The debate about opportunities in football not being equal seems like it is as old as the game itself. Generally, in life, everybody assumes there is a correlation between time moving forward and prejudices thawing, but often that is not the case. Until there is proof of change, whether it be with serious discriminations or a certain outlook on how the game should be played, these arguments will continue – Sean Dyche is the latest example.
Is the debate healthy?
Whether English managers deserve more of a chance of getting the top jobs in England is a regular discussion. Sometimes it can come across poorly; pundits have been known to make snap judgements about foreign coaches and their achievements without seeing one of their teams. Their assumption is that, if they can do it in Spain, Portugal or Greece, so could someone from England, or even worse, that the Premier League is so demanding there must be a certain level of ‘understanding’ before anyone can be deemed capable of taking a job in it.
Everyone knows the most high profile example of this argument. Paul Merson was bizarrely dismissive of Marco Silva when he took over at Hull City in January, belittling some rather impressive feats with Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon before asking what he knew of the English top flight and suggesting Gary Rowett, who had never coached at the top level, as a suitable alternative. Silva went on to make a mockery of Merson’s comments, almost saving a previously hopeless Tigers team before whipping Watford into shape over the summer.
But when Ian Wright suggested Sean Dyche for the Arsenal job, significantly less derision followed. Such a leap, from Burnley to the Emirates Stadium, is unlikely even if Arsene Wenger does not see out his new two-year contract, but Dyche’s name is a good one for those who fight the English coaching corner when it comes to bigger jobs.
It all boils down to results
It is wrong to suggest there is an engrained issue with looking at British coaches, the simple fact of the matter there just isn’t enough proven quality out there. Football is a results business, leaving little time for taking risks, especially at the top where any lapse in quality can open up a huge gulf between the teams. Both Manchester clubs and Chelsea changed their manager in 2016, and they all went for people who had won trophies. No active English coach has a major trophy to their name, and only two Britons have ever won the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish.
Dyche is called the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ by Burnley fans for a reason and he may not get the respect he deserves. He has led the Clarets to two promotions from the Championship and he has planned every step of the way; their evolution has been impressive to watch. In his first Premier League campaign, 2014/15, he understood the quality was too high and implored his team learnt and grew. Relegation was a formality, but they came back with force, making Turf Moor a real fortress last season; this term, they are yet to lose on the road, beating Chelsea and Everton and drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool.
History reflects poory on British coaches – Dyche to buck the trend?
But suggesting he could replace Wenger is a little far-fetched because there is no proof he could recreate his work at Burnley on a stage like that. In fact, history suggests when a British manager, specifically one that has only ever worked in the middle or bottom of the Premier League with a small budget, takes a top job, they can’t make the step up. Most are suited to counter-attacking football with a siege mentality; Mark Hughes did brilliantly at Blackburn Rovers and has repeated that work at Stoke City, but he struggled at Manchester City, just as Roy Hodgson did at Liverpool after taking Fulham to the Europa League final and David Moyes’ Everton blueprint fell flat in his stint at Manchester United.
Dyche is clearly one of English football’s brightest sparks, along with Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe and Swansea City’s Paul Clement. If he continues in the vein he is in at Burnley, his time will come, but there is no guarantee that even working his way up the division will result in a Champions League club calling. Short of winning trophies regularly and building a team to challenge, the best option is for people like Dyche to test themselves abroad, to build up a CV similar to Silva’s. Steve McClaren had the right idea, heading to Holland and winning the title with FC Twente after losing the England job in 2007; Moyes went to Spain and Real Sociedad, but both failed to evolve their styles and were found out soon enough, only to return to England with their reputations irreparable.
The lessons are there to be learnt, there are ways to climb to the top as a British manager. Trophies are what count most and winning them is the key; that is why the biggest clubs look abroad, rather than the myth about underlying discrimination.