With the passing of another international window last week in which England still failed to clear the air on their ineffective playing style, nor come any closer to definitively getting an idea of who the next manager should be, life in the consistently inconsistent world of football seems to be going as per usual. Inevitably, the talk turned to if Gareth Southgate showed enough to be handed the responsibility of the job of senior team manager on a permanent basis, to which my resounding answer would be ‘no, I don’t honestly think so’, and if Southgate isn’t appointed after a qualifier against Scotland and a friendly against Spain in November, who would it be? In fact, it wasn’t just who, but specifically which nation should they be from, and if the England manager should be imperatively English over any other factor, contrasting arguably old-fashioned patriotism with modern-thinking diversity of nationalities and ideas. Well, considering I’m here to challenge certain views from certain topical subjects in the past week, I felt obliged to you, my loyal and long-suffering audience, to pick up on this story this week and offer my unique analysis. Seems fair enough, doesn’t it? Anyway, more to the point, the specific question I chose to base this blog around, as I’m sure you’ve already seen, pits the importance of the nationality of certain managers against the facts, as I attempt to find a definitive response to the query of if, when all is said and done, managers from foreign nations (outside of the UK) do actually live up to their hype in beating British managers at their own game. Let’s go ahead and find out then, shall we?
Starting off on this treacherous and sometimes misleading path to answers then, it’s important to establish the basics before we go any further. I should explain, when I define foreign managers in the UK, I’m open to including their performances at respective clubs across the English Premier League and Football League (or EFL, if you prefer), as these two will be the most useful in discovering the facts for the case of the England team and the FA, who ultimately hold the biggest stakes and responsibility in these top four leagues. Without wanting to sound like a bigoted UKIP councillor then, what I’m aiming to uncover with this investigation is if foreign managers are actually any better than our own home-grown offerings and if the influx of them from leagues such as La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A is justified, amongst various other questions that may pop up along the way. Ultimately though, in a week in which the spotlight has been creaked towards the FA, the question honestly should be if they need to turn to a foreign candidate if they want to succeed, as long as it has been proven they are more effective and successful on average than the usual English options.
Explaining where the trend of importing talented bosses from overseas came into the English game then is a slightly more cloudy subject than it should appear on face value, as in fact the first to take this step in the Premier League was Spurs with former player Ossie Ardiles, the Argentine maverick of whom the famed Chas & Dave song about the FA Cup final of 1981 is dedicated. This wasn’t his only job in English football following his effective retirement from the playing side of the game in 1989 though, as prior to joining his favoured club in 1994, he was boss at Swindon, Newcastle and West Brom, where he found both his feet in the managerial game and success with his South American-influenced early tiki-taka style. It took a fairly long time for another foreign-born coach to grace the Premier League though, and this time it was another club legend in Ruud Gullit (as player-manager) at Chelsea in 1996, who won the 1997 FA Cup while rapidly reinventing the West London club for the better, before being sacked in controversial circumstances in falling out with the board.
Looking at the series of events leading to how we view the game today, this was probably the defining point at which most clubs realised foreign managers could fit the bill at the top of the game, with Gullit providing the cool, confident leadership nowadays synonymous with overseas managers such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte. With Gullit’s success being followed up by the appointments of a fresh Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, Christian Gross at Spurs, Gullit’s successor Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea and the era-defining Gerard Houllier at Liverpool, this was also a period in which overseas players were being drafted into the EPL at an alarming rate, with the increasing pulling power of richer English clubs ushering in a new era of English football.
Increasing in relevance ever since then, the success of foreign managers has been quite an outspoken subject in the wider picture of English football, with some completely supporting the gloriously gluttonous pick-and-mix attitude of Premier League clubs in accordance with their increase in income from television deals and global sponsorship, while others yearning for a return to the days of honest, home-grown football. Either way, no side can be truthfully content with the current situation when looking at it theoretically; although I’m sure you can guess which of the sides has had their way more than the other when considering the fact that 13 of the 20 currently active EPL bosses are non-British/Irish. Taking this into consideration, my question would be; is this an unavoidable bi-product of the raging competitiveness and commercialism of the modern game, or is it a conscious decision on the part of the clubs involved, who have found that British managers just don’t succeed at the top ranks of the game? I should just say, that is considering none of the seven active British managers in the EPL finished above ninth place last season (Mark Hughes with Stoke), and from the remaining six, three (Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Eddie Howe) finished 14th, 15th and 16th respectively, one was promoted from the Championship (Sean Dyche at Burnley), while the others (David Moyes and Mike Phelan) weren’t managing at the time.
