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Why clubs often hire from the same pool of managers

managers at top-level clubs

There is always a state of flux for managers at top-level clubs.

The immediate desire for results puts stress on managers because fan bases do not want domestic and continental success, they expect it. A poor run of form can turn up the temperature of the manager’s seat rapidly. Oftentimes, that seat is hard to cool down.

We see major clubs across Europe consistently and regularly changing managers. Yet, we see the same crop of managers occupy these positions.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Clubs frequently turn to former players for a shot-in-the-arm of former glory, and some clubs take chances on promising young managers. Frankly, it all depends on the situation at a club.

Some clubs, like Chelsea bringing in Thomas Tuchel, had a foundation of young players that needed the right direction to succeed. Other clubs have the talent and the depth, but lack a certain identity on the pitch. And, sometimes a club just needs to replace a manager, like when Pep Guardiola left Bayern Munich after the 2015/16 season.

Managers, compared

There are tiers of managers for different occasions. Even then, managers often cross these artificial lines. Sometimes managers at top-level clubs seem like a good fit on paper only to fail in the dugout. These tiers are hardly finite.

That being said, certain tendencies prevail for managers at top-level clubs. There are managers that arrive at major sides with the task of rebuilding a club or reinstalling some form of identity. Another category is the managers who come in to provide a finishing touch on a team. The roster is there, the team consistently performs, but the club is missing that final touch.

These tiers are far from exclusive. As seen, the best managers have the ability to accommodate different situations at different clubs.

We take a closer look at the different tiers that managers fall under. And why it is often the same managers who end up rotating through many of the top clubs.

A revolving door

In the list below, the soccer clubs that managers go to are always the same to a certain extent. Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich. These are among the clubs most people think of when they imagine the biggest clubs in Europe. That may not be historically speaking, and sometimes it is not even in modern times. Regardless, these clubs have a degree of pedigree most sides in Europe aspire for.

Presidents and boards at the head of top-level clubs seek out managers with experience; someone with a track record of success. That can be hard to come by, and due to the expanded nature of soccer in Europe, it is hard to compare results in one league with one crop of players to a totally different situation elsewhere.

For example, David Moyes seemed like a great manager at Everton, pulling off top-10 finishes in the Premier League with a much smaller budget. A suggestion by Sir Alex Ferguson for Moyes to be his replacement showed promise. Consequently, Moyes was in over his head, dropping United to the club’s worst finish in the Premier League since the league changed to the ‘Premier League’.

Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich do not want to take risks like United did on Moyes. One could argue that hiring set United back years, allowing Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City to assert their dominance over England. The challenge United faced was deciding whether to rebuild what Ferguson left behind, or use the same strategies he used in his lengthy tenure at Old Trafford.

Clubs must be assertive in this decision, wavering in the median will leave clubs in a state of limbo that itself is hard to escape.

Managers at top-level clubs: Renovations

The most common reason boards seek out new managers is results. Yes, we see managers leave due to personal reasons or get relieved of their duties for other reasons. Oftentimes, it can be a little bit of both.

So, when results are so poor that a club must turn to a new manager, we often see the same people occupy those roles.

Why? Major renovations take time, which is a luxury not afforded to managers of top-level clubs. Therefore, the best managers at this skill develop that reputation, something clubs wildly desire.

Oftentimes, managers’ upbringings allow them to oversee many teams. The clubs listed are simply the highlights, or at least the major clubs, from their careers thus far.

Antonio Conte
managers at top-level clubs

Antonio Conte

  • Juventus (2011-2014)
  • Chelsea (2016-2018)
  • Inter Milan (2019-2021)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (Current)

Antonio Conte is known as one of the more emotional coaches in the game. His passion fits the stigma of Italians in the game, celebrating games to the fullest.

Frankly, why would he do any different? Looking at the teams he managed previously, he delivered titles to each club. He also managed the Italian National Team for a stint from 2014 to 2016 that produced a quarter-final exit in Euro 2016 against Germany.

Just breaking down Conte’s résumé, he arrives at clubs finishing outside of their target range, and provides a changed mentality.

