Obitaury: Helenio Herrera

Norman Fo
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:43

Helenio Herrera, football coach and player: born Buenos Aires 17 April 1916; married; died Venice 9 November 1997.

Football has never had a more controversial master of pragmatic tactics than Helenio Herrera. As coach of the Milan club Internazionale he presided over a defensive style that won the club two European Cups, in 1964 and 1965, and spread darkly throughout Europe. He more than anyone brought the word "catenaccio" into the game's vocabulary; the tactic of dour defensive football that forced the opposition to show its hand and weaknesses.

He managed Inter for eight years from 1960, in which time the club also won the Italian championship twice and the World Club championship. Before that he had been manager of Barcelona where he began the now popular method of psyching up his players before their matches. But his special talent was the organisation of a defence that had four men closely marking the attackers and a sweeper who was usually the springboard for counter-attacks.

His own playing career was modest. He was born in Buenos Aires but his parents moved to Casablanca when he was three. After playing in the French league he embarked on a nomadic life as a coach at various clubs in France then, in Spain, worked at Atletico Madrid and Valladolid. Always a man of determined views, at one point, following a fierce dispute with club directors, he was suspended from Spanish football and moved to Portugal. On his return to Spain he joined Barcelona, who sacked him after they lost to Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup semi-final. That inspired his move to Milan, where he established his place in the records of the game's tactical history.

Football tacticians became immersed in the debate over the merits of the Brazilian qualities of individuality combined with a more positive 4-3-3 system and Italy's stubborn dependency on catenaccio. Because there were insufficient players of Brazilian talent in Europe, catenaccio caught on, leaving behind the expressive football of earlier days.

At various times Herrera managed the national sides of France, Italy and Spain. He coached the Spanish side in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile, but they started with the huge disadvantage of being without probably the most versatile forward of all, Alfredo di Stefano, who had fallen out with Herrera. As a result, Spain finished bottom of their first round group.

The team that finally overcame Inter's Herrera-guided style was Celtic, who beat them in the 1967 European Cup final. That broke the mould, leading to the exciting "total" football of West Germany and Holland. Herrara left Inter in 1968 and moved to Roma where he stayed until 1971, and was reported to be the highest-paid coach in the world with a salary of around pounds 140,000 a year.

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