Reviewing the Rookie Managers of the English Premier League
The English Premier League provides the biggest stage in the world for players, managers, and coaches alike to showcase their various skills and talents. Audiences in the millions around the world watch teams and players, as fans tune into whatever TV or Internet coverage is available on a daily basis. An EPL managerial position is one of the most sought after jobs in football.
The successful veteran managers are well known and leaders like Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have become iconic symbols of their respective clubs. In addition, other EPL battle hardened leaders with several years in the English top flight to add to their CVs include coaches such as Rafa Benitez, Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp, Mark Hughes, and Steve Bruce.
With the astronomically high stakes and the pressure cooker that is the managerial hot seat of an EPL team, we’re going to take a look at the newcomers – the EPL “rookie” managers. Seven of the 20 teams are coached by managers in their first year of leading an English club in the top flight. For the most part, they are certainly not cutting their teeth in their first managerial assignment but to qualify for the list they must be in their first year as an EPL manager. Club expectations vary quite dramatically in this group, from survival to Champions League glory, but it’s interesting to review how the new leaders are faring and what we might expect as the season progresses.
Blackburn Rovers: Paul Ince
Previous Managerial Positions: Macclesfield Town (2006); MK Dons (2007)
Appointment Background: After Mark Hughes was recruited to lead the renovation at Manchester City, Ince became somewhat of a surprise candidate to take over at Ewood Park. Blackburn have enjoyed an extensive run in the Premier league and in recent seasons have challenged for a European qualifying spot, developing into a solid Premiership outfit under the guidance of Hughes. Ince took a huge step up from the lower leagues and despite success in 2007 with the MK Dons, he has to quickly come to terms with learning the managerial trade at the highest level.
Expectations: Sustain Blackburn’s status as a top 10 team and continue to push for Euro qualification.
Progress: Right now not good. Rovers had some early success bagging a first win under Ince over Everton on the opening day of the season. Since then form has dipped and Blackburn sit second from bottom in the league with just 10 more points acquired since that initial victory.
Looking Forward: Attendances seem down – at least the games I’ve seen and there doesn’t appear to be much optimism. The squad is probably too good to be sucked into a relegation battle but it’s already been brought up enough to make Ince address the relegation issue with the media. Ince will need to get this team to at least mid-table if he hopes to make this a long-term assignment.
Chelsea: Phil Scolari
Previous Managerial Positions: Numerous clubs in the Middle East, Brazil, and Asia in early career managing 15 teams in 15 years from 1982-1997, including the Kuwait national team in 1991; Palmeiros (1997); Cruzeiro (2000); Brazil (2001); Portugal (2003)
Appointment Background: Avram Grant was never considered the replacement for Jose Mourinho and, despite a decent 2007 season in which Chelsea finished second in both the EPL and the Champions League, the search for his successor was on well before John Terry hit the post. Big Phil was named Chelsea boss during Euro 2008.
Expectations: Win just about everything with an exciting and attacking brand of football.
Progress: As expected, Solari has adjusted to life in the Stamford Bridge cauldron with ease. He is popular with the fans and press alike, and appears to have a genuine rapport with the players. Chelsea are playing with attacking flair and style, leading the way at the top of the league. Despite a setback in their last European Champions League match, they are in good shape to progress.
Looking Forward: They will win something this year or at least come very close. They are a solid team and even if Roman does not break out the cash again in January, Phil has more than he needs to work with to be successful. Chances are he will be around for a long while as Chelsea campaign for silverware on all fronts.
Hull City: Phil Brown
Previous Managerial Positions: Derby (2005)
Appointment Background: Took over in December, 2006 with Hull 22nd in the Championship. Successfully fought off relegation and subsequently, the following season, led the Tigers to top-flight football for the first time in their history.
Expectations: Avoid Relegation.
Progress: The amount of material already generated on the accomplishments of Hull City and Phil Brown since starting their inaugural season speaks volumes. They are everybody’s favorite ‘other’ team (except for maybe Grimsby fans). They have already collected over half of the 40 points usually deemed necessary to survive and have recorded some impressive wins notably at the Emirates and White Hart Lane. It’s not all been rosy but they are the ‘feel-good’ story of the season so far.
