Now that the 2012-13 Premier League season is over, it’s time to grade the performances this season by the Premier League managers. Like a regular school report card, if a manager receives a grade worse than a C-, then that manager should be sacked.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United: Alex Ferguson’s last campaign was a resounding success. The outgoing boss strangled the Premier League from the first month of the season, steering a steady ship while his title rivals flailed in the midst of controversy and rumor. The league season was a perfect showcase of Ferguson’s drive and control – and the burning desire that spurred him on his whole career. Sir Alex deserves credit for the coup of signing Robin van Persie that all but won the league, and tightening up United’s defense after the turn of the year. Ferguson will be disappointed with his final exit from Europe, but there was no better time for him to retire. His departure was handled with poise and punctuated with power. Simply the best. Ever. A
Roberto Mancini, Manchester City: Sort of like Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid, Mancini wore out his welcome among the players at the club. On the field, City were a grave disappointment, too often playing sluggish football devoid of real cohesion or energy. Mancini himself burned far too many bridges – both with players and the board, while his penitent for sending messages through the press was not appreciated by the club hierarchy. With his departure, more tears will be shed by supporters than people inside the club. That isn’t to say what Mancini did for City is minimized, and he’ll always have a special place at the club, but it was time for him to go. D
Rafael Benitez, Chelsea: On the field, Rafa Benitez’s reign at Chelsea was mediocre. He did achieve the goals – mainly, Champions League qualification and a trophy – that were set out for him when he took the job, but Benitez’s Chelsea wilted from the league title race, were poor in big games – two domestic cup semi-final losses – and Benitez failed to install any clear strategy or direction into the team. But this marriage was never about on-field performance. Of course, some of the abuse Benitez took at Stamford Bridge was excessive and mean, but an apology from Benitez for what he said about the club’s fans when he was at Liverpool would have cooled temperatures. The apology never came, and it was obvious that Chelsea was just a stepping-stone job for Benitez, to get his name back in the managerial pinwheel. Fans will never accept a manager cut out more for their CV than the club. Benitez was also incredibly self-promoting – taking all the credit for the team’s successes, and not taking any responsibility for the team’s failures, underlined by the rant at Middlesbrough when Benitez blamed the fans, the owner, his agents, the board, the players, the spirits, the universe, and the galaxy for all his problems at Chelsea. He may very well have been fired even if he was not, “The Interim One”. C
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal: Not good enough. It simply isn’t good enough, year after year after year, for Arsenal to embarrassingly exit cup competitions, not bring home silverware, and strain harder and harder to finish in the Champions League places. Yes, the Gunners pulled out fourth place in the end this year, but if results had gone differently on the final day and Arsenal had finished fifth, would Wenger still have his job? The loyalty and respect Arsenal are showing to a legend is commendable, but their lack of action is not. New direction is needed to lift the club to its previous heights. Whether Wenger is able to oversee those efforts is an entirely fair question to ask. C-
Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham Hotspur: It was clear this season just how much AVB learned from his fiasco tenure at Chelsea. Villas-Boas wasn’t as aloof, high-strung, or arrogant as he was last season, and was infinitely more relaxed – courtesy, in part, to a healthier working environment at White Hart Lane. Many questioned Daniel Levy’s decision to tab Villas-Boas to replace Harry Redknapp, but with Villas-Boas in for the long-haul at Tottenham and ever improving as a manager, it doesn’t seem like such a bad decision. Sure, Villas-Boas didn’t finish as high in the league table as Redknapp did last year, but there is promise at the Lane – especially if Gareth Bale stays. B+
David Moyes, Everton: The David Moyes era at Everton was truly remarkable. Moyes’ transformation of the Toffees from a sliding, relegation-threatened club into one of the most solid sides in the country was a feat that remains one of the most impressive of the Premier League era. Again, Everton improved this year, overachieving and finishing above Liverpool. As hard as it will be to replace Ferguson at Manchester United, it could be harder for Everton to replace Moyes – a man who certainly deserves his shot among the world football’s elite. A-
Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool: The start of the Brendan Rodgers’ era at Liverpool was nothing spectacular, but progress was made in a rebuilding 2012-2013 campaign. Rodgers was able to get Liverpool humming at times this year, but was plagued by inconsistencies and a lack of quality in certain positions. Rodgers has at times been found lacking tactically and charismatically, but he has time to improve. The road back to the top of English football was always going to be long and hard for Liverpool, but the club seem sure that Rodgers is the man to lead the charge. This year, finishing below Everton and out of even the Europa League places is acceptable, but in the years going forward, it won’t be. B-
Steve Clarke, West Bromwich Albion: It’s impossible not to feel good for Steve Clark, a career #2, who finally got his shot as the top man and is taking advantage. The Baggies have been surprisingly good this season, and Clarke has amassed more points in his first season in charge than famous names Roberto Di Matteo and Roy Hodgson had the previous two seasons. Credit to West Brom for appointing a highly capable manager, even if he was not the most high-profile option on the market. They are reaping the rewards. A-
Michael Laudrup, Swansea City: It’s the up and up at Swansea where Michael Laudrup seamlessly took over from Brendan Rodgers last summer, and won the Welsh club their first major trophy in 100 years, culminating in an emphatic League Cup triumph at Wembley. Swansea secured a top-half finish in the league early in the season, playing Laudrup’s pretty football. The challenge for the Dane is improving on his first year in 2013-2014, with Cardiff coming into the league to give the Swans some Welsh competition. A-
