Craig McCracken1 Comment


Craig McCracken1 Comment

An autocratic manager of South American descent, a success in Spain but enjoying his peak years at the sharp end of catenaccio-fuelled 1960s Serie A. Articles about the well documented life and times of Signor Herrera are not exactly thin on the ground, but this time Helenio takes only an unfamiliar supporting role.

This is actually the story of one of his main managerial contemporaries, the unrelated Paraguayan Heriberto Herrera, or HH2 as he was to be christened by the Italian press. He was a manager who is barely known today despite a career that reads like a diluted and histrionic free version of Helenio's. He may not have amassed the prodigious trophy haul nor the media adulation of HH, but he did joust gamely with 'il mago' and bloody his nose on several occasions.

Simple confusion probably plays a significant part of the reason Heriberto is an obscure figure to modern football fans; after all, when you share a similar name and identical initials with the most famous manager in the world then your identity is bound to be compromised somewhat. The commonality between the men did not start and end with their names either. Helenio was Argentinian and Heriberto was Paraguayan, both moved to play in Europe and both would stay on to manage when their careers were over.

Both Herreras espoused pragmatism and defensive solidity as their core philosophy, believed ardently in the value of the team collective and had authoritarian personalities which were often highly divisive. At one point they were the two best paid managers in the world and both were involved in player signings that broke the world record transfer fee. They even looked alike: tall, dark and brooding, with Heriberto resembling a younger version of Helenio - there was a 14 year age difference. With so much in common it was little surprise that their careers would be closely linked.

In charge of Atlético Madrid, Helenio Herrera the manager had Heriberto Herrera the player recommended to him and the Paraguayan's transfer to Spain was completed in 1952. Heriberto proved a thoughtful and disciplined centre half over the next seven seasons until injury forced his premature retirement at the age of just 30. His ambitions to pursue a management career advanced quickly.

Within months he was coaching at Rayo Vallecano, Tenerife offered him his first full managerial post, followed by a spell with Valladolid, promotion to the top flight with Español and a remarkable fifth place La Liga finish with little Elche in 1964.

European football was by then firmly in the iron grip of Helenio's impregnable Internazionale side and a struggling Juventus sought a new coach with fresh ideas to challenge him. Having impressed with his work at Elche, 38-year-old Heriberto would be their young and very bold new manager solution. The scene was set for a Serie A showdown: HH v HH2.

Heriberto was not expected to bridge the gulf to Inter overnight and this allowed him time and space to plan significant changes to how Juventus played. He wanted to follow the dominant Helenio orthodoxy and adapt his side into a more disciplined and defensive team than the loose, open outfit he had inherited. His was a stark tactical vision: he advocated the maintaining of team shape at all times and he preferred players to occupy fixed positions and perform fixed roles with limited scope for self-expression. Defenders with attacking tendencies were frowned upon; it made no sense to him, it just seemed a contradiction in purpose.

His bête noire was the maverick, the skilful but erratic individual who would produce something memorable every few games but little in between. Few fitted this profile better than the volatile Argentinian Omar Sívori and the pair quickly fell out. Sívori broke ribs and Heriberto took advantage of the situation to ruthlessly declare to the press, "He's finished, he is no more use to us."

When fit, a furious Sívori was not restored to the first team squad and was sold on to Napoli at the end of the season. Heriberto started to find his feet at the club after weathering initial criticism of his stringent approach. Juventus finished well behind Inter in his first Serie A season, but he did score a notable success when his team defeated Helenio's in the 1965 Coppa Italia final and denied Inter a historic treble.

For Juventus fans who had enjoyed the flood of goals the prolific partnership of John Charles and Sivori had brought, Heriberto's rigid adherence to defensive parsimony was quite a culture shock. It was signposted clearly enough in the opening weeks of the 1965/66 season, with their first four games yielding just a single goal, though at least it was Juventus that scored it.

No one is more famous than Helenio Herrera for ruthless pursuit of clean sheets, yet in each of the four seasons the pair competed head to head at Juventus and Inter, Heriberto's teams had the better defensive record every time. Unsurprisingly scoring goals proved more difficult. Juventus remained adrift of Helenio's Inter in 1966 as a result of this but at least the gap was narrowing.

The 1966/67 season was make or break for Heriberto's Juventus career and some encouragement came as the championship developed into a two-horse race - Inter still the best side in the country, but Juventus methodically tracking them to remain in contention. Leaders Inter stumbled towards the end of the season and the teams went into the final round of matches with Juventus just a point adrift.

At half time on that fraught last day, both Inter's match at Mantova and Juventus's home game against Lazio remained goalless. Juventus then scored twice in the second half and then enjoyed a stroke of great fortune when Inter keeper Giuliano Sarti fumbled a harmless shot from Mantova's Di Giacomo into his own net. Inter could not recover that goal, and Juventus leapfrogged them to lead the table for the first time all season and take a most dramatic and unexpected title.

