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Manager of the Year

Out of the 20 managers currently in charge of Premiership teams, I’ve narrowed the list down to five for my personal “Manager of the Year” award for the 2007-2008 season. I’ll trim it down further to three on Wednesday, and announce the winner here on Friday. Your comments and feedback are definitely welcome; if you’re a fan of a particular team and/or manager, let me know why you think your guy should win. If I didn’t include someone who you wanted to see amongst the “quarterfinalists”, take me to task for it and tell me why I made a mistake.

The five candidates are in no particular order; I haven’t yet determined my “semifinalists” and winner:

1. Roy Keane (Sunderland): After taking charge early in the season last year at Sunderland and proceding to win the Coca-Cola Championship, Keane has led the Black Cats to almost certain safety in England’s top flight this campaign. Many people believed that Sunderland, as is the case with most Championship teams that come up to the Premiership these days, would go straight back down, but that doesn’t appear like it will happen. His team has defied expectations and this is a man who, despite a well-earned reputation as a fiery player during his day, has been calm, level-headed, and optimistic all year, even when things weren’t going well.

When you look at his roster, there is only one player, striker Kenwyne Jones, who could possibly earn significant playing time at a bigger club, but Keane has molded this patchwork group together and he’s got his team in 13th place right now. An impressive road victory at Aston Villa is probably the signature win of the season, but triumphs in North East derbies against Newcastle and Middlesbrough in a couple weeks’ time would be huge for Keane and Sunderland.

2. Juande Ramos (Tottenham): Ramos inherited a team that was in the relegation zone and was really suffering both from fitness issues and player apathy. He’s turned that around and then some, beating London rivals Chelsea to win the Carling Cup, which represented Spurs’ first trophy in nine years, and reaching the Round of 16 in the UEFA Cup before being eliminated on penalties by PSV Eindhoven.

Spurs have also gradually climbed up the league table into 11th place, and are only five points behind West Ham. With the start that this team had, a top-10 finish looked nearly impossible but Ramos has created a new era and mentality at Tottenham. His players have said that Ramos’ strict focus on fitness and diet, two things not really valued in English culture, has really had a huge impact, and aside from that one blip after the winning the Carling Cup final in which some of his players were caught drunk in public by the media, it’s a team with a completely different outlook than the one they had under Martin Jol, who had taken them as far as he could.

Yes, the talent has been there in the form of guys like Berbatov, Keane, Lennon, Jenas, and others, but it takes a special manager to harness that talent and turn it into success on the field, especially since he has a roster full of players that have been extremely moody and inconsistent in the past.

3. Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa): O’Neill has done incredible things with the England U-21’s…excuse me, Aston Villa, and has a team that will further develop and contend for a Champions League spot in the future. With that said, they’re in 7th place at present and have already exceeded last season’s win total (11) by three so far this year with five games still to play, and are definitely going to improve on last year’s 11th place finish.

What’s remarkable about O’Neill is that he’s been successful with the Birmingham-based club without spending a whole lot of money (although he has apparently been given a sizable war chest to spend this summer), and has one of the smallest (in number, not size) first team rosters in the Premiership. Only 16 field players have started a league game for the Villains this season and of those 16, nine have started 20 or more matches in the Premiership and 12 have started over ten or more games.

With all that said, I think the most telling thing about O’Neill and how much he means to his team can be shown when one of his players scores a goal. O’Neill jumps for joy nearly 26 feet off the ground and is the first to run to the touchline to hug, high-five, and celebrate with his players. He praises them in public and will support them to the end, but is also the first to criticize them a little bit when necessary and push for the extra gear that he knows these young players have.

4. David Moyes (Everton): The Scotsman and his team operate in the shadow of city rivals Liverpool, but Moyes has done a fantastic job with the Toffees this season and they could make another appearance in the UEFA Cup next year if the standings end up the way they currently are. They reached the Round of 16 this season before bowing out to Fiorentina in penalties, and got to the semifinals of the Carling Cup before losing to Chelsea.

Moyes has guided his team through injury problems (Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, etc.), and extended absences due to the African Cup of Nations (Joseph Yobo, Yakubu, and Steven Pienaar). This is another squad with some very serviceable, useful players, but no one that would really feature for any bigger teams in Europe, and Moyes has done very well to get the best out of them. The club’s eight road wins are tied for the third-most in the league.

Upcoming games against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Aston Villa will be huge for Everton and their quest to remain in 5th place, but you can count on Moyes having his team prepared and ready to play.

5. Arsène Wenger (Arsenal): Although it looks like Arsenal will fall short in both the Premiership title hunt and Champions League, one can’t discount what Wenger has been able to get out of a largely inexperienced team. There are some older, veteran players on the roster, but not all of them play significant minutes and it’s no secret that the Gunners’ fate hinges on their young guns.

