With Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
These days, an international football manager whose form fails to satisfy the preferences of his team’s fans should expect a barrage of Twitter handles and hashtags calling for his sacking. Plus, a meme (or a thousand), poking fun at everything from his tactics to his choice of clothing.
United States Men’s National Team coach Greg Berhalter has been in the crosshairs of the Internet for the past week and is changing, a response to a pair of friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia that have been desperately disappointing and have sparked widespread concerns about his readiness. group. World Cup, now just over six weeks away.
But while the headaches loom large for Berhalter as he prepares for football’s greatest show – even if he avoids the online nonsense of @fireberhalter and #firegregg – he can take solace in the fact that he joins a long line of notable football men who have been challenged with similarly their credentials ahead of a major tournament.
Sometimes the criticism is real and plays itself out, warm-up performances somehow deteriorating further in the cauldron of elite competition and cries of “I told you so” chasing the incumbent out of his job once things are over.
But not always. Some of the most famous triumphs in World Cup history have come from seemingly unstable teams and managers who were derided by the public just months before glory arrived.
Even the most ardent football historian can struggle to recall specific examples because … that’s how it’s supposed to work. Victory calms everyone down. No one has the brains to remember gloomy predictions that turned out to be wrong. If a nation finds itself favored enough to lift football’s ultimate trophy, it’s as if there wasn’t even a doubt. But it happened.
Argentina’s run to the 1986 World Cup is one of the most memorable of all time due to the controversial brilliance of Diego Maradona, but heading into that tournament there was reason to ax coach Carlos Bilardo.
“Some even criticized me for choosing Maradona as captain,” Bilardo said in later years, according to the Guardian. “We weren’t even on the contenders list, but we took advantage of it.”
The same goes for Brazilian duo Carlos Alberto Perreira and Luis Felipe Scolari, who were widely mocked before the championships in 1994 and 2002. Among them was France’s Aime Jacquet, who was underrated and mocked and accused of over-defending just before help his country win the world. Home Cup in 1998.
Now, this is not a prediction that the US will suddenly rise from the ashes and win it all in Qatar in December. On the evidence of the Japan and Saudi Arabia games, serious improvement is needed, not helped by the reality that the rescheduling of the tournament for the winter means no more coordinated games.
This isn’t even a call to say “don’t panic” because football fans love to panic, and that’s a privilege as well as a privilege. Football’s most important events occur sparingly enough that a high level of urgency and fan anxiety is inevitable.
“There are not many players who have performed at their normal levels in this camp, and that’s the way it is,” Berhalter said after the 2-0 loss to Japan and 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia.
But Berhalter is not going to be fired before the World Cup. To do so at this stage would be extremely hasty and self-defeating on the part of American soccer, though certainly not unprecedented. The Americans’ Group B opponents Iran recently let their coach go, while Morocco did the same.
In 2018, Spain did so the day before kick-off after Julen Lopetegui’s decision to join Real Madrid caused an uproar, and still came through on penalties to reach the quarter-finals.
Berhalter, who came to the job in 2018 after a long career mostly in Europe and five years as a coach with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, will get his chance after a tenure with no shortage of highs and lows.
With the first game against Wales scheduled for November 21, there is some time for a few things to be put on a more positive note, although not by much. Team talisman Christian Pulisic put in a strong performance for Chelsea last weekend and will have some hope of showing new manager Graham Potter that he deserves more time.
Weston McKennie produced an excellent effort for Juventus, and both are scheduled for Champions League action on Wednesday. Pulisic’s Chelsea are preparing for a blockbuster with AC Milan, while Juventus face Israel’s Maccabi Haifa.
Below Team USA, there are still several spots to be decided. Being stocked deep in most places, but with only a handful of stars who really rise above the pack, is both a blessing and a curse for Berhalter.
That’s all we know for sure. Not everyone will like the choice, because that is the eternal nature of things. And clearly, right now, there is a segment of the fan base that has turned against Burhalter and will criticize the action whether he deserved it or not.
American soccer fans are demanding these days, a reflection of how much more established the game is in this country than the last time the U.S. qualified eight years ago, but also a heavy burden for a manager.
There’s a lot to deal with, with tweets and hashtags and Berhalter’s expectations just part of it.
It’s not an easy task and it probably seems too big, especially right now, as the skepticism of the fans begins. But this is a World Cup year and things — as we’ve seen — can change quickly.
That should provide the coach with some comfort, even as he tries to keep the crowd from panicking.
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Martin Rogers is a FOX Sports columnist and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletterr.
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