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Is This a Golden Age of (Foreign) Premier League Managers

Published by Bleacher Report on Fri, 15 Jul 2016

Given that golden generations often have a propensity to underwhelm, it is perhaps damning with faint praise to label the current melange of dugout dwellers a high-water mark for the Premier League.Yet while the England manager's job appears to attract a calibre of candidate on the lukewarm side of tepid, domestic English football continues to ensnare a gluttonous portion of the game's most innovative thinkers.None of whom are English, but more of that later.Whether struggles for Premier League clubs in the UEFA Champions League is simply cyclical, or cuts deeper in being symptomatic of a league that has stood still in recent years while deluding both itself and the rest of the world of its bloated importance, appears to be of little concern to a raft of the world's finest managers making a beeline for English shores.Since 2010, the Premier League has provided just two finalists for the Champions League, with Spain responsible for six and Germany four. It's hard to say when such a swing will be reversed.The world's best players certainly seem less inclined to move to England over the lure of Spain or Germany. Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldothree of the Premier League's biggest-ever starsall sought out a move to La Liga when at their peak or about to hit it.In terms of heavyweights on the managerial scene, though, having Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp, and even Claudio Ranieri, Slaven Bilic, Ronald Koeman and Arsene Wenger (stop sniggering at the back) all working in England surely means the Premier League dominates any list of the world's most sought-after bosses.Spain can boast Diego Simeone, Luis Enrique and Unai Emery, while Thomas Tuchel and in particular Carlo Ancelotti in Germany would both feel comfortable dining at football's top table. Juventus boss MassimilianoAllegri is another worthy of mention. Marcelo Bielsa too, but he'd probably only stay long enough for the aperitifs.A less Anglophile view would be Guardiola is only at Manchester City because he has already managed the biggest clubs in Spain (or at least one of them, which rules out the other) and Germany. With Italy and France essentially one-team leagues, maybe there was nowhere else left for him to go.Otherwise though, while the rest of the world can laugh at English football to their hearts' content, they might just admire a growing contingent of top-rate foreign managers.It's safe to say the rest of Europe doesn't welcome English coaches as readily as the Premier League does theirs. Of 98 positions across the continent's top five leagues, Englishmen take just five. And that's a number inflated by the fact Sean Dyche and Steve Bruce won promotion from the Championship last season to join Sam Allardyce, Eddie Howe and Alan Pardew in the top flight.Steven McClaren's sacking by Newcastle United left just three English managers in the Premier League, a lowest-ever total.Only 15 per cent of managers in the Premier League last season were English. For context, 90 per cent of Serie A coaches were Italian, while elsewhere in France (85 per cent), Spain (75 per cent), and Germany (72.2 per cent) homegrown talent managing in the top division is similarly high.Gary Neville's exit from Valencia in March after just four months (a fairly miserable record of 10 wins, seven draws and 11 losses ended his tenure) quickly drew to a close England's sole representation on foreign soil, at least in any of the notable leagues. It's likely that figure will improve though when Boris Johnson gets stuck into his new job, what with his stellar record in international diplomacy.It's not just the rest of Europe that thinks English coaches can't cut it. No Englishman has ever won the Premier League, with the last one to even finish second being Kevin Keegan 20 years ago with Newcastle. The closest we have had to an English winner was the league's biggest bottle job. Go figure.In terms of claiming European silverware, you have to go back until 1984 to find an English winner of either the European Cup or UEFA Cup, with Joe Fagan and Keith Burkinshaw the men responsible for Liverpool andTottenham Hotspur, respectively. George Orwell's most famous and prescient novel foresaw some miserable developments, but nothing quite as grim as how English coaches would fare in the subsequent 32 years after 1984.If indeed it is a golden age of foreign managers in the Premier League, it's more of the gold-plated kind for the homegrown variety.In light of his interview for the England job, a succession of (about-turn) think pieces on how Allardyce was in some ways ahead of his time have appeared. Apparently he was the first Premier League manager to warn his players to go easy when adding salt to their chips, and an early advocate of technology in sport after winning the Premier League with Barnet on a floppy-disk version of Championship Manager.It recalls how Roy Hodgson was presented as a deep-thinker when he got the England gig because he read Philip Roth and John Updike. He'd have been better off reading some coaching manuals.It's chest-beating stuff, but does anybody really believe it'When you have no identity, and choose to take Allardyce's, it's like needing a face transplant and picking Gollum's out of a catalogue of film stars. The Sunderland manager is a good club coach in the same way a steak pie is tasty, but it's never going to win you a Michelin star.There's no doubt he believes he can do the job, and genuine good luck to him if he gets it, but in the words of the critic Robert Hughes: "Confidence is the prize given to the mediocre."Much as Allardyce, Bruce and Howe (good but far from ready) set the heart aflutter, it's hard to look at Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte pitching up for new jobs in England over the summer and not break out into big salty tears at the state of the national game. It's safe to say no contender for the England job was on the wish list of