a promising opening 15 minutes in said knockout game did lay some of his limitations bare, but at least the squad seem to be playing for the manager, and playing a better brand of football than under Giggs for the most part to boot.
15th - Blagoja Milevski (North Macedonia, 5/10)
Though they went out with three played and three lost, Milevski still deserves a fair amount of credit for trying to play to his teams strengths and for using a positive brand of football. North Macedonia were never short of chances and the creativity of Bardhi and Elmas was allowed to flourish; only for a bit of defensive naïvety (which, in international football especially, is critical) to prove their downfall in each of their matches.
One could easily see this team return in three years time a bit more worldy-wise, and the North Macedonian footballing brass could do a lot worse than to allow Milevski another crack at it.
16th - Joachim Löw (Germany, 4.5/10)
It's rather fitting that Jogi Löw's 197-game tenure of Germany were to end with a knockout defeat to England. One era of optimism after exorcising a ghost that had haunted them for decades as another ended, with Germany's previous aura of indomitability well and truly gone.
In truth, Germany did have some causes to be hopeful themselves, not least in the performances of Gosens and Havertz, and they did start strongly against England in their knockout match, but as the game gradually slipped away from them, Löw didn't really have a response, and Müller's miss when clean through from a freak England mistake only summed up the fact that it wasn't to be Germany's day.
17th - Stanislav Cherchesov (Russia, 4/10)
Cherchesov is largely saved from being placed lower on this list by the relative dearth of talent at his disposal compared to his opponents, especially in defence. That said, the shambolic display against Belgium and poor show of character against Denmark have to bring at least some blame back to the head coach, and his ultra-negative approach in the latter game will hardly have endeared him and his team to many neutrals.
18th - Štefan Tarkovič (Slovakia, 4/10)
In hindsight, Slovakia's 2-1 opening victory over Poland came more as a result of their opponent's disorganisation than by any stroke of genius by Tarkovič. Slovakia were not to score another goal, and his refusal to turn to his squad's most recognised centre-forward in Róbert Boženík in either game certainly seems a regrettable one.
His side's shiftless performance in a 0-5 defeat in their final match was arguably the worst of the tournament.
19th - Zlatko Dalić (Croatia, 4/10)
You wonder how much longer Dalić will be able to ride on his World Cup run. His team, whilst depleted from three years ago, was still richly talented, and a number of peculiar selection decisions held his team back this tournament. Joško Gvardiol may be one of the most promising young players of his generation, but a left back he is not, and given what we saw from him against Spain, fans will be left wondering how much better Croatia might have done if he'd trusted Mislav Oršić over the misfiring Rebić from the beginning.
Luka Modrić might have been able to bail him out against the battling Scots at Hampden to see them into the knockout stages, but he could only carry them so far - and it's looking increasingly questionable as to whether Dalić has any better ideas than hoping he can win control of the midfield on his own for the big games, something he won't be able to do for much longer.
20th - Paulo Sousa (Poland, 3.5/10)
One really hopes that Poland's displays put a final nail in the coffin of the practice of national football associations sacking managers that qualify for major tournaments in order to make a more 'stylish' appointment for the competition proper. Paulo Sousa came into the job with grand visions, but it was clear here that the Polish team were struggling to adapt to the way he wanted his team to play, particularly in their midfield structure. A very ordinary Slovakia side were made to look almost Brazil-like as they kept finding space in between the lines and out wide - even the overly-pragmatic Swedes were having no trouble playing flowing football!
Jerzy Brzęczek could only have been watching on back home in total frustration.
21st - Fernando Santos (Portugal, 3/10)
Like France, Portugal's hopes at this tournament were undone by, amongst other things, a lack of attacking co-ordination. Each of his forwards seemed to be largely doing their own thing, and if it were not for Renato Sanches' introduction and the aid of a fortunate deflection against Hungary, his team might have exited the competition without a single victory. Soft penalty calls boosted Cristiano Ronaldo's goal tally and masked such deficiencies in the group stages, but alas their luck ran out in what was ironically their best team performance against Belgium.
It would also be remiss not to mention their startling 4-2 loss against Germany; for as smart a defensive coach as Santos is, it was a real surprise to see him at such a loss as to how to prevent the Germans overloading the wings. For the level of talent that Portugal were able to bring to the stage, this was a very disappointing attempt at defending their title.
22nd - Frank de Boer (Netherlands, 3/10)
The Netherlands were possibly the biggest victim of the Euros' one-year delay. Koeman's streetwise and tactically flexible Dutch side seemed a distant memory by the time de Boer rocked up to the tournament with the team in indifferent form. For a while though, it appeared he had at last found a solution, with his use of flying wingbacks and Wijnaldum's runs into the box terrorising his group opponents' defences.
However, it only took the first knockout round to see the team crumble. The Czechs were the first side to offer any real resistance in defence, and they exposed the Netherlands' lack of ideas horribly. De Boer also clearly had no plan to approach playing with ten men, and after de Ligt's dismissal were summarily sliced asunder; the earlier three performances a mere mirage.
23rd - Şenol Güneş (Turkey, 2/10)
Güneş has one of the most glittering CVs in Turkish football, but this summer he might have just dropped on it it's most glaring blot. Turkey's exhibitions of devastating counterattacking football against the Netherlands and Norway in March led many to believe they had what it takes to make a deep run in the tournament. Sadly for them, the Turkey of those games seemingly failed to turn up; the midfield displays were limp, Çalhanoğlu and Burak Yılmaz struggled to make any impact, and Güneş couldn't ind any way to rally his team after going behind.
Tellingly, they were beaten by Wales essentially by a team playing the way they wanted to, but better - Aaron Ramsey's sucker punch effectively sealing their fate of a group stage exit.
24th - Didier Deschamps (France, 1/10)
The higher you rise, the harder you fall. France were clear favourites for the title in many peoples' minds, but in retrospect it's quite telling that they were hyped up in terms of the skill of the individuals they possessed. There'll still be no denying what marvellous talents Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappé are, but Deschamps has overseen a significant regression in the cohesion of his players. The typically French revelations of dressing-room fractures in the aftermath of their demise hardly comes as a surprise.
Speaking of which, France's last-16 exit to Switzerland is the chief reason why Deschamps finds himself bottom of the class. Between starting Rabiot and Pavard as wing-backs in an untried system, the performance of the hapless Lenglet, and the still unremedied gaps between his defence and midfield, what really sticks out is that his side essentially lost that game twice. Once tactically, and once psychologically; laying the manager's deficiencies just about as bare as could be.