Christmas is a traditional time for the sack - but not the one that Santa carries. Six months after the World Cup finals, only 10 - soon to become nine - national coaches of the 32 teams that entered last summer's finals are still in their jobs, a poignant reminder of the fragility of a profession that pays handsome rewards but scant regard for reputations.
While no one was the least surprised when, say, Bulgaria's Hristo Bonev resigned after a woefully poor World Cup campaign, considerable sympathy has to be extended to the coaches of nations such as Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tunisia and South Korea, all of whom were out of office even before the final game on July 12.
Every finalist's ambition was, of course, to reach round two but 16 had to go. To summarily dismiss the coaches of those countries who had always seemed likely to fall at the first hurdle was little short of scandalous. Getting to the finals was in itself an achievement for such nations and should have been recognised as such by over-demanding national federations.
Former England manager Bobby Robson, himself a victim of football politics at Barcelona, but with a passion for the game that remains undimmed, remembers watching as coach after coach failed to finish the job he had started at France '98.
"It's a fact: your reward for getting to the World Cup finals was to get the sack," Robson said. "The name of the game is to win but my word, it's a thin line. Look at Carlos Alberto Parreira. Four years ago, he was the most important man in world football having won the trophy with Brazil. Two World Cup final matches later, this time in charge of Saudi Arabia, he loses his job after a game in which he has a player sent off against the host nation in front of 80,000 fans."
Parreira's sacking, said Robson, was particularly unfair. "The fact is that Saudi Arabia had done quite well for 70 minutes against France until the dismissal. Then they buckled and Carlos Alberto is the fall guy. That's unrealistic."
Parreira, who was linked with the vacant South Africa job before it went to a local, Trott Moloto, was not the only fall guy. By the end of France 98, Henryk Kasperczak of Tunisia had gone, along with Cha Bum-kun of South Korea, Bora Milutinovic of Nigeria and Philippe Troussier, who has transferred his allegiance from South Africa to Japan. Later, and more famously, others were forced out, including Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Berti Vogts of Germany.
Parreira, unlike some of his colleagues, took it all in his stride. He knew from his time with Brazil the unpredictable nature of being a football manager. He also knew how relentless the pressure could be.
When in the hot seat of one the most high-profile football jobs in the world, Parreira had to endure a terrible pasting from the Brazilian press when things went wrong. Going to Saudi Arabia had its own pressures but it was light years away from what he endured in Rio.
"I remember how Graham Taylor was vilified in the English tabloids after England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals," said Parreira. "That was nothing compared to what can happen in Brazil. They expect all the country's political ills to be solved through football."
Parreira, like Robson, is now biding his time, as is Vogts, whose miserable reign as national coach of Germany came to a sad and abrupt end in early September.
German managers rarely, if ever, quit. Indeed, there have only ever been six in the last 72 years. So when Vogts announced that he wanted to call it a day to preserve some "human dignity" and spare his family the kind of intolerable pressure that was being heaped upon him, you knew he meant it.
With several of his senior players privately rebelling against him and headlines such as "Berti, how much longer?" appearing in the national press, Vogts cut his losses and called it quits, the first time any German manager had done so in mid-season.
And yet, he had only lost 12 games as national team coach out of 102. "The way everyone complained, you'd have thought it was only 12 that I had won," said the embittered Vogts, who has been replaced by the experimental and far from convincing pairing of Erich Ribbeck and Uli Stielike.
Other high-profile coaches to pay the price of so-called World Cup failure include Argentina's Daniel Passarella, Sampdoria's first choice before they went for David Platt; Italy's Cesare Maldini, replaced by Dino Zoff; Zagallo, who has given way to the delightfully named Vanderley Luxemburgo; and, most recently, Spain's pragmatic Javier Clemente, who has gone to Real Betis.
Some, it has to be said, stepped down by choice, comforted by the knowledge that they performed better than their predecessors: France's Aime Jacquet, now back in the bosom of the French federation; Norway's Egil Olsen, who has just come out of retirement for the challenge of coaching Valerenga, Chelsea's next Cup-Winners' Cup opponents; and Guus Hiddink, who left the Netherlands semi-finalists to take over at Real Madrid and has been replaced by Frank Rijkaard.
Whether by good fortune or good judgement, Glenn Hoddle, so far at least, is one of the 10 who have survived. So is Craig Brown and, somewhat surprisingly, Georges Leekens of Belgium.
Any day now, Chile's Nelson Acosta looks likely to be discarded and become number 23 on the World Cup discard list. Hold on, wasn't it Chile who performed so sublimely against the Italians at France 98 and made more friends than arguably any other team?
Christmas cheer? Don't you believe it.
THE PRECARIOUS CAREER OF THE INTERNATIONAL COACH
Of the 32 coaches at the World Cup in France last summer, 22 have now left their posts.
The following is a list of the departures since the start of the World Cup, which ran from 10 June 10 to 12 July.
Argentina Daniel Passarella, resigned and replaced by Marcelo Bielsa.
Brazil Mario Zagallo, sacked and replaced by Vanderley Luxemburgo.
Bulgaria Hristo Bonev, resigned and replaced by Dimitar Dimitrov.
Cameroon Claude Le Roy, end of contract, replaced by Jean Mangan Onguene.
Colombia Hernan Dario Gomez, end of contract, replaced by Javier Alvarez.
Germany Berti Vogts, resigned and replaced by Erich Ribbeck.
France Aime Jacquet, end of contract, replaced by Roger Lemerre.
Iran Jalal Talebi, resigned and replaced by Mansour Pourheidari.
Italy Cesare Maldini, resigned and replaced by Dino Zoff.
Japan Takeshi Okada, resigned and replaced by Philippe Troussier.
Netherlands Guus Hiddink, end of contract replaced by Frank Rijkaard.
Nigeria Bora Milutinovic, end of contract, replaced by Thijs Libregts.
Norway Egil Olsen, resigned and replaced by Nils Johan Semb.
Paraguay Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani, end of contract. Not yet replaced.
Romania Anghel Iordanescu, end of contract, replaced by Victor Piturca.
Saudia Arabia Carlos Alberto Parreira, sacked and replaced by Otto Pfister.
South Africa Philippe Troussier, end of contract, replaced by Trott Moloto.
South Korea Cha Bum-kun, sacked and replaced by Kim Mung-seok.
Spain Javier Clemente sacked and replaced by Jorge Camacho.
Tunisia Henryk Kasperczak, sacked and replaced by Francesco Scoglio.
United States Steve Sampson, resigned and replaced by Bruce Arena
Yugoslavia Slobodan Santrac, retired and replaced by Milan Zivadinovic.
The 10 coaches remaining in their posts are: Glenn Hoddle (England), Rene Simoes (Jamaica), Manuel Lapuente (Mexico), Henri Michel (Morocco), Craig Brown (Scotland), Georges Leekens (Belgium), Herbert Prohaska (Austria), Bo Johannson (Denmark), Miroslav Blazevic (Croatia) and Nelson Acosta (Chile).Reuse content