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Born: Sunday 10 April 1910, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died: Sunday 9 November 1997, Venice, Italy (aged 87)
Argentine born but a French citizen from childhood, Helenio Herrera was one of the most widely travelled and influential coaches of his generation. Taking charge of some of the biggest clubs Europe, he became the most famous exponent of the 'Catenaccio' tactic. Emphasising tight man-to-man marking and swift counter-attacks, Herrera's system used the 'libero' or sweeper to free up his full backs to support the forwards when needed.
The exact date of Herrera's birth is not known. For many years he was believed to have been born in 1916, but recent evidence suggests that he changed his offical year of birth by six years and it seems most likely that he was actually born in 1910. Certainly he was born in Buenos Aires, his father being an exiled Spanish anarchist. The family left South America when Herrera was a child and settled in the then-French protectorate of Morocco, where he took French citizenship.
It was in Morocco that Herrera's football career began, playing as a defender for Roches Noires and RC Casablanca before moving to mainland France in 1932. His playing career lasted until the end of the Second World War with the greatest moments coming in the French Cup, losing the final with FCO Charleville in 1936 and winning his only major honour with Red Star Olympique in 1942. During the war Herrera worked in a factory specialising in insulation materials, where his expertise meant that he was not called up for front line service.
It was while playing wartime football that Herrera began to develop an interest in coaching. He became player-coach at Puteaux in 1944, before a three year spell with Stade Français, one of his former clubs as a player. In 1948 Herrera moved to Real Valladolid in Spain, before joining Atlético Madrid a year later for what would prove the most successful period of his time in Spain. Atlético won the title by a single point in his first season and retained it twelve months later, as Herrera's reputation as one of the most intelligent coaches in Europe began to grow.
Not the kind of person to stay in one place for long, he left Madrid in 1952 and spent several years moving from club to club in Spain and briefly Portugal. His strong personality often put him in conflict with directors. Herrera's next great success was with Barcelona, who he joined in 1958. Proving that his later preference for defensive football was not the extent of his abilities as a coach, he put together a vibrant attacking team with a mixture of local and overseas players and won the league and cup double in 1959.
Unfortunately for Herrera, retaining the league title and winning the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1960 was not deemed to be good enough. Barcelona's directors wanted the European Cup, and Herrera fell short when his team lost to holders and great rivals Real Madrid in the semi-finals. Rumours spread of a fall-out with Hungarian stars Zoltán Czibor and László Kubala, who were both dropped for that semi-final, and Herrera was sacked.
He quickly got an offer to move to Italy and take charge of Internazionale, where he would enjoy the greatest successes of his career. He took control of all aspects of players' lives, including diets and sleep patterns. It was at this point that he really developed his own form of Catenaccio. Taking a 5-3-2 system known as 'verrou' or 'bolt', Herrera used four man-marking defenders and a sweeper to make his team extremely hard to break down. They invited teams to attack and then hit them on the break, a common tactic today but very rare at the time and made easier by the presence of attack-minded full-back Giacinto Facchetti, who was a vital part of the system. He was also the first coach to try to make use of psychology to win matches.
Herrera's team finished third in his first season at Inter and second a year later. He even combined the job with leading the Spanish national team to the World Cup in Chile in 1962, but deprived of star player Alfredo Di Stéfano due to injury they fell in the group stage. Herrera finally claimed the Serie A title in 1963 when Inter finished four points clear of Juventus. Although unable to retain their crown in 1964, Herrera did at last achieve European Cup success. The 3-1 win over Real Madrid gave him some measure of personal revenge for the semi-final defeat which had cost him his job four years earlier.
That autumn, a 2-1 aggregate win over Argentinian side Independiente in the Intercontinental Cup began the most successful season of Herrera's career. Inter retained the European Cup in 1965 with a narrow 1-0 win over Benfica and also regained their Serie A title. After a successful defence of the Intercontinental Cup and a third league title in four seasons in 1965-66, there seemed to be no stopping Herrera's side and their style was copied by many other clubs. Such was his standing in Italy he was even appointed joint manager of the national team for a bried period. However, moving into the late 1960s problems began to appear.
Opponents began to develop better methods of countering Catenaccio. Defeat to Celtic in the 1967 European Cup final was a big disappointment and Herrera's team was also dogged by allegations of steroid use, which were never proven. Herrera left Inter in 1968 and took another job in Italy, with AS Roma. His first season brought success in the Coppa Italia, but relations with the club owners soon soured. Tragedy struck when one of his players, Giuliano Taccola, suffered a seizure in the dressing room and died on the way to hospital. Herrera also alleged that the club had only won their most recent title, in 1942, due to favouritism under the regime of Mussolini. Shortly after making those statements and with the team struggling, he was sacked.
In 1973, he returned to Inter for a second spell but the following year suffered a heart attack and chose to stop coaching rather than further risk his health. He retired to Venice, but was tempted back by a job with Rimini in 1978. After a year in Rimini, he found himself with an unexpected second chance to manage Barcelona, nearly 20 years after they had sacked him. Herrera took the job and made a surprising return to Spain but did not stay long and retired for a second time in 1981.
Spending his final years in Venice and working occasionally as a TV pundit, Herrera suffered another heart attack in November 1997 and died aged 87. Some have attempted to criticise his coaching methods for being ultra-defensive but he always defended them by saying that was only the case if they were used with the wrong players. He is remembered as one of the first coaches to be the dominant figure at his club, rather than the players being seen as the key figures.
References (all accessed 20 February 2012):
- Published on Monday, 20 February 2012 12:40