Football managers and their kind – very few are winners

STEVE BRUCE has left the building and possibly the worst job he has ever endured. Hated by the Newcastle United fans, a servant to an owner who was equally disliked, and living on borrowed time after the club was taken over in somewhat controversial circumstances. It was probably a blessed relief for a man who is nothing more than an honest broker of a football manager. It was “mutual consent” and all that nonsense, a corporate phrase used to spare feelings and blushes, but what this catch-all term really meant was, “paid off, non-disclosure agreement signed and let’s say no more”.

Bruce lasted 97 games, which is below the average among current Premier League managers, which stands at 127. But take out Sean Dyche (401), Jürgen Klopp (330) and Pep Guardiola (301) and half of the Premier’s managers have been in charge for under 100 games.

Bruce had a win rate of 28.9%, a struggling team’s record, but Newcastle United have rarely been much better than underachievers. More illustrious names have struggled to bring success to the club – Rafa Benitez (42.47%), Chris Hughton (49.38%), Bobby Robson (46.67%) and Graeme Souness (44.83%), not to mention the first Kevin Keegan era (54.98%) have all done better, their records boosted, in some cases, by stints in the second tier. The bottom line is, many men have tried in vain to make Newcastle successful which leads one to assume the problem isn’t necessarily the managers, but elsewhere within the structure.

Very few managers win trophies, because very few teams win the big prizes, as evidenced in the records of current Premier bosses. Just five have won with their current sides: Mikkel Arteta (Arsenal), Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea), Brendan Rodgers (Leicester City), Klopp (Liverpool) and Guardiola (Manchester City). The last manager to win silverware with Manchester United was none other than José Mourinho, which also underlines the small universe of success managers circulate within.

In the past five seasons, there have been nine winning managers, of which four (Wenger, Conte, Sarri and Mourinho) are no longer plying their trade in the Premier League. Of the remaining five, Tuchel’s one victory with Chelsea was in European football. That leaves four domestic winners: Guardiola (eight prizes), Rodgers (one), Arteta (one) and Klopp (one). 

The chances of success are slim and getting slimmer as time passes due to the polarisation of big-time football. Guardiola’s record is outstanding whichever way you look at it. Since 2009, he has led his club to a league title in nine out of 12 seasons in which he has been working. In total, he has won 20 major trophies. His win rate at Manchester City is 72.64%. José Mourinho has also won 20, including eight league titles. These two coaches compare favourably with Sir Alex Ferguson, who won 34 across his time with Aberdeen and Manchester United. They both exceed the performance of Arséne Wenger, who won 14 overall, 10 of which were with Arsenal.

Ferguson and Wenger were unique in that they were employed by a single club for a very long time. They are both the most successful managers their respective clubs have ever had. Ferguson’s trophy haul dwarfs every one of his predecessors and successors – Matt Busby, for example, won eight trophies with United compared to Ferguson’s 25.

Similarly, at Arsenal, Wenger’s record is far more impressive than any of the men that came before him. Herbert Chapman, who contributed to the development of the modern game more than most, won just three prizes with Arsenal (two league titles in 1931 and 1933 and the FA Cup 1930). Chapman’s successors, George Allison, Tom Whittaker and later, Bertie Mee, all won three prizes apiece.

Chapman’s career was curtailed by his premature death, but his influence was actually far greater than his on-pitch success. Similarly, Bill Shankly’s record was not as comprehensive at Anfield as some people believe, although his legacy was effectively what became the modern Liverpool.

Shankly won six major trophies: three league titles, the FA Cup twice and the UEFA Cup. His successor, Bob Paisley, a more unassuming, humble figure, lifted 13 trophies, including six league titles, three Football League Cups, three European Cups and the UEFA Cup. Paisley’s win rate was 57.57%, compared to Shankly’s Liverpool figure of 51.98%. Kenny Dalglish, who took over as player-manager in the post-Paisley period and then had a second stint as manager, enjoyed a win rate of over 60% in his first spell and won five trophies, adding another in 2011-12. 

Managers have their time and often they coincide with the best of times for their respective clubs, such as Brian Clough at Forest, Bobby Robson at Ipswich, Don Revie at Leeds United and Graham Taylor at Watford. In the modern game, there is a reluctance to acknowledge that the good times eventually come to an end. Wenger at Arsenal had run his course long before he left, Mourinho is still trying to be very relevant when his best days may just be behind him. It is hard to imagine any top manager admitting he’s no longer up to the role – such as Bill Nicholson did when he left Spurs in 1974 or even Matt Busby when he stepped down for the first time. Brian Clough, genius though he was in his prime, should have passed the baton on earlier than 1993. Great managers generally know when their time is up, but human nature being what it is, they can often be in denial.

Steve Bruce has said that he may never work again and it is likely that his recent experiences may deter him from stepping back into the firing line. Clubs do not have patience anymore, they are unwilling to build something over time and want instant gratification. It is often forgotten that Sir Alex Ferguson went from 1986 to 1990 before winning his first cup with Manchester United and then another three before clinching the league title.  In today’s football, he would never have that kind of luxury. 

