BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) " 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.
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 well-managed 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.
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 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 still follows the results of the team. "I watch Aston Villa. I feel joy when things go well for the club."
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."
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings