The virus has slowed the management treadmill

THE PANDEMIC may be having an unexpected impact on the football management sector in that fewer managers have been sacked so far in 2020-21. With the Premier League at the halfway stage, only one manager, West Bromwich Albion’s Slaven Bilic, has departed in a mid-season taxi. There will surely be more to come, but the Premier is not alone, the axe has not swung as often in Italy and Spain.

Successful managers are a rare, sought-after commodity, hence they command high wages. There is a group of “hired gun” bosses who know that wherever they get hired, they have a good chance of winning something as they will have the budget and expectations to match their enormous salary. Equally, they know their time at any club will be relatively brief and that if the curtain falls, it invariably comes mid-contract when compensation is due. Little wonder you never hear much in the way of gossip about the clubs with a revolving door policy  – a hefty cheque and a non-disclosure agreement makes sure of that.

Over the past 10 years, the club with the most loyalty to their manager is arguably Burnley. They’ve only had two in that time and their average number of games per manager is 227. Arsenal and Manchester United have higher averages if you include the exceptional and extraordinary careers of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Without these legendary figures, Arsenal’s average is 61 and United’s 104 (versus 456 and 383), but given Burnley have not won a major prize since 1960, the stability they have from keeping faith with their manager is very impressive.

Manchester City (206), Liverpool (141), Everton (140), Tottenham (132) and Brighton (110) are among the least trigger-happy when it comes to firing managers. Crystal Palace have the lowest games per manager with just 52. Chelsea’s average is just over 70.

Only half of current Premier League managers have won major silverware in their careers with just seven lifting a big prize over the past five years, no matter where they have been employed.

Over the past decade, club management’s really big names have been Pep Guardiola, Max Allegri, Antonio Conte, Jürgen Klopp, Laurent Blanc and Zinedine Zidane. Then there’s José Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel, Luis Enrigue, Carlo Ancelotti and Ernesto Valverde. There’s an alarming lack of British managers among the elite, Sir Alex Ferguson left the party in 2013 and only Brendan Rodgers has won serious pots when he was at Celtic. At present half of Premier League clubs have British managers, but only one club among the “big six”, Chelsea, has a UK-born boss.

Football management has been a clique for a long time and breaking into the gang is tough. Gradually, though, new talent is coming through and lesser-known names are starting to become household figures in the game across Europe. Unai Emery was one such manager who had considerable success at Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain before joining Arsenal. It didn’t work out at the Emirates and Emery is back in Spain with Villareal, but he’s young enough to have another stab at one of the elite clubs.

Thomas Tuchel was another of the so-called new breed. He was at Dortmund with Klopp and succeeded his mentor in 2015. Tuchel later replaced Emery at PSG but was recently shown the door after two league titles, one Coupe de France and one Coupe de la Ligue, as well as a UEFA Champions League final in 2020. Tuchel also had the best win percentage in Ligue 1 history, a very notable 75.6%. PSG is one of a handful of clubs where even success can be rewarded with the sack!

Tuchel, very much his own man, had a difficult relationship with the PSG management and it would appear his comment on German TV, “I feel more like a politician in sport than a coach”, proved to be the final straw. PSG have gone for Mauricio Pochettino, another name that was often thrown around when a top job became available. 

Clubs like PSG, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal don’t often go for coaches with little in the way of a track record of tangible success, but that’s what they’ve done. Pochettino, Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta were all appointed with no major trophies on their CV, although Solskjaer won two Norwegian league titles and a Norwegian Cup with Molde. Arteta has the FA Cup now, but the others are still making their name in management. Pochettino, who has made a predictably good start in Paris, desperately needs a trophy to enhance his credentials. He should get that elusive bauble this season.

Some managers have excellent credentials, but their success is long buried in the past. Marcelo Bielsa, for example, last won a club honour in 1998, while Roy Hodgson’s last major bauble came in 2001. Nuno Espirito Santo has seen plenty of highs, but his most recent important medal was in 2009 at Porto. Carlo Ancelotti and José Mourinho, both enjoying decent seasons in 2020-21, haven’t had to polish their trophies since 2017.

One stellar name waiting in the wings and wondering who will twitch first is Max Allegri, who has been on a sabbatical since leaving Juventus in 2019. Allegri has won six league titles over the past decade, a record he shares with Pep Guardiola. He is undoubtedly watching what happens at Arsenal, Chelsea, maybe even Manchester United over the coming months. There are also a number of clubs across continental Europe who would welcome the calm and intelligent former Juventus manager. 

Julian Nagelsmann is another coveted and much-discussed figure. Still only 33, you get the impression the wunderkind of German football management is on a learning curve that will eventually lead to the biggest jobs in football. That will surely include a stint outside of Germany, but he has time on his hands, and has yet to win anything as a coach.

The one thing that comes with being part of the top manager’s club is constant rumours about your next move, be it speculative reporting or strategic leaks by intermediaries. As we have seen with the likes of Solskjaer, Arteta and more recently, Lampard, the outlook changes by the game. Some newspapers are very quick to write the epitaph for managers still in their job, claiming that their current employer is already speaking to his replacement. Nothing is sacred, it would seem.

Photo: PA Images

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