Mircea Lucescu: Many things have changed in football thanks to coaches

Ahead of the Champions League group stage kickoff, Nyon hosted the 17th UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum. Our website has already reported that the head coach of Shakhtar was invited to the meeting. What were Europe’s top coaches talking about? What topics did they discuss? What issues did they raise? We are talking about this in our exclusive interview with Mircea Lucescu.

- Mister, you have been present for many years at the elite club coaches’ meetings. Can you remember when it happened for the first time?
- I was just 36 when taking the helm at Romania national team, succeeding Stefan Kovacs – an internationally renowned coach, who used to manage Ajax and France national team. I was just a young specialist back then, also acting as a playing coach at Dinamo Bucuresti. As soon as I took charge of the national team, they invited me to join the UEFA Technical Committee comprising seven experts. I agreed. I worked there for five years until leaving the national team. And once again I joined the UEFA over a decade later, in the year 2000, as a manager of Galatasaray, who had won the UEFA Super Cup in the match with Real Madrid. Before the start of the Champions League season they invited to the coaches of some 10-15 giant sides of the time. There I first met Capello, Lippi, Trapattoni, Ferguson ... I also encountered Arsene Wenger, whom I had well known previously. We first met when I was near Nancy with Dinamo Bucuresti. Wenger was in charge of the local football club back then. And he came to have a look at our training session. Since that day, warm and friendly relations have established between us. And since I joined Shakhtar and we started to win titles both domestically and in the European competitions, they started inviting me to the forum annually. Perhaps, my football career and coaching experience influenced it. Besides, Eastern Europe was represented by just a few people there. This year, I was really happy to meet Myron Markevych at the forum. That’s a great honour for Ukraine.

- On what basis do they invite coaches to this meeting?
- Those are mostly the coaches of the Champions League Last 16 sides. Plus four Europa League semi-finalists.

- Has the elite club coaches forum involved the same people for many years?
- Not really. The international football develops in cycles. Initially it was dominated by Germany featuring Beckenbauer and Bayern. Then by Italy - just at the time of my spell there. Italy was replaced by England. And now it’s Spain.

- How has the Elite Club Coaches Forum changed over the years?
- It has become much more dynamic and democratic. Not only because it gives the opportunity to discuss some topical issues. First of all, it's a chance to see each other and gain the mutual respect. Because close friends will not commit any acts which sometimes take place in the domestic leagues. At the international level everything is different. These days, absolutely all are invited as speakers! While previously, for example, there were only one or two speakers, and the rest were just extras ... There’s been a leap forward in terms of the forum organization - largely being the merit of a Romanian Ioan Lupescu, the technical officer of UEFA. By the way, he used to be my player! I invited him, being a 18-year-old guy, to the first team of Dinamo Bucuresti, entrusted him with the captain's armband ... But it did not last long. After the Romanian revolution, I went to Italy. Twelve of my Dinamo graduates joined the top European clubs. Staying in the country was impossible, as the system was being changed. Ioan for a long time played for Bayer Leverkusen and then returned to his homeland, and then began working at the Romanian Football Federation. Michel Platini noticed him and invited him to Nyon. That’s Ioan who managed to establish trusting relationships with the leading coaches!

- Which of the issues discussed at this forum caused the most heated debate?
- The free kick goal scored by Rapid Wien against us! A very interesting episode. Before the meeting, I asked them to review this issue, because its interpretation could change a lot in football. In this regard, Pierluigi Collina provided the explanation of the new rules adopted by the International Committee of FIFA. By the way, only this committee can make changes to the rules. Historically, it has been represented only by the teams from the UK: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Plus one person from FIFA ... That is, conservatism was inherent in there from the outset. Since they invented football, even their non-football representatives have the right to change the rules! Sometimes, however, they invite a UEFA representative supervising the referees to listen to a different opinion. In general, that’s a complex system ... Well, back to the goal scored by Rapid. This kind of goal might entail major changes in football rules. I was supported by the rest of the coaches - everyone thought that the goal should not have been counted! But the most surprising thing in that situation was that the UEFA representatives themselves wanted to analyse in detail that episode. There was a major discussion. Collina tried to explain the innovation. The others did not agree with him. Jurgen Klopp, for example, said that in Germany they had no idea about any changes. A priori, if the players are behind the wall, that’s just a regular offside situation. Regardless of whether the players disturb the keeper or not. So were thinking all the coaches present! Of course, we cannot change anything now, but in October they will call up the international board with this issue put on the agenda. At the end of the day, we might have failed to qualify because of that goal ... So that’s serious.

- Do you think they play football more offensively or defensively in Europe these days?
- For example, let’s take the pre-season games of Real Madrid. All those games were dominated by their opponents. But Madrid always emerged victorious. That is, it all depends on the players, on the organization of the game. With such fast performers as Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo, why play attacking football? They may well play defensively, plus one long pass or lob – and there you go! Because they run like sprinters run their hundred-metre race. They simply cannot be stopped. It is important to build the game in such a way as to leave no open spaces, but then everyone thinks that you are acting defensively. However, that’s not the case. That's why football is so beautiful! Barcelona, for instance, is a different story: short technical and fast players cannot play just defensively. They want to attack, forcing the opponents into their own half and putting pressure. Therefore, they charge forward as soon as the opponents lose the ball. Every match is unique. We, as the representatives of the Ukrainian league, find it very difficult to play in the Champions League. Because all Ukrainian sides play defensively against Shakhtar. Even Dynamo Kyiv play so against us! Abroad, everything is different though. In the games against the giants, we must be able to defend. While in our domestic league we attack all the time. With many our players making errors as we are not used to defending.

- How does the coaches’ opinion in such meetings subsequently influence the decisions by UEFA and FIFA?
- None of our meetings pass unnoticed. The problem is particularly evident when it comes to refereeing and the disputable points that we analyse. It was Collina who tabled all the problems that had occurred in European competitions during the year. We discussed everything, he took our opinions into account. In turn, Pierluigi in his meetings with the referees will also address those points. I can say that many things have changed in football thanks to the coaches. Because the opinion of the people who work directly in the industry, the people whose lives and careers often depend on the referees’ errors, is of great importance. Therefore Collina listens to us. But neither he nor the coaches can make decisions for the referees. We just have the right to only make certain suggestions ... For example, another big debate is currently underway around the possibility not to punish a team twice for a desperate foul - I mean awarding a spot kick and sending off the player at the same time. Just as it was the case with Kucher in the match against Bayern. When the team of Porto found themselves in the same situation, a similar decision never followed. A penalty kick is a penalty kick, but a red card means the double punishment. The issue is being actively discussed. All we can do is just wait.