Helenio's fall from grace was compounded by Inter's shock defeat to Celtic in the European Cup Final and suddenly his managerial stock had been eclipsed by his Paraguayan rival. Some in the Italian press even mischievously suggested that HH2 had earned the right to ownership of the HH title.

With Inter now a fading force, Heriberto's Juventus were expected to step up and dominate Serie A, yet a lack of goals continued to confound them. Their surrender of the 1968 title to Milan and the semi-final exit to Benfica in Heriberto's solitary European Cup campaign led to a shake-up. The club spent hugely to address their goalscoring problems and in came the experienced West German Helmut Haller and the young Mantova prodigy Pietro Anastasi. The combined fee was nearly £700,000, an eye-watering amount even in the overheated financial environment of Italian football at the time.

The newcomers settled well and Juventus were enjoying a strong 1968/69 campaign until their season crashed off the rails after a chaotic home fixture against a Roma side now managed by none other than Helenio Herrera. He had decamped there controversially after leaving Inter and was struggling to turn them into a competitive side. They were tame in Turin too and trailed 2-0 until coming back, surprisingly, for a draw with two late goals including a controversial penalty.

Trouble broke out at the final whistle and soon degenerated into a full-scale riot with dozens hurt in the confusion. A Juventus supporter was arrested for waving a loaded gun at Roma players and Helenio Herrera, never popular in Turin, was punched in the face on the Roma team bus by home fans. Juventus were heavily fined and the match was initially awarded to Roma until this decision was overturned on appeal. Heriberto's team got their point back but lost their momentum. Fiorentina went on to become champions.

Arguments over transfers saw Heriberto's five-year reign at Juventus end in the summer of 1969, but he didn't have to wait long for a new position. Within a matter of weeks he was appointed as Inter's new head coach with a lucrative contract which made him the second highest paid manager in the world. Second, of course, to Helenio at Roma.

Inter's new president, Ivanoe Fraizzoli, was struggling badly to find his feet and wanted a disciplinarian in charge to try to emulate the Helenio days. Inter's players had drifted apathetically over the past two seasons and someone was needed to whip them into shape. Heriberto was a sensible choice. His training methods were rigorous with players drilled to attain very high levels of fitness.

He led by example and lived up to his 'iron sergeant' nickname, starting his own pre-season training routine several weeks before his players and then participating fully in his own sessions. He was obsessed with diet and banned players from eating a wide range of foodstuffs. Cigarettes, too - any player caught smoking would be fined on the spot.

Innovative and creative when it came to the mechanics of the game, he would create different high momentum passing routines in small areas as part of what he called his 'parallel matrix technique'. He developed a gesture system to convey a range of high-level instructions to his players rather than risk shouted messages being misheard in noisy stadiums. The parallels between his and Helenio's clear and focused approach to management were uncanny and they would even share similar relationships with similar players - both loved Luis Suarez for his consummate professionalism but both were driven to distraction by the languid and inconsistent Mario Corso.

Heriberto's only full season in charge of Inter was underwhelming. Finishing runners-up to Cagliari was an improvement on the previous year but they were never really in serious title contention despite the world record acquisition of forward Roberto Boninsegna. A chaotic close season ensued: Fraizzoli ignored his manager's wishes by selling Suarez and keeping Corso and morale was further undermined by a player strike, caused by the president's unilateral reduction of agreed bonuses.

The 1970/71 season kick-off brought little respite. Still never a manager to freely liberate attacking talent, Heriberto controversially deployed new forward Sergio Pellizzaro as a deep-lying right-winger to little discernible effect. A 3-0 derby defeat to Milan left Inter second bottom of Serie A after five games and Heriberto was sacked, perhaps harshly in hindsight. The same squad eventually recovered sufficiently under youth coach Giovanni Invernizzi to win the title.

Heriberto teamed up again with Luis Suarez at Sampdoria and then had a spell with Atalanta. Back in Spain after 11 years away, he would take charge at Las Palmas, Valencia and Español. His style remained obdurate and he proved adept at steadying listing clubs, less so in advancing ambitious ones with high-profile and strong-minded players who did not respond to his autocratic manner. His falling out with Johnny Rep cost him his Valencia job, this despite the club occupying third place in the table at the time.

The entwined lives of Heriberto and Helenio gently wound down in tandem, with both retiring in 1982. Helenio would spend his final years in Venice and Heriberto returned to live out a quiet retirement in Asunción. The Paraguayan passed away in 1996, Helenio would follow in 1997. He outlived Heriberto by a matter of months and while his legacy lives on as strongly as ever today, the memory of Heriberto, perhaps his biggest managerial nemesis, grows fainter and fainter.

Craig is launching a retro football blog called Beyond The Last Man next month. You can follow updates via Twitter: @BeyondTLM

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