Wenger has been criticized by many, myself included, for coddling his team in the media and never calling anyone on his roster out, but he knows exactly what he’s doing and the puppet strings are in the right hands with the Frenchman. This is a team that had legitimate aspirations for a double earlier in the season, and yes, perhaps it was a bit of a flash in the pan, but Wenger has kept his team more than competitive all season. They haven’t lost yet at the Emirates and have only been beaten twice in the league this year, which shows a lot of discipline and hard work, and that can be attributed directly to the players’ respect and desire to play for Wenger.

As I said, this list will be cut to three on Wednesday. Did I miss someone? I don’t think so, but if you think I did, let me know; I want to hear you.

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  1. villafandan

    April 9, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    @TheScout… if you’re considering signings from last season, like ashley young, no wonder you don’t appreciate how little martin o’neill has spent this campaign.

    still 5 games to go and i’ve a feeling we’ll end up with the best points haul for many years. it looks like we’re about to have our best attendances for more than 50 years too. there’s tons of other great things happening at villa park of which MON is an integral part.

    keane spent about 40 million which looks like will be enough to avoid going back down. rumour has it he’ll be spending another 50 million this summer, let’s hope with that level of spend he’s judged a bit more objectively next time.

    according to the bbc redknapp’s almost doubled the playing staff at fratton park this year sending the wage bill to more than 30 million. the club just recorded a loss of 23 million. i’m not going to mention the legal problems. still, he’s reached an FA cup and has done well in the league.

  2. Tommy

    April 8, 2008 at 10:35 am

    there is alot of fergie bashing here. I particularly see silly comments regarding how easy his job must be with the talent he has it his disposal. Rubbish! It takes a great manager to nurture the talent around him into a team, you could say the likes of Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson and Vidic were smaller names then when the likes of adebayor, hleb, eduardo and van persie upon being signed, The transfer fee for players going to united, chelsea, liverpool arsenal are always inflated regardless, and Fergie has turned most of the players he has bought into world class players.
    Picking your first 11, is one of 100 jobs that you have to do day-to-day as a manager, and through his coaching he has made this the easiest of his tasks,
    I don’t think you can pick arsene above fergie based on the fact he has an easier job, he’s made the job look easy, you can take 2 managers from such similar circumstanceand say arsene has been better this year, if he wins the premiership and the CL, he will be, but he won’t.
    Arsene has done an amazing job at arsenal, but bringing money into the equation is just stupid, if he asked for 30m to spend on one player from the board, he could, but there’s just been some shere arrogance on his part playing weakened sides against lesser teams that have led to his late season drop of form.

    I think ferguie should be manager of the year, seeing how he has truned this United team- supposedly one in transition with the exiting (or ageing of) Giggs, Scholes, G.Nev, (Keano , RvN) being replaced by even better younger players.

    I think Moyes has done an amzing job also, I can’t speak highly enough of everton.
    Its too early to really read into Ramos pasricularly as there will soon be whole-sale changes (for the 10th time, Spurs will see the highest tunrover of players this summer)

    And Redknapp has also done a great job in gathering points, and turning average players into a squad taht can contend

  3. ossie's dream

    April 8, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Michael – good call for not doing the obvious and picking managers solely from the top five.

    Agree that O’Neill and Moyes have probably done the most with the least. An ideal template for once big clubs trying to slowly, surely and sensibly rebuild.

    Keane too has done a great job since taking the helm at the Makems, but he has made one or two suspect purchases (5M for Chopra?) so I think he comes behind Moyes and O’Neill who have made astute acquisitions.

    Wenger is one of the country’s greats, no doubt about it. But he will bitterly disappointed this year, having effectively given up the title in a matter of a few weeks. His failure to buy big, proven talent has cost Arsenal. And, as he should be judged by a higher standard than the others, the barometer by which he should be judged is silverware – and Arsenal won’t win any this year.

    It’s too soon to judge Ramos. Great cup win and he lifted Spurs out of the relegation zone and has shown great tactical chops, something Martin Jol apparently lacked. But Spurs’ form since the cup win has been indifferent. He’ll rebuild in the summer, so one to revisit next year.

    Moyes for manager of the year. Especially if Everton nick fourth.

  4. TheScout

    April 8, 2008 at 8:38 am

    “What’s remarkable about O’Neill is that he’s been successful with the Birmingham-based club without spending a whole lot of money”

    I’ve seen this posted over and over on this blog and others. That’s simply not true. O’Neill has spent plenty of cash…sure he’s not splashing out 17m for a single player but signings like Ashley Young and Reo-Coker were not cheap either.

    I think O’Neill has done a good job but lets not turn him into a miracle worker just yet. Villa are improved slightly…let’s see how they finish the season and where they finish.

