Alex Ferguson’s retirement at the end of last season created an unprecedented void at the top of the English game. For the first time, there was no British managerial giant bestriding English football. Now, the major managerial figure in the Premier League is a Portuguese and nine of the 20 clubs are managed by foreigners.
So, of the eleven managers from these isles operating in the top flight, are there any candidates for greatness to take the mantle of Shankly, Busby, Paisley, Ferguson, Revie or Clough?
It’s probably fair to say Big Sam, Pulis, Pardew, Bruce, Hughton and Hughes (all past 50 now) will not be spoken of in hushed tones of awe after they smash their last tea cups. Decent careers, yes. Legendary status amongst those who prowl the technical area? No.
Of the younger generation, Paul Lambert has done decent work at Norwich and under restraint at Villa, but there’s little evidence that he’ll go down in the game’s lore. Gary Monk has only been in the Swansea hot seat for three games, and Tim Sherwood, while he’s doing a decent job of keeping his club in top four contention, has a rather temporary look about him at Spurs.
That leaves us with David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers. Managing the two most storied clubs in the English game, both have resources at their disposal the others discussed (Sherwood apart) can only dream of. By the same token, they carry the weight of enormous expectation.
Frankly, I’ve not been surprised at how Moyes has struggled. Tactically inflexible, Moyes lacks the ability to get the most out of his squad. And his insistence on imposing a system on his players (think how he has tried to shoehorn Mata and Fellaini into the side), rather than developing one to suit their qualities illustrates the point.
Time will make no difference, because the Scot lacks that managerial X-factor and is simply out of his depth. When he says that he doesn’t know what else his side could have done to win a game (as he did post Stoke and Fulham), he actually means it. He doesn’t know.
A good manager, but not a great manager – Moyes’ time in Manchester is already coming to resemble the similarly limited Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated Anfield tenure.
Meanwhile, Liverpool lie 11 points ahead of United (an eye watering 40 point swing from the same stage last season) are title contenders and must be favourites to take United’s Champions League spot. Credit for Liverpool’s revival must go to Brendan Rodgers, who may well be the best signing the club’s owners ever make. Written off in a tough first six months as little more than a big talker, Rodgers has since displayed his ability to improve the players at his disposal, design and redesign tactics and formations that get the optimum from them, and, perhaps most critically, learn from his mistakes.
With limited resources in comparison to City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Moyes’ United, the fact that Liverpool are in the “conversation” not only for a top four berth but also for the title itself underlines the burgeoning abilities of the Northern Irishman.
There’s a gap at the top of the English game for a top quality British (or Irish) manager. And the man from Carnlough currently looks best placed of those at large to fill it.