Where’s the Next Generation of Great Coaches?

Twenty years, it would appear, is a very long time indeed. This week, a brief video montage fluttered through the flotsam and jetsam that clog my (and your) social media feeds — the engagement-farming banalities, the craven attention-seekers, the willfully deranged Kate Middleton theories — to celebrate the glorious madness of 2004.

That was the year, after all, when Greece won the European Championship, a triumph so unexpected that at least one squad member had to rearrange his wedding around the team’s progress. The Greek triumph came a few weeks after Porto, led by a charismatic young coach with hair more pepper than salt, lifted the Champions League trophy.

That was after Werder Bremen finished the season as champion of Germany and Valencia secured its second Spanish title in three years. Whoever compiled the video did not even need to mention the victory by a Colombian minnow, Once Caldas, in the Copa Libertadores to declare that 2004 had been a year for the underdog.

The compilation clip could, at a push, be used as a sort of generational Rorschach test. It might inspire, in older viewers, that bittersweet pang of nostalgia, the ghost of a memory that this is how things used — and therefore ought — to be. Werder Bremen should be able to win the Bundesliga. Porto should be contenders to be champion of Europe. You might not want to watch Greece win the Euros again, but it was nice that it happened.

Younger fans, though, may well interpret it differently. They have grown up in an era of dominance and dynasty, in which the sport’s major teams have established unprecedented primacy over their rivals, and stasis has become the truest marker of excellence. The sight of all of these unfamiliar teams lifting trophies might reinforce their suspicion that soccer is rather better now than it was then.

There are two things worth pointing out in rebuttal. The first is that 2004 was an outlier even by the standards of the time. The previous six editions of the Champions League, for example, had been won by Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and A.C. Milan. And the second — albeit obvious only with the benefit of hindsight — is that it was a liminal year.

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