Jozef Ven­g­los looks back­trail blaz­ing ca­reer

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Be­fore the "Spe­cial One," there was the "First One."

His name is Jozef Ven­g­los, and in 1990 he be­came the first out­sider to take over as man­ager of a first di­vi­sion club in Eng­land.

It was the hard­est job of his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer. But now 80 years old and look­ing back, Ven­g­los was all smiles and ap­pre­cia­tive of his time as man­ager of As­ton Villa dur­ing an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press at his house in Bratislava.

"You have to have a joy from foot­ball, even as man­ager," Ven­g­los said. "There's a spe­cific fea­ture of English foot­ball, that it's in­spi­ra­tional in all as­pects: for the man­agers, play­ers and of course, fans."

This sea­son, there are 14 for­eign man­agers in the Premier League, from Jose Mour­inho at Manch­ester United to Juer­gen Klopp at Liver­pool, Pep Guardi­ola at Manch­ester City and An­to­nio Conte at Chelsea. Of course, Arsene Wenger is also still there at Ar­se­nal af­ter 20 years.

Only four clubs in the league have a man­ager who is from Eng­land, Bournemouth, Burn­ley, Crys­tal Palace and Hull. Ad­di­tion­ally, Stoke is led by a Welsh­man while a Scots­man is in charge of Sun­der­land.

CA­REER Ven­g­los was a re­spected, ex­pe­ri­enced coach when he ar­rived in Birm­ing­ham, but was not a house­hold name in Bri­tain.

"It was a sur­prise to me," Ven­g­los said. "But also an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what I had done. It was a well­man­aged and con­trolled club."

When Ven­g­los was in­tro­duced as the man­ager, the me­dia at the news con­fer­ence re­mained silent when they were asked: "Hands up, those of you who know this man."

Prior to his job at As­ton Villa, Ven­g­los' big­gest suc­cesses came in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. He was an as­sis­tant coach to Va­clav Jezek when Cze­choslo­vakia won the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in 1976; four years later, he was in charge alone as he led his na­tional team to third place at Euro 1980. At the 1990 World Cup, he reached the quar­ter­fi­nals.

Af­ter his spell in Eng­land, Ven­g­los moved to Fener­bahce and later to Celtic. In his ca­reer, the coach with a de­gree in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and known as Dr. Jo, or the Doc­tor, also led the na­tional teams of Aus­tralia, Malaysia, Oman and Slo­vakia.

In 1995, he be­came the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coaches Union and led Euro­pean and World select teams on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

In his home­land, he was named the coach of the 20th cen­tury.

AS­TON VILLA Com­ing from be­hind the Iron Cur­tain just a year af­ter it col­lapsed, Ven­g­los' ap­point­ment by Villa chair­man Doug El­lis looked like a revo­lu­tion.

Tak­ing over from Gra­ham Tay­lor, Ven­g­los was ready and ea­ger to di­rect the team from the tra­di­tional English phys­i­cal style and ap­ply new meth­ods, start­ing with a more pass­ing ap­proach, pre-match warm-ups and new di­ets.

Ven­g­los had play­maker David Platt, but many in his squad didn't seem ready to adopt the changes he was mak­ing. And with ex­pec­ta­tions high and the me­dia crit­i­cal, the coach him­self had a hard time adapt­ing. No bit­ter mem­o­ries, though. "The play­ers were true pro­fes­sion­als," Ven­g­los said. "I would say there was a mu­tual re­spect be­tween us and that kept us mov­ing for­ward. I think we un­der­stood each other. And that's im­por­tant that the team fol­lows the coach, re­spects him, and the re­sults fol­low. The re­sults are key, in any coun­try."

At times, it worked, namely in a 2-0 vic­tory at Villa Park over In­ter Mi­lan in the UEFA Cup.

But vic­to­ries were not as fre­quent as any­one wished. Villa ended the sea­son in 17th place, a sig­nif­i­cant drop from the sec­ond­place fin­ish the pre­vi­ous sea­son.

Ven­g­los de­vel­oped high blood pres­sure dur­ing the sea­son and con­tin­ued to face crit­i­cism from the me­dia, fi­nally re­sign­ing de­spite an of­fer from El­lis to con­tinue. Ron Atkin­son re­placed him.

"I learned a lot," said Ven­g­los, who still fol­lows the re­sults of the team. "I watch As­ton Villa. I feel joy when things go well for the club."

ALEX FER­GU­SON Ven­g­los said he still re­mains in touch with other coaches and calls them from time to time. But when it comes to who he ad­mired most, he didn't hes­i­tate to an­swer: Alex Fer­gu­son.

"He's a com­plex per­son," Ven­g­los said. "He was able to get close even to the best play­ers. He knew how to win sup­port from the fans and the club and brought a new pas­sion to foot­ball."

Ven­g­los said he would never for­get Fer­gu­son's ges­ture when his As­ton Villa played Manch­ester United for the first time.

"Alex Fer­gu­son came to wel­come me and said: 'If you need any­thing, don't hes­i­tate to call me, I'm happy to help,'" Ven­g­los said. "It was a sign of real pro­fes­sion­al­ism and at­ti­tude to foot­ball."

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