    I do think Redknapp should have bumped O’Neill off the list as he has made more significant gains in the standings and point totals ( from 38 in 05-06 to 54 in 06-07 to 53 already this season) and Pompey are a spot above Villa in the table with a game in hand not to mention they have a good shot at winning the FA Cup.

    My five would be:

    1) Wenger – built a very competitive squad on a shoestring budget and only brought in one “high-priced” player.

    2) Sir Alex – manages star players like no one else…you don’t hear the complaints about rotation and playing time that you do at other clubs

    3) Redknapp – reasons stated above

    4) Keane – agree with Michael’s reasoning

    5) Steve Bruce for dragging Wigan out of the relegation spaces to 8 points clear of safety. If they stay there, which I think they will, he deserves some recognition for turning that squad around in such short order.

    Ramos and O’Neill just miss out. O’Neill for reasons stated above. Ramos has done a decent job but Tottenham still lack consistency. Winning the league cup was nice but a squad with as much talent as they have should not get thumped 4-1 by Newcastle.

  5. Michael

    April 8, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Shazback, good call in Redknapp. He was 6th on this list and to be honest, without trying to give much away for tomorrow, it was a dead heat between him and Ramos for the last spot. Ramos has won the Carling Cup and led his team to a good run in the UEFA Cup, and Redknapp looks likely to win the FA Cup.

    You’re spot on, as I said. Redknapp has done a very good job and not including him was tough. He’s blended a good squad out of players from different African nations, a few English players, and a couple guys from the continent. Portsmouth is still in with a shout for 5th place, and Redknapp is largely responsible for it. There are a lot of people, and a few of my friends especially, who don’t rate him at all for some reason, saying he doesn’t adjust to different formations well. Rubbish. This is a man who led Pompey out of near-certain relegation a couple years ago and has gradually moved them up the table since then. I have a lot of respect for him and what’s he done.

    As for people’s arguments about Fergie having built this team, OK, that’s fine, but most managers build their teams anyway. That’s not something that I even really factor in to my decision because building a team isn’t the same thing as managing a team. You build a team over a couple years in the summer and January transfer windows. You manage a team over the course of a season; if you build a good team, great, but by itself, all that means is you have a good eye for talent.

  6. Shazback

    April 8, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Hard call.

    Ferguson improved on a squad that was already brilliant, and hasn’t failed. He might have made some mistakes this season (vs. Citeh…), but they can be counted on one hand. Whilst his squad is brilliant, it’s however not -that- much better than Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool’s. Fabregas, Drogba, Torres… They were all billed to be contendants for Player of the Year, and Ronaldo’s supreme season must have something to do with his man-management. Ferguson might be picking a team most people guess they could pick, but the simple thing is that he built the team. Whilst Chelsea splashed enough cash to have a £70M bench, they’re still three points behind Man Utd, whom count on Fletcher, O’Shea, Piqué, Park and Kuzkckzkckak as bench players. Arsene Wenger is also a very strong contestant, with a side many predicted would find it hard to do anything as Henry left. But Fabregas, Hleb, Flamini, Adebayor and Touré proved the pundits wrong. Grant was expected to “not do very well” (at least compared to Mourinho), but he’s managing to pass (he’s not a tactical genius by a long shot) his first season “exam”. Only Benitez is a “miss” in the “big 4”. Gerrard, Mascherano, Torres, Babel, Kuyt, Carragher, Reina, Riise, Xabi Alonso… Scouse had big hopes, and he hasn’t managed to live up to them.

    But I agree with you that Keane has to be Manager of the year. The Black Cats haven’t been the most impressive side in the league, and they’ve not put in the best results, but they’ve “done the job”. Keane managed to build a squad that’s solid, and even though it’s full of United ex-pats, has a strong team spirit.

    O’Neill has had a brilliant season, and taking such an apparently weak Villa to the UEFA Cup deserves more than a mention. He managed to get youth to blossom, and still retain the fundamentals of his style : solid midfielders and defence.

    Moyes is also in there, as Everton look like they might just repeat a qualification for the CL in front of Liverpool, except he didn’t cash out like Benitez did.

    I don’t think Ramos has done enough. He’s not been bad, but honestly, Tottenham shouldn’t be as low as they are. Also, letting Defoe leave has not proved to be a wise move, as he’s cracking goals in under ‘Arry Redknapp’s command. Because Redknapp seems to me to be the big “loser” in your quarterfinals. His squad is nowhere near the place he’s brought them, and he’s getting the best out of his players (James, Defoe, Benjani, Diarra, Krankjar…).

    1 – Keano
    2 – O’Neill
    3 – Moyes
    4 – Redknapp
    5 – Whoever finishes best between Ferguson and Wenger (Grant could win the Champions League and the League, as well as his League Cup final, he’d still not be one of the 5 best…)

  7. Ian

    April 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    It’s a tough one, because Sir Alex Ferguson is probably still the best manager in the league, but it’s tempting to give a vote to the one who has done the most with the least raw material, which to me is either O’Neill or Moyes. I’m biased toward Moyes, but if he manages to overcome Liverpool, which is still possible even after the derby loss, that would certainly be award-worthy.

