PRAGUE (AP) — Jozef Venglos, a Slovak coach who was the first manager born outside Britain and Ireland to take charge of a top-tier club in England, has died. He was 84.
Slovakia’s soccer association said Venglos died Tuesday surrounded by his family. No details about the cause of death were given.
The association described him as “the greatest personality of Slovak soccer.”
Venglos was a respected, experienced coach when he arrived in Birmingham in 1990 to take charge of Aston Villa in the first division for what was the toughest job of his illustrious career.
“You have to have a joy from football, even as manager,” Venglos told The Associated Press in a 2016 interview at his house in the Slovak capital of Bratislava. “There’s a specific feature of English football, that it’s inspirational in all aspects: for the managers, players and of course fans.”
The Premier League has since had a number of star-studded coaches from overseas, such as Juergen Klopp at Liverpool, Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Tottenham, and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Venglos, who was not a household name in Britain when he arrived, became the “First One.”
“It was a surprise to me,” Venglos said. “But also an appreciation of what I had done. It was a well-managed and controlled club.”
When Venglos was introduced as the Villa 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 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 sole charge as he led his national team to third place at Euro 1980. At the 1990 World Cup, he led the team to the quarterfinals.
After his spell in England, Venglos moved to Fenerbahce in Turkey and later to Celtic in Scotland. 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.
Coming from behind the Iron Curtain just a year after it collapsed, Venglos’ appointment by Villa chairman Doug Ellis looked revolutionary.
Taking over from Graham Taylor, Venglos was ready and eager to move the team from the traditional English physical style and apply new methods, starting with a more passing approach, pre-match warmups 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 hoped. Villa ended the season in 17th place, a significant drop from the second-place 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 closely followed the results of the team after his departure. “I watch Aston Villa. I feel joy when things go well for the club.”
In 2016, Venglos said he would never forget Alex Ferguson’s gesture when 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.”
In 2014, Venglos received the highest honor by FIFA, the Order of Merit, for the development of the game.
He is survived by his wife Eva and his sons, Jozef and Juraj.
“Mr. Venglos, we will never forget you,” the association said.
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