Sam Allardyce, West Ham United: Big Sam had the Hammers playing like a club in their tenth season back in the Premier League, not their first. The Hammers were never threatened by the drop. Big Sam’s new, two-year contract is smart business at Upton Park, seeing as the last three clubs Allardyce has left have gone into freefall. Another fine job by the less quippy, less glamorous version of Harry Redknapp. B+
Tony Pulis, Stoke City: Yes, Stoke City survived an almost-disastrous late-season swoon, but that shouldn’t cover up the fact that the club is still playing Championship football. After five years in the Premier League, Stoke haven’t made any progress. Pulis is a scrapper, and he managed like he expected his club to be in a relegation fight. It’s been half a decade. Stoke need to graduate from playing kick-ball. Right now, the club is stuck in neutral. C-
Chris Hughton, Norwich City: Hughton has deserved another shot in the Premier League after being brutally sacked by Newcastle in his first go-around. Hughton isn’t quite the manager Paul Lambert is, and Norwich weren’t quite as good as they were last year. But Hughton did complete his first and main goal – keeping the club in the Premier League. Norwich just hopes it won’t be so close next year. B-
Alan Pardew, Newcastle United: The deceptively fiery Pardew was in trouble the whole season – first with referees, then with a surprise relegation fight that Newcastle won backhandedly. Sure, Pardew was unlucky to see Demba Ba go in January, but the club bankrolled Pardew’s French Revolution, and while Newcastle were huge overachievers last year, they were huge underachievers this year. Pardew seems like a very mediocre boss who got lucky in 2011-2012. That eight-year contract is looking longer by the day. C-
Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton: There were many question marks surrounding Southampton when the club sacked double-promotion winning manager Nigel Adkins with the team finally beginning to adapt to Premier League play. But the understated Pochettino has done well, installing a passing system that Southampton picked up quickly to beat the drop. The hire was out-of-left field – Pochettino doesn’t speak English and he’d just been sacked from relegation-threatened Spanish club Espanyol – but it got the job done. B
Martin Jol, Fulham: It was a hugely disappointing year for Fulham, who finished closer to relegation in 2012-2013 than in any year since Roy Hodgson pulled out a miracle survival in 2007-2008. Once in the Europa League Final, the Cottagers have faded quickly under Jol, who has been unable to replace departed talent effectively in the transfer market and has been uninventive tactically. Fulham, who were atrocious over the second half of the season, have a stale brand of football. It’s time for a reinvigorating change at the helm. D+
Paul Lambert, Aston Villa: Full credit goes to Lambert, who never lost faith in Villa’s successful battle against relegation. Lambert gave himself a huge coaching job by playing the youngest team in the league, and he stuck with that team through some very bleak times, especially through the winter. But Lambert’s kids improved throughout the season, faith was rewarded when his side peaked at the very best time – down the stretch of the season. The learning curve was steep, but necessary in a rebuilding year – by beating the drop, Lambert can begin to build Aston Villa into a contender again. A-
Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland: Di Canio’s shtick is incredibly annoying. I’m all for enthusiasm, but no manager should be bounding down the touchline after a goal in their second game in charge like a banshee, simply because they can’t, after only a few days in charge, have the kind of emotional connection with their team that would elicit that kind of reaction after a goal. It seems fake. Di Canio seems fake and obnoxious. Di Canio kept Sunderland in the Premier League, but that was more the doing of Wigan, Reading and QPR than the Black Cats themselves. We’ll see what happens, but it’d be surprising if Di Canio is still in charge a year from now. C
Roberto Martinez, Wigan: What an odd, odd year for the Latics. Winners in one of the most wonderfully shocking FA Cup Finals ever, the inevitable finally happened. Wigan were relegated from the Premier League. In that FA Cup run, and especially the final, Roberto Martinez’s spirit, positivity and belief shone. In the league season, it was undone by sloppiness at the back and mental errors that are common in a doomed campaign. The end had come for Roberto Houdini in the Premier League this year, but he has certainly done enough to warrant a top, top job – Everton, perhaps – and no Wigan fan will ever forget that magical day at Wembley. B+
Nigel Adkins, Reading: The game was long up for Reading when Adkins joined in April, and this grade is more an assessment of Adkins’ year at Southampton than his month in charge of Reading. Adkins is an interesting boss – not awfully charismatic or charming, but workmanlike. He was just starting to turn Southampton around when internal squabbling saw him axed – but there’s no denying that Mauricio Pochettino had Southampton in better form than his predecessor. Adkins will have been surprised and delighted to receive another quality job so soon after he left St. Mary’s, but it’s back to the Championship next season for the former video coordinator. C-
Harry Redknapp, Queens Park Rangers: As hard as it was to tell, Redknapp did improve QPR after he took over from the dreadful Mark Hughes in November, but not even ‘Arry could make the sinking ship at Loftus Road float. The team was so toxic this season that there wasn’t a whole lot Redknapp could have done, but that didn’t prevent him from trying – the high-priced signing of Chris Samba was a disaster. Redknapp, at 66 years old, might be considered foolish for taking this job – after all, who would have thought at this time last year that he’d be facing a challenging Championship campaign in the upcoming season? C
Of the five managers fired during the season, at the time of their sacking, Roberto Di Matteo would have received a B+, Martin O’Neill would have received a C-, Brian McDermott would have received a D+, Nigel Adkins would have received a C-, and Mark Hughes would have received an F.
Do you agree with my grades? Leave your thoughts and share your grades in the comments section below.