any of Manchester City, Manchester United, or Chelsea.The Premier League may be big, bold, brash and ostentatious to the point of being nauseous, but at least it's ambitious. In comparison, the Football Association is the kid that cowers behind its mother's legs at the school gate. Just wait until Allardyce makes it mandatory for England players to wear shorts in the style of Lee Cattermole, that'll sort them out.England's loss, if you can ever lament something you have never had, is most definitely the Premier League's gain. Between them Guardiola (six), Mourinho (eight) and Conte (three) boast 17 league titles across five different leagues, along with four Champions League wins.That's not a bad haul considering Mourinho is still just 53, while Guardiola and Conte are even younger at 45 and 46, respectively. All three can hold a room just by being in it.The forthcoming Premier League campaign is surely unique in that I'd hazard large swathes, if not the majority, of Leicester City, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, West Ham United, Liverpool and Chelsea supporters would not swap their manager for anyone else's. Has this ever been the case before'Given that football supporters by their nature would moan if they won the lottery because they haven't got anywhere to put the giant cheque, more than a third being entirely content with their manager (if indeed that's the case, its not a scientific point I'm making) would be a measure of how the Premier League has become a playground for the managerial great and good.Everton supporters are also rightly cock-a-hoop about luring Koeman from Southampton, while Bournemouth and Burnley fans would take you down to Chinatown if you uttered a bad word about either Howe or Dyche in earshot. Walter Mazzarri arrives at Watford on the back of a stint at Inter Milan, a turn of events that incidentally barely merits a second thought these days.Claude Puel could prove a smart move for Southampton, but for them to make it a hat-trick of inspired appointments on the back of Pochettino and then Koeman seems a big ask. Selling all his best players before he'd got changed into his training kit worked fine for the Dutchman, but it's not an easy gig at St. Mary's Stadium this season, now they have done the same to Puel.While taking nothing whatsoever away from Leicester's remarkable achievement last season, it's worth remembering the Premier League's traditional behemoths were less in flux, than in full-on crisis mode for most of the campaign.Remarkable stories at the heart of so many of the country's top clubs were almost forgotten, flattened before they had time to breathe by Leicester's runaway title train.Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers on October 4. Mourinho was ushered out of the back door at Chelsea before the Christmas tree was up, while Manuel Pellegrini confirmed he was to fall on a Guardiola-shaped sword at the season's conclusion, after giving a remarkable Liar Liar-inspired press conference at the start of February.Across Manchester, Louis van Gaal didn't think it odd he was left off official club promotional material for the forthcoming campaign, or notice half of his squad routinely popped in glass eyes whenever he started a sentence with either "philosophy" or "process."Arsenal and Wenger's angsty existential existence continued to play out on a perpetual loop, like a video installation in an art gallery that catches your imagination for a fleeting moment, but ultimately leaves you thinking you've somehow missed the joke. You internally question, "what was the point in that'" before earnestly muttering "interesting piece" to no one in particular. A bit like Arsenal, interesting if ultimately a little pointless.The Frenchman will point out where Arsenal finished in the table, with a nod towards the more feted Pochettino, and remind you that of last season's top 13 in the Premier League, only five will start the new campaign with the same manager they had in August 2015. If longevity is a trait worth having, Wenger is still king.It's hard to look at the managers in situ at the league's biggest clubs this season and think similar mistakes will be made.Both Manchester clubs have unquestionably had upgrades, while Conte seems the ideal candidate to whip into shape a talented but at times bone idle Chelsea side. Expect Eden Hazard to either be sold in January, or crowned Player of the Year in May. Halfway measures don't seem to be the Italian's style.Leicester smashing through football's glass ceiling, with all the subtlety of a horse stepping off a diving board in a crowded swimming pool, has led to a widespread recalibration of what is perceived possible. When you add into the mix an eye-watering television deal that has afforded extravagant bounties to all, making princes of relative paupers, is it any wonder expectation levels are at fever pitch'For managers it could prove a mixed blessing. Having pots of money to spend on new players is probably both a relief and fun, but in the words of Spider-Man, or Uncle Ben depending on how geeky you are, "with great (spending) power, comes great responsibility."Survival is no longer enough for Premier League supporters. No one will want to be in Bear Grylls' gang next season, drinking their own piss when champagne is available on tap. When ludicrously exorbitant transfer fees mean English football has again eaten into the side of its face for much of the summer, while ticket prices remain sky-high in comparison to European equivalents, there can be few complaints about unrealistic demands having been engendered in the stands.If you're paying 50 to watch a 30 million striker, he'd better be able to hit an ant's arse with a banjo.The Leicester effect could prove to be English football's road-to-Damascus moment, but more likely it will act as an ice-cold glass of water poured down the pants of any of the league's giants that may have grown complacent. And ultimately, probably lead to more managerial comings and goings than ever before.Golden age, or otherwise.
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