Taking over at Juventus in 2011, Conte inherited a side overcoming the ramifications of Calciopolithe cheating scandal that sent Juventus to Serie B. In the two seasons prior to Conte’s arrival, Juventus finished seventh in Serie A. Then, Conte provided the impetus that saw the Old Lady rattle off nine-consecutive Scudettos. Interestingly, it was Conte himself who ended Juventus’s run, leading Inter Milan to a Scudetto in 2020 in the 2020/21 season.

Early success, does Conte taper off?

It is perhaps a mirror image at Chelsea compared to his time at Juventus. A seventh-placed finish in the league forced Roman Abramovich to call upon Conte’s services. In his first season, Conte brought the Premier League trophy back to Stamford bridge. Of course, he followed that season with a fifth-placed finish in the league, leading to his sacking.

Some attribute Conte’s success to his style of play on the pitch. He depends heavily on his three-at-the-back with wing backs on the flanks, but he can also pivot his structure midgame. Even then, something that makes Conte standout is his personality. His fiery temper and his demand for player production yields results, that much is certain.

José Mourinho

  • Porto (2002-2004)
  • Chelsea (2004-2007, 2013-2015)
  • Inter Milan (2008-2010)
  • Real Madrid (2010-2013)
  • Manchester United (2016-2018)

Perhaps no other manager has the rap sheet of José Mourinho. Among the managers at top-level clubs, Mourinho is one of the first to pop into people’s minds.

Breaking on to the scene with Porto, the Portuguese manager led the side to two-consecutive Primeira Liga titles after a three-season drought. However, Mourinho showed his brilliance as a manager in the 2003/04 season. An extra time defeat against rivals Benfica in the Taça de Portugal Final prevented Porto from winning an illustrious treble. Yes, Mourinho guided Porto to a Champions League victory led by Deco and Ricardo Carvalho.

He took his talents to Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea had not won a first division title in 50 years. Mourinho brought the Blues two consecutive Premier League crowns in his first two seasons before an untimely exit in the beginning of his fourth season.

Track record of success

Inter Milan picked up his services. There, he continued his track record of success, helping Inter Milan out of their Champions League struggles. He did win that long-coveted treble with the Italian side in 2009/10.

Mourinho’s career, as is often the case with top-level managers, progressed from building squads to perfecting squads. That is, of course, with a grain of salt. At Real Madrid, he won a league title and a Copa del Rey in three seasons. He fell short in Europe, reaching three Champions League semifinals, but never escaping that stage.

His time at Manchester United reflected more of that building style of manager. Sure, the players at the club were decent, but since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United failed to finish better than fourth. A first-season Europa League title victory followed by a second-place finish in the league the following season showed what Mourinho was able to accomplish.

Managers at top-level clubs: Finishing Touch

José Mourinho could easily be in the ‘finishing touch’ section. These managers tend to join teams with successful rosters, but the clubs just lack a push to provide titles domestically and in Europe.

This is not to say these managers are not as tactically gifted. In fact, many cases could be made that some of these managers actually bring better ideas to the pitch. A change of style can often suit players that obviously have the talent, but not necessarily the right direction.

Rafael Benitez

managers at top-level clubs

  • Valencia (2001-2004)
  • Liverpool (2004-2010)
  • Chelsea (2012-2013, interim)
  • Napoli (2013-2015)
  • Real Madrid (2015-2016)
  • Newcastle (2016-2019)
  • Everton (Current)

Rafael Benitez may not be the Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho that the current generation idolizes, but he managed one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the UEFA Champions League.

Everyone knows the story. Liverpool’s emphatic three-goal outburst in a six-minute span in the 2005 Final against AC Milan. Yet, there is always more to the story.

Prior to Benitez arriving at Valencia, Los Murciélagos had not won a top flight season since 1970/71. In the years building up to Benitez’s arrival, Valencia floated around as a good side, sometimes challenging for titles. Yet, notably, Valencia finished runner-up in back-to-back seasons of the Champions League prior to Benitez’s arrival.