Likewise, a club like Chelsea would not allow two seasons to pass without silverware. One barren campaign, maybe, but after that, no way. Chelsea went from 1971 to 1997 without a major honour. The exception to this contemporary rule was Arsenal and Arséne Wenger, who went from 2005 to 2014 without needing to break out the silver polish. In hindsight, Arsenal may regret allowing a stagnating system to prevail, but post-Wenger has hardly been a happy time at the Emirates Stadium.

As Newcastle United search for a new manager, they will not only be looking for someone with a track record, but also a figure that can match their lofty ambitions. They will want to make a statement, and not one as anodyne as the message accompanying the departure of Steve Bruce. Success can be measured in many ways, but the new owners will interpret it quite simply as, “trophies, please”.

Newcastle United’s new owners may have to be patient

POOR OLD Steve Bruce went through the entire portfolio of emotions on the day Newcastle bounced up and down in anticipation. At times, he resembled an exhausted marathon runner. 

Bruce’s future was one of the major themes of every preview, commentary and review of a game that highlighted just how poor Newcastle United’s current team is. For much of the game, they made ragged Spurs look decent but were let off the hook by the fact the north Londoners are very average and past their Pochettino peak. A better side would have walloped the Toon by 5-1 or something along those lines.

Up in the stand, the Saudi regime sat with their oversized scarves draped around their necks, looking uncomfortable and a little out of their comfort zone. Before the game, a van drove around the St. James’ Park area with a reminder that the Saudi rulers may be linked to the murder of a leading journalist. “Fake news,” said one supporter, attempting to kid himself that all is well. “This has nothing to do with politics, it’s football. We’ve got the money and the future is great,” said another loyal Newcastle fan. 

Inside the ground, the noise was intense, the banners disjointed, but this was the how it was meant to be, the start of a new era, one without the unpopular Mike Ashley. However much the fans try and ignore the people in the posh seats, the link between Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia will become something of a running sore over the coming months. 

This isn’t Abramovich at Chelsea, not even Qatar at PSG or Abu Dhabi at City, it is something altogether more worrying and a little disturbing. Not so much because of who has taken them over, but because of the hysterical reaction of so many who seem happy to ignore what Saudi Arabia has stood for. 

You could argue fans of Chelsea and City have always cared little for the origins of Roman’s wealth or any human rights issues involving Abu Dhabi, but the sheer joy expressed by the Newcastle fans prompts you to fidget a little. After a grim period, you cannot blame them for being excessively happy, but comparing an owner with a poor communications record and a prudent approach to business with a state that beheads people and kills journalists is not really a fair fight. The world is now too small to be ambivalent about the events taking place in a faraway land. 

Unless somebody sprinkles something magical over St. James’ Park, Newcastle’s owners may have to be content with a relegation fight this season, so any transformational rebirth on the pitch may have to wait. They cannot really start spending on new talent until January and even then, they may be looking for people who can grind out results to save the club’s Premier status. 

As for the players they currently have in their ranks, who are they trying to impress and are they on their way out anyway? From a motivational perspective, how many will be deemed fit for purpose for a new manager?

If Newcastle can now be compared to Chelsea, City and PSG, an influx of talent will accompany the new manager, unless the paymasters decide to give Bruce an extended run. At Chelsea, Abramovich’s entourage gave Claudio Ranieri a year, in which he took Chelsea to runners-up spot and the semi-finals of the Premier League. We now know from experience this level of performance was never going to give the popular Ranieri more time, and besides, they had already lined-up José Mourinho. You had to admire Ranieri for the way he carried on against a backdrop of speculation from day one about his replacement.

Manchester City had Mark Hughes in charge when the middle east money arrived and he had 18 months before being shown the door. While Chelsea won trophies in Abramovich + 1, City had to wait longer for their first silverware in the form of the FA Cup in 2010-11 and another year for the Premier. 

Hiring your own carefully-chosen people is something that has become very prevalent in the corporate world, so much so that when a new boss arrives, legacy staff become very nervous about their futures. Football is no different – hence, everyone expects Bruce to go. Goodness knows who will be his replacement, but it will be somebody from the catalogue of blue-chip managers, individuals who know what temporary jobs are all about and accept the terms and conditions of contemporary football management. Steve Bruce, an honest broker with a track record of almost 2,000 games as player and coach, has always been more Allardyce than Allegri and it is the latter the new owners will undoubtedly demand, but let’s hope they treat Bruce with due respect.

At the moment, it looks like “new regime, old problems” for Newcastle United, although they have one or two players who will surely become part of the new team that will emerge over the coming year. They are going to need at least 11 local heroes, although the reinforcements are likely to come from everywhere other than Tyneside. Talking of local heroes, though, the club’s medical staff acted heroically in helping to save the life of a stricken fan who needed urgent treatment.

But how long will it take to make Newcastle United into a trophy-winning club again? Many people have tried in the past: Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson, Graeme Souness, Rafa Benitez – the list of big names is impressive, but none have managed to plant major silverware on the boardroom table. The last time it happened was in 1969 when Joe Harvey’s team won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but domestically, you have to go back to 1955 and legendary striker Jackie Milburn. It has been a long wait, so a couple of years won’t make much difference, although the new owners will surely disagree. For decades, Newcastle’s fans have been expectant and frantic for success, but now they have stakeholders who will be insisting on something happening sooner rather than later. Who will exercise the greatest patience going forward?