  8. Michael

    April 7, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Oops, to clarify my first sentence from that last post, I meant to say “let’s not kid ourselves by saying Ferguson is responsible for driving this team when in reality, Ronaldo is having a superhuman season” or something to that effect. I wrote it backwards in my last post, apologies.

  9. Michael

    April 7, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    I see what you both are saying, don’t get me wrong, but let’s not kid ourselves by saying that Ronaldo’s superhuman season is what has driven Manchester United this year, not Ferguson. If his toughest choice is to play Hargreaves or Carrick, or Nani or Giggs, or Tevez or Rooney, I mean come on, it doesn’t take a great manager to do that.

    Yes, he is a great man-manager but he has more than any other club in the Premiership to work with. He also relies heavily on Queiroz, especially to sign players, although that aspect doesn’t have any bearing on me leaving him out amongst my five “quarterfinalists”.

    I’m not suggesting he isn’t a great manager; on the contrary, he is. Has he done a better job than any of the five I mentioned? I don’t think so; remember, United are the defending champions and were expected by many to repeat. Expectations were lower for the clubs of the other managers and they’ve more than exceeded them.

    The difference between Barcelona’s talent and United’s talent, for one, is Ferguson is respected far more than Rijkaard is and Man U’s players are younger and haven’t had time yet to become selfish and in it only for themselves like guys like Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o, and others.

    I’m not knocking Ferguson, but he has the most talent in the league. If Man U go on to win the Champions League as well, I would reconsider not putting him on this list.

  10. BillE Shears

    April 7, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Maybe Lord Ferg is too obvious, but winning the league should get you into the top five (though that isn’t a sure thing.)

    If it is just pure managing ability, it has to be Keane. No one else has done as much with as little talent.

  11. Todd

    April 7, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    gaffer is spot on. are we really suggesting sir alex ISNT a great manager because he put together too good of a team that performs too well consistently? He does rotate his squad, he does have to keep them motivated, he keeps the egos in check, he knows when giggs should play or nani. i dont know if he did the BEST job this year, but you cant only consider managers who did more with less unless you say “Manager of the Year with the least talent”. hate to say it but off the mark again.

  12. The Gaffer

    April 7, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    My vote is for Alex Ferguson. Despite a team loaded with stars, it takes a ton of motivation and man-management skills to continue getting the most out of his players.

    Sure, Fergie is spoiled with talent but he continues to build award-winning teams year-after-year.

    Contrast his fortunes with the relative failures at Barcelona and Liverpool, two teams that come undone in different ways this season, while Man United has motored along rarely missing a beat.

    The Gaffer

  13. Michael

    April 7, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Wenger signed Ronaldo, Nani, Rooney, Anderson, etc..?

    No, I don’t think so, Matt. Wenger signs a lot of young African players from France, Ferguson has ties in Portugal and Iberia because of his assistant, Carlos Queiroz.

  14. matt

    April 7, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    who was it who signed all those stars and future stars for man u?

    oh yea musta been wenger.

  15. Nevitt

    April 7, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    I knew it Michael. This just proves how much you hate Arsenal, oh, wait… never mind, gut reaction. I kid, I kid. I think you have some good names in there. Definitely agree that although Sir Alex is great a soccer mom could have managed Man U to a great season with the way they are playing this year.

  16. Michael

    April 7, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    I respect Sir Alex a great deal, and Man United probably will win the league title and could win the Champions League as well.

    Sorry, but he’s not the manager of the year. It doesn’t take a brilliant tactician to start Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world, and count on a goal a game from him. It doesn’t take a brilliant tactician to start Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand every game. I could pick the same exact team that Fergie picks; it’s not difficult.

    He picks a lineup from a team full of stars and future stars. The players are the reason Man U has done so well this season, not Fergie, at least not to much of an extent.

    My manager of the year is someone who doesn’t have too much to work with, gets the best out of what he has, shows some nuance and tactical savvy on the field, and knows how to develop his players and bring them along.

    That guy is not Ferguson, not now. Any of us could steer Man U to a title with the talent they have.

  17. Victor

    April 7, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I think you forgot Sir Alex, i think he deserves the title, and respect. What Manchester are proving in premier league and champions league is a result of hard work. Never mind, devils will success without your voting.

  18. ck

    April 7, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    who’s spent the most in the summer?

    def not arsene.. i think he’s spent the least amount last summer and look at arsenal.

    they have played amazing football, just a pity that they might not end up winning anything, but they have won admirers, and respect.

    Arsene Wenger, manager of the year, without a shadow of a doubt.

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