Sunday 14 February 2016, 14:55

Relationships that were built to last

These days more than ever, directors and fans invariably point the finger at the coach when results fail to meet their expectations, often leading to a parting of the ways and a search for a successor.

However, even in the cut-throat world of modern football there are some clubs and coaches who are inseparable, the two engaging in harmonious and successful relationships that live on for many years. looks at some of the longest-running fairy-tale romances between the men in the dugout and their employers, happy unions that have survived through thick and thin, for better and for worse, and which in some cases have seen more than one break-up and reconciliation.

It must be loveWhen it comes to long-term coaching commitment, nobody has done it better than French guru Guy Roux, who held the reins at Auxerre from 1961 to 2005. Their 44-year association began when a passionate and committed 23-year-old Roux wrote a long letter to the chairman of the then regional outfit, setting out his vision for the club, convincing him to appoint him player-coach.

We do not know if that vision included steering l'AJA to the French top flight within 20 years, but that is exactly what Roux did, making them one of France’s top clubs and winning the league championship in 1996 and the French Cup four times between 1994 and 2005, though they have since returned to Ligue 2.

Roux retired after winning the last of those trophies, having eclipsed the previous record for one-club coaching longevity held by Willie Maley, the legendary Celtic boss.

One of the first players to pull on the famous green and white hooped jersey, Maley took over as coach in 1897 and stayed in the job through to 1940. In that remarkable 43-year period he helped shape Celtic’s identity, writing the opening chapters in its glorious history and lifting 16 league titles and 14 Scottish Cups in the process. And just to prove that the love lives on all these years later, the Celtic Park faithful still sing a song in tribute to their old manager.

Another now-departed coach who is also eulogised in a song is the great Tele Santana, the man regarded to all intents and purposes as the inventor of jogo bonito during his spells in charge of Brazil in the early and mid-1980s. Santana ended his career in style with a six-year stay at Sao Paulo the following decade, harnessing the rich talents of Rai, Cafu, Muller and Zetti and making the team a global power.

Known as Mestre (Master), he was so attached to the club that he lived for a while at its training complex. That devotion continues to be reciprocated. Years after his death, Tricolor fans still urge the players on by singing “Olê, Olê, Olê, Telê, Telê”.

I want you backSuch public displays of affection can sometimes lure a loved one back to the fold, a point proved when two revered coaches made respective and near-simultaneous returns to Buenos Aires foes River Plate and Boca Juniors at the end of last year.

Rejoining Los Millonarios for a third tenure was Ramon Diaz, the most successful coach in their history. Nevertheless, it was hardly a surprise to see the former River striker back at his old Monumental stamping ground, Diaz having said time and time again that he felt the urge to go back because it was his home.

It was a similar story over at the Bombonera, meanwhile, as Carlos Bianchi, the most successful manager in Boca’s history, also returned for a third stint in charge. In his two earlier stays with Los Xeneizes, the former Paris Saint-Germain front man won nine titles, five of them in international competitions.

I’d never imagined I’d be here so long, especially in the modern game

When it comes to reunions, however, nobody does it better in Argentina than Carlos Bilardo, who has had four separate spells in charge at Estudiantes. A midfielder in his playing days, Bilardo ended his career at the La Plata club, having become something of a legend for his part in the succession of trophies El Pincha landed between 1967 and 1970, including the 1968 Intercontinental Cup, secured at the expense of Manchester United.

After retiring he stayed on as coach Osvaldo Zubeldia’s assistant before taking up the reins a year later. A firm believer in generational handover, Bilardo often likened his beloved club to a family in which the players were the sons, ready to step up one day and take over the family business. One such heir is Alejandro Sabella, another firm favourite with Estudiantes fans, who was at the helm for two years before taking on the Argentina job in 2011.

One man who can match Bilardo is former Spain coach Luis Aragones, four times in charge at Atletico Madrid during his long career. Aragones played up front for Los Colchoneros for ten years, winning three Spanish league championships in that time and appearing in the club’s only European Cup final, against Bayern Munich in 1974, before retiring shortly afterwards.

He promptly moved into the dugout at the Vicente Calderon, winning the Intercontinental Cup almost straightaway and staying in the post for six years. On each of his returns Aragones has won at least one trophy, a record that has elevated him to hero status with Atleti fans and the club’s owners, who turned to him for the last time in 2001, when he oversaw their promotion from the second division.

Never tear us apartThere are also some couples who stick together come what may and who, to this day, remain side by side.

No existing partnerships can match Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United for durability. “I’d never imagined I’d be here so long, especially in the modern game,” remarked the hard-wearing Scotsman when he eclipsed his compatriot Sir Matt Busby as United’s longest-serving manager in 2010.

In making that observation Ferguson no doubt recalled his sticky start at Old Trafford in 1986 and the painstaking work he put into reviving the Manchester giants, who had gone nearly two decades without winning the league title and would have to wait until 1993 before doing so again. Nearly 40 trophies later, coach and club could hardly be closer, as symbolised by the statue of the Scot that now stands outside the stadium.

While Ferguson has gone strength to strength at United, his Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger has seen the trophies dry up. In 1998, two years after moving into the Gunners hotseat, the Frenchman steered them to a league and cup double, repeating the feat in 2002 and then overseeing a memorable unbeaten title campaign in 2004. Though he has failed to bring them a single piece of silverware in almost eight years, thanks to those earlier achievements Wenger still has a firm place in the hearts of Arsenal fans.

Faithfulness is also cherished in Germany, as shown by the presence of Thomas Schaaf in the Werder Bremen dugout since 1999. Remarkably, Schaaf’s association with the club stretches all the way back to 1972, the year in which he joined their training academy at the age of 11. The defender turned professional in 1978 and spent his entire playing career with Werder, taking charge of their youth sides while he was still running out for the first team.

The one-club Schaaf won the German Cup in his first year as head coach, and has since followed up with a league and cup double in 2004 and another German Cup success in 2009.

Werder have a reputation for standing by their men. For most of his career Schaaf played under Otto Rehhagel, who enjoyed plenty of success of his own during his long reign from 1981 to 1995, yet another example of the rewards a lasting commitment can bring.