Unfortunately for the Spanish side, the manager could not deliver in that competition. That being said, he did bring the club two LaLiga crowns and a UEFA Cup in his three seasons at the helm.

Liverpool Legend

Once arriving at Anfield, Benitez delivered the most successful English club in European Cup history its first Champions League triumph. The club’s fifth European Cup / Champions League came on a season where the Reds finished fifth in the league. Relatively speaking, Benitez did not make an overly impressive impact domestically. But he did consistently manage a club making deep runs in the Champions League, something lacking from the previous 20 years.

Benitez is a legendary manager for what he accomplished with Valencia and Liverpool. However, he failed to live up to expectations where he did not have gifted individuals, or at least a previously successful squad, relatively speaking. In just seven months at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid President Florentino Perez sacked Benitez despite a third-place standing in the league. That squad, headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo, went on to win that season’s Champions League, as well as the next two. All three came under Zinedine Zidane.

Pep Guardiola

  • Barcelona (2008-2012)
  • Bayern Munich (2013-2016)
  • Manchester City (2016-present)

No one should deny the managerial excellence of Pep Guardiola.

Everywhere he goes, he wins. Countless managers attempt to imitate the tiki-taka style of play he developed from his time at Barcelona. Seldom to other clubs use his tactics to as much success as the Spaniard.

Certainly Guardiola changes clubs. His style of play is particular to him, and that reflects on the clubs he calls his. Yet, he does not develop these squads.

Each time Guardiola joins a new team, that club has a history of success in previous seasons. Starting off, his time at Barcelona began just two seasons removed from a Champions League victory under the leadership for Frank Rijkaard. In the years building up to Guardiola’s takeover, a Barcelona led by Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and a young Lionel Messi had a pair of top-three finishes in the league to go with a Champions League semifinal.

This shows Guardiola’s brilliance. Something was missing from that Barcelona side, whether that be creativity in the midfield, a better locker room atmosphere or a simple change in philosophy, Guardiola transformed the Catalan side into the most dominant team in Europe. Two Champions Leagues, three LaLigas, two Copa Del Reys and multiple other trophies speak volumes for what Guardiola did.

After Spain

At Bayern Munich, Guardiola once again inherited a side that won a Champions League not long before. Jupp Heynckes led Bayern Munich to a Champions League in the 2012/13 season, just before Guardiola took over. The former midfielder continued Bayern’s dominance, but failed to win a Champions League. He did pick up three Bundesliga trophies and two German Cups, but failed to bring Bayern a Champions League.

It is largely a similar story at his current club, Manchester City. City is now a clear-cut title contender each year; it is not a surprise to see them finish top of the league like it was in the early 2010s. Domestic success surrounds Guardiola, but continental success, the true indicator of a manager in the modern era, evades him.

Again, Guardiola is a great manager, and he revolutionized clubs and the game itself with his tactics. But, he does not entirely reconstruct sides like other managers. Perhaps that is why the Champions League remains absent from his exorbitant trophy cabinet.

Other Managers

These are just a few instances of managers that have experience at top-level clubs. Look at someone like Carlo Ancelotti or Thomas Tuchel, and that does not even include the managers who provide escape acts like Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew. Every manager thrives at something different.

Chairmen, CEOs and managers face a challenging, and often-scrutinized, task of bringing in the correct managers. The more prominent a club is, the less time that manager has to prove themselves. As stated previously, David Moyes arrives at Old Trafford based on the recommendation of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Glazer family did not even allot a year for the Englishman, sacking him after just 51 games.

Such is the enigma of managers. Yes, it is the players on the pitch that ultimately dictate goals scored and results altogether. However, a manager and his or her coaching philosophy can instill a mentality in these players that can reach their fullest potential. Contrarily, a manager can dampen a player’s, and a team’s, ability to thrive in competition. That is why we consistently see these names with track records of success circulate on tabloids upon a new position opening up at a different club.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. dave

    January 2, 2022 at 6:22 pm

    I enjoyed the video and article. I find particularly interesting the discussion about club philosophies and coaching philosophies, and the advantages that can accrue when those are fully aligned and consistent over time.

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