Will He Stay Or Will He Go? Examining Skibbe’s Future
The Greek national team fell at the final hurdle as they were eliminated from World Cup contention on Sunday’s 0-0 second leg draw with Croatia. That meant the 4-1 loss in Zagreb was the decisive match in ending Greece’s World Cup hopes.
The players, almost in one voice, have quickly stated the goal now shifts to qualification for EURO 2020. And the biggest question on the minds of Greek fans is whether manager Michael Skibbe will remain in his current post.
Skibbe’s contract will run out now due to Greece’s elimination from Russia 2018. The 52-year-old had a clause in his contract that provided for his automatic renewal should Greece have qualified for the world’s biggest sporting event.
Since that was not the case, the Hellenic Football Federation (EPO) must now make the decision as to whether the German coach’s contract will be renewed or whether the team will look elsewhere.
Skibbe came out in his post-match press conference on Sunday vowing to stay on in his role as Greek boss. He insisted he was the right man for the job and that he could make the improvements needed for Greece to be a part of their next major tournament, EURO 2020.
A major plus for Skibbe is the fact that the players appear to be behind their current manager. In the aftermath of the poor first leg in Croatia, highly respected center-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos shielded his manager from criticism about team selection and tactics insisting that the players were solely to blame for what happened in the 4-1 loss.
On Sunday, after the second leg was concluded, veterans Giorgos Tzavellas, Vasilis Torosidis, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos also showed support for Skibbe stating that “all the players want Skibbe to stay.” That does appear to be the sentiment with the players appearing united in the stance of wanting Skibbe to remain their coach.
The current EPO administration is different from the one that appointed the German, however there does not appear to be any ill-will directed at Skibbe. The working relationship between the two sides has always seemed healthy.
Skibbe certainly has some strong supporters from players to media to supporters. They collectively point to the terrible shape this team was in two years ago when Skibbe took over the team. Those groups offer praise to a manager who picked up the shattered pieces of a team that endured an awful EURO 2016 qualifying campaign and struggled mightily in the post-Santos era. There can be no denying that Skibbe made the national team a team once again. That he was instrumental in this side regaining an identity as a tough team to beat and regaining respect throughout Europe. Add to that the big turnaround in the dressing room, where the national team has become a family once again.
The fact that Greece was in a playoff against Croatia was enough for many to deem the qualifying campaign a success. Bosnia was beaten to 2nd place in a group that also included a terrific Belgium team. The high points for Greece were the away matches against those sides. Both were draws, but they showcased the Greece of old, complete with a never-say-die fighting spirit and a defensive sturdiness that had gone missing.
Critics of the German mostly point to more recent displays. After an initial revival, the team has struggled for consistency this fall. The more outspoken detractors insist that Skibbe’s team selection was the reason for disappointing results such as the scoreless draw at home to Estonia that nearly derailed Greek hopes of a playoff place. Skibbe’s insistence on keeping the faith with players who are getting older or ones who aren’t playing regularly for their clubs is also a growing concern in many quarters. There is a suspicion that Skibbe is loyal to a fault to the players he trusts while ignoring who is playing at club level and who is in form.
Tactically there also concerns of Skibbe’s ability to make it work. He has switched around between a couple different formations, but in a few case now, such as the matches against Croatia, he experimented with quite a few players in different positions than what they are usually used to.
The argument between whether Skibbe should be sacked or not seems to hinge on perspective. On the one side those looking for stability and steady growth with a manager who has steadied the ship. The other side of the notion that this manager has done all he can do, that in order for Greece to continue on an upward trend, a better coach must come in.
The coming days should give an answer to whether Skibbe remains or not. Traianos Dellas has been touted as a possible replacement. Some believe that it’s the right time to return to a Greek manager. The reason for this is mainly the fact that with a bright, young generation coming through, someone with intimate knowledge of the Greek game would be better versed to bring those players through.
The odds at the moment are that Skibbe will remain, that the EPO believes he has done enough to warrant a renewal of his contract and get a shot of to qualify for EURO 2020. No decision will carry with it unanimous approval, but time will tell who was right in the case of Skibbe’s future.