BERNE, (Reuters) – After years of trying, South American coaches are finally gaining a foothold in European football and their growing influence will be heavily felt as the Champions League round of 16 gets under.
Three of the eight teams in action this week are coached by South Americans, AC Milan’s Clarence Seedorf was born and ended his playing career on the continent and Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola said he was inspired by what he learned during a visit to Argentina.
Two of them meet in the week’s top clash as Manchester City, coached by urbane Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, host Gerardo Martino’s Barcelona tomorrow.
“I have always been interested in Pellegrini’s career both in Europe and before, when he was coaching in South America,” said Argentine Martino, a surprise appointment by Barcelona before the start of the season
“He is one of the best coaches in the world. I feel very satisfied to be facing him in this tie.”
Atletico Madrid, revitalised by former Argentina captain Diego Simeone, travel to AC Milan on Wednesday where they seem certain to give Seedorf a baptism of fire as he makes his coaching debut in a competition in which he was immensely successful as a player.
Guardiola’s Bayern Munich visit Arsenal the same evening as the two sides meet at the same stage for the second season in a row.
Overall, the round of 16 has a familiar ring to it after a predictable group stage where the only major surprise was the elimination of Serie A champions Juventus.
Ten of the 16 teams reached the same stage last year and Manchester City are the only knockout phase debutants.
Predictably, the English Premier League and Bundesliga dominate with four teams apiece, while Spain’s La Liga has three.
Bayer Leverkusen, second in the Bundesliga, host big-spending Paris St Germain in the other of this week’s ties on Tuesday. The remaining four first legs will all be played the following week with Olympiakos-Manchester United and Zenit St Petersburg-Borussia Dortmund on Feb. 25 and Galatasaray-Chelsea and Schalke 04-Real Madrid on Feb. 26.
South American players have long been hugely influential in European football but, until recently, coaches have struggled to adapt in the modern era even when they their records suggested they had all the right credentials.
Carlos Alberto Parreira lasted only a few months at Spanish club Valencia after leading Brazil to World Cup victory in 1994 while the hugely successful Boca Juniors and Velez Sarsfield coach Carlos Bianchi fared just as badly, with short spells at AS Roma and later Atletico Madrid.
Argentina’s Ramon Diaz and Colombia’s Francisco Maturana were others who failed to make it on the other side of the Atlantic.