A similar argument is had with almost every managerial appointment in the Premier League. Sometimes it’s British versus foreign, others it’s experience versus younger alternatives. It all boils down to the same question: why do we see the same faces appointed in the Premier League?
It provokes endless debates, polarises people, and quickly descends into jibes about people’s views away from football. Of course, that might have some impact, but, for such a common conflict, we seldom see the points of each argument made coherently.
The argument arose this season – as it often does – in emphatic fashion. West Ham, Crystal Palace, Everton and West Bromwich Albion opted to change their managers in the first half of the campaign. They picked Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew, Roy Hodgson and David Moyes as their new dugout patrollers.
Premier League experience aplenty, thousands of matches overseen between them, and with a widespread acceptance that they are a ‘safe pair of hands’. The aforementioned quartet of clubs have all looked in severe relegation trouble at one point or another this season. A safe pair of hands is exactly what they desired.
Since then, Swansea and Stoke City have parted company with their managers, Paul Clement and Mark Hughes. Clement was a left-field choice for the Swans’ job last season, but led their heroic late season dash to safety. Hughes had been the second longest-serving manager in the league, guiding Stoke to an unprecedented run of three straight ninth-placed finishes prior to last season.
Swansea have not ventured down the familiar face route since their arrival in the Premier League. And, yes, it has worked out rather well for them a lot of the time. Instead of moving for a top flight regular, they appointed Carlos Carvalhal, who had recently been sacked by Championship club Sheffield Wednesday.
Stoke, meanwhile, are reportedly reluctant to appoint a non-British manager. They have only had two foreign managers in their history, Icelander Gudjon Thordarson and Dutchman Johan Boskamp. Despite favouring a Brit, the Potters are apparently interested in Quique Sanchez Flores and Ronald Koeman.
Again, then, it is almost certain to be a name we have seen in the Premier League before. In the cases of Flores and Koeman, names that have not had the most successful of times in the league, either.
We often see the lack of opportunities for young British managers bemoaned. I’m sure you all know the sort of thing I’m referring to, ‘Why does X not get a chance in Premier League?’, ‘Why not appoint a young British manager like Y?’.
It’s easy to blame foreign managers, but it’s about risk rather than favouritism. Premier League boards have to choose a pathway with each managerial appoint. They can take a punt on a lesser known manager, with the chance of a stark overachievement, or they can pick a man who has been there, done it, and got the touchline bans to show for it. With the vulgar money at stake, it’s little surprise that boards pick the supposed safer option.
British managers do get opportunities in the top flight – Martin O’Neill is one of the favourites for the Stoke job – it just happens to be same British managers over and over. There will be uproar from the usual suspects if Koeman gets the Stoke job after Everton’s disastrous start to this season, but it is on the same premise. It’s unlikely there would have been the same uproar had Pulis got the job. Make of that what you will.
Koeman is blocking the path of young managers like Gary Rowett no more than Allardyce, Moyes, Pardew or Hodgson.
Often, the tried and tested stalwarts of Premier League management pull their clubs through.
Of the four, Moyes appeared least deserving of another chance. He had fallen far short at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, before taking Sunderland into the second tier without a whimper. Moyes’ appointment was met with a blend of astonishment and questioning, but the former Sociedad manager has made West Ham into an almost unrecognisable side from the latter Slaven Bilic era. The Hammers have the 11th best record in the league since Moyes arrived, and are outside the relegation zone.
That is the challenge that faces Premier League clubs. The risk of the unknown far outweighs the reward for finishing seventh rather than seventeenth. It might be interpreted as unambitious – and often it is – but it is a justifiable pragmatism given the finances involved.
It is refreshing to see managers like Carvalhal given an opportunity at the top. Graham Potter, Gary Rowett and others will not be far behind. For now, though, clubs like Stoke must be tempted by the apparent security of O’Neill, ideally on a short-term deal so they can re-evaluate soon.
Getting opportunities for the next generation of talented young managers will not be simple as long as clubs have such fear of relegation. Pardew and Moyes are testament to this as much as Koeman and Flores.
The answer to the original question: clubs take hope from the successes of the old guard – and are cautious as a result – but do not trust the successes of Silva, Pochettino and Puel in the same way. Avoiding relegation is more important than progression for the majority of the Premier League, and that means clubs take track record more seriously than potential.