A FEW years ago, a group of young managers was highlighted as the new breed of progressive coaches more interested in technical advancement than in becoming black-suited egos prowling the touchlines. They were not necessarily in charge of the top clubs, but they were taking their employers into the realms of possibility. This group of “tomorrow’s men” included Michael Laudrup – and then his successor Garry Monk – Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers and, waiting in the wings, Paul Clement.
The media loved these characters, largely because they were not Mourinho, Wenger, Ferguson, Redknapp and their peer group. They were the antidote to the cult of the attention-hungry manager.
Swansea City seem to be at the heart of this story, for with the exception of Clement, all of this band of managers spent time at the Liberty Stadium. For a while, it seemed to work well.
But something went wrong. Roberto Martinez was fired by Everton this week and follows Rodgers, Clement and Monk into unemployment. The new generation has floundered, the question is, will they bounce back?
A former Northampton Town striker who moved into management once told me “it is the easiest thing in the world to be the number two at a club, much tougher to be in charge”, and the same could apply to managing a lesser club where expectations are lower and you may just have a bit of time to get things right.
Innovation is tolerated when expectation is limited. When it goes wrong, it is indulged for only a short time.
When Martinez was at Wigan, it was far easier to outperform. He won the FA Cup with Wigan, one of the major shocks of recent times. Nobody expected it, but they did get relegated that season. Martinez moved on to Everton, a club desperate to recapture some of the lustre of old. The problem was, which should have been flagged to the Goodison Park politburo at the time, Martinez didn’t know how to get his team to defend. They were always good on the offensive, but vulnerable at the back. It was evident at Wigan and Everton, to their cost, have found similar shortcomings during the past three seasons.
Everton fans repeatedly said that the current squad is the best in years, and a quick glance at the roster supports that view to some extent, but they have fallen short in 2015-16. It hasn’t helped when Martinez goes into the press and says the plethora of draws were really “victories without goals”.
Rodgers was a Steven Gerrard interception away from winning the Premier in 2013-14, but like Martinez, his teams have often been regarded as defensively frail. When he moved to Liverpool in 2012, Rodgers was heralded as an England manager of the future, that his methods were the way ahead and that he was the most talented coach of his generation. Mourinho without the acidity. What became apparent was that Liverpool over-relied on Luis Suarez and once he left, the team didn’t have the goals to compensate for a suspect defence and that subsequent investment in the transfer market, admittedly driven by the club’s “transfer committee”, was really quite poor.
Again, when Rodgers was at Swansea, he was on the way up, but when he joined a club of the stature, heritage and collective neurosis of Liverpool, the role of the manager changes dramatically. It’s tantamount to putting the Liberal Party candidate – who was always the ‘nicest’ guy in the election because nobody would ever have to rely upon him – in charge of the country.
Rodgers never looked too comfortable at Liverpool and once Suarez left, he didn’t have the protection of a prolific scorer. By the time he left Liverpool in October 2015, he had become the first Liverpool manager not to win a trophy in his first three years in charge. Since then, he’s not had a look in and was supposedly recently snubbed by his former club, Swansea.
When Rodgers left the Liberty, his replacement was Michael Laudrup. Now he is a different character than the others, but he too was touted as a potential England candidate. Laudrup is definitely his own man and has his way of doing things that not everyone always appreciates, despite his enormous talent. He won the Football League Cup with Swansea in 2012-13 but there was continuous speculation that he would be moving on and that the Danish legend was looking for a bigger club. This couldn’t have pleased the Swansea board too much, so when momentum was lost, he didn’t have many allies.
Garry Monk took over from Laudrup and, incredibly, he was also heralded as a future international manager. Such over elaboration was always going to end in tears and Monk was fired this season after one win in 11 games. This does demonstrate that Swansea City’s expectations have risen considerably since they arrived in the Premier.
There is no Swansea connection with Paul Clement, the son of the late QPR and England full-back Dave. He sat in the wings at a lot of clubs, including Real Madrid and Paris St. Germain before finally being appointed manager of Derby County in June 2015. He lasted just 33 games and when he left, despite a poor run, Derby were fifth in the Championship, the position they finished in after 46 games. Clement’s dismissal surprised many people, although his playing style was not always entertaining.
While all of the so-called “new breed” seem to have fallen on difficult times, managers who epitomise the traditional “gaffer” rarely seem to be out of work – men like Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis, Steve Bruce and Alan Pardew. In the case of Allardyce and Pulis, they represent “the man for the job” – you wouldn’t consider them progressive or advocates of open, attractive football. Allardyce and Pulis have never been relegated from the Premier in their managerial careers, although Sunderland ran it close this season for “Big Sam”.
What does this tell us? It may suggest that innovation and inventiveness are appreciated and “bright young things” are indulged while there is a low level of anticipation and there is still scope to “invest” in the future. Once promising talent makes the step-up, the terms and conditions change and sometimes the tolerance level can be short. At the same time, employers want something they can rely upon, hence men like Allardyce and Pulis can always find a job. The challenge now for the likes of Rodgers, Martinez, Monk and Clement is whether they can come again. They probably will, but in the meantime, their stock has to be rebuilt, and that may take a drop down the ladder. They’re all young enough to bounce back, even if their reputations have been tarnished a little.