Looking Forward: They probably will not be able to maintain their initial early form but a solid mid-table position is more than reachable for Brown’s team. Even if they do fall from grace, Phil Brown has established himself as a top tier managerial candidate for a few years.
Portsmouth: Tony Adams
Previous Managerial Positions: Wycombe (2003)
Appointment Background: Harry wanted to go to Spurs-Spurs paid Portsmouth 5 mil-Big Tone was promoted.
Expectations: Tough to gauge so it would be good to hear from some Pompey fans. Portsmouth have been continuously improving over the past couple of seasons and enter the 08-09 season as FA Cup holders. At the very least Adams will need to maintain a consistent and capable Premiership team.
Progress: Too early to tell although Adams has been on the coaching stuff during the renaissance at Fratton Park and can be credited to contributing to their recent success.
Looking Forward: If Adams can keep the squad around mid-table or better he should be fine for another year or two. January could be a key month in terms of either building or dismantling the team, especially if ‘Arry comes calling with his checkbook.
Stoke City: Tony Pulis
Previous Managerial Positions: Bournemouth (1992); Gillingham (1995); Bristol City (1999); Portsmouth (2000); Stoke (2002); Plymouth (2005)
Appointment Background: Returned to Stoke for his second stint after new ownership at the Britannia Stadium in 2006. Achieved promotion in his second season back at the club to give the Potters their first top flight football in 23 years.
Expectations: Avoid relegation.
Progress: City are hovering around the relegation zone in a tightly packed mid to lower table clutch of clubs. Stoke are playing a very direct style of football that has seem them record decent wins against Villa, Spurs, and Arsenal in addition to earning a very respectable draw at Anfield. If they can avoid a spiral of successive defeats, they have a good shot at securing a second EPL season.
Looking Forward: Fans seem happy and the players seem happy. Unless the team go into a big slide Pulis is probably safe in his job. Continued dedication and consistency could garner him a second season in the Premier League.
West Bromich Albion: Tony Mowbray
Previous Managerial Positions: Ipswich (Caretaker 2002), Hibernian (2004)
Appointment Background: Replaced Bryan Robson in 2006 after West Brom had been relegated. Achieved promotion back to the Premiership at the second attempt and guided the team to the FA Cup Semi-Final last season.
Expectations: Avoid relegation
Progress: Early returns were promising for WBA as they secured their best ever start to a Premier League campaign. Form has since plummeted and the Baggies have just 1 point from their past 7 games while being outscored 17-3, and they currently sit at the foot of the table.
Looking forward: If there is a bright spot, it is that the Premier is so tight this year. A couple of wins on the trot can see any bottom club climb to mid-table. Nevertheless, the current run of results is alarming and Mowbray will need to turn it around quickly if he wants a second Premier term to establish his top-flight managerial credentials.
West Ham United: Gianfranco Zola
Previous Managerial Positions: None (assistant coach for Italy U-21s in 2006)
Appointment Background: An early season replacement for Alan Curbishly, who despite a decent record with the Hammers, fell out with ownership over transfer funds and seemed to be distanced from fans with high expectations. The only manager with no prior experience.
Expectations: Secure top half finish and develop a team capable of qualifying for Europe and challenging for domestic cups.
Progress: Zola has had a bit more time than Tony Adams and it is probably still too early to see how the team will respond to the former Chelsea playmaker. The Hammers secured their first victory in 8 games at Sunderland this past weekend, with their previous EPL victory coming in Zola’s second game in charge against Fulham on Sep. 27th. Form does not appear to be very consistent and he still hasn’t been able to get them to fix that dodgy patch on the front of their shirts!
Looking Forward: His current West Ham team look more like Championship material than the top 6-10 that their fans expect. It could be a case of a champagne taste on a beer budget at Upton Park with the financial situation not likely to aid Zola in strengthening his squad. His induction into football management could end up in disaster unless the performances improve quickly. Zola, however, is a class act and undoubtedly a popular figure in Premiership football. Regardless of how his first term concludes, I think we are likely to see Gianfranco around top-flight English football for a while.
How do you think the managers new to the Premier League are performing? Are you a fan of any of the seven teams discussed and if so what is the general feeling? Of the seven coaches who has impressed you the most?