Well, there’s no doubt that with more money flooding in to each club in the EPL, there has been a higher likelihood for them each to appoint foreign bosses (although I don’t have a useful graph to show you), as the trajectories of each event have come together in accordance over the past 20 years. This isn’t to say the top clubs are going to exclusively be on the lookout for foreign bosses every time they require a new head of footballing affairs, it’s just that with more money, the opportunities to appoint the very best in the world open for themselves. For example, clubs are more likely to match the wage demands or release clauses of bosses such as Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola if they are making £515.3 million in revenue, like Manchester United did in the past year. When you have so much money to use in your decision making, and with so much depending on the return of that investment (for shareholders and owners, who will be eyeing up profits in order to strip as much for themselves as possible), it’s vital that you pick the right man for the job, and more often than not the most impressive candidate in this decision will be a foreigner.
As a matter of fact, board members will bank on the likes of Mourinho, Guardiola, Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Slaven Bilic, Ronald Koeman and Antonio Conte to deliver the positive results in the most financially powerful competitions in the world far more often than they would with Steve Bruce, Alan Pardew or Sam Allardyce (who’s he?). Objectively, there is a definite division between the styles and demeanours of these managers compared to those from overseas. Be honest, what do you picture when you think of a typical English manager, say Harry Redknapp? Outdated, no-nonsense, unfashionable and maybe even mediocre? Yeah, that’s what I though, without even mentioning the reputation they have for slips of the tongue, which become far more apparent than they do with overseas bosses in account of the results they are providing for both fans and board members, which overseas managers have a reputation for beating the locals at.
It’s worth noting though; English managers can beat those coming into a foreign environment at one thing; loyalty and longevity. When taking a look through the vital statistics in Premier League history, of the eleven managers to take charge of more than 300 EPL matches, only one has come from outside the British (and Irish) Isles, and that is Arsene Wenger, an anomaly of massive proportions. In fact, Wenger is second in the list, around 50 matches behind the great Sir Alex Ferguson, a record that could be broken providing Wenger turns down the England (or any other) job offer and signs a new contract with the North London club, while only two other current bosses feature in David Moyes, in fourth, and Mark Hughes, who will soon overtake Steve Bruce into sixth. Looking at win percentages though (of managers who have survived over 100 EPL matches), it isn’t such a pretty picture for British hopefuls, as only four of the top ten managers in Premier League history are native to these isles, with Fergie (no, not the one from the Black Eyed Peas) in second, Kenny Dalglish seventh, Roy Evans, also of Liverpool, eighth and the late great Sir Bobby Robson tenth. With every match Jose Mourinho, currently top of the table, slips up in with Manchester United though, the gap between him and the retired Ferguson is narrowing, with the current win percentages standing at roughly 66% to 65%, just going to show how difficult it is to sustain the kind of winning run the legendary Scot produced time after time, if nothing else.
As I began to analyse the wider record of all Premier League managers over its history though, the polarisation between those of different nationalities began to draw wider, demonstrating the diversity of performance throughout the ages, significantly depending on hundreds of outside factors. Using the most recent stats available to me (or at least I could find on Google), at the end of the 2013/14 EPL season, I discovered that from every single manager in EPL history – including caretakers - , British and Irish bosses came out with an overall win percentage of 25.57%, while overseas coaches surged ahead with a 42.42% win rate. When taking into account purely managers who took charge of more than 50 matches though, both sides’ percentages rose, with the home-grown rate rising to 31.78%, and the success of foreign bosses taking a hike to 44.39%.
While these results may seem conclusive though, there are a lot of facts to take into account, such as the overall amount for British bosses being wildly affected by a number of caretaker managers who maybe only took charge of two or three matches, and failed to win any, and the standard of clubs managed by either home-grown or overseas coaches. For example, of the 14 clubs managed by the 18 managers who have taken charge of 50 or more EPL matches, seven managers have been at Chelsea, three have been at Spurs, two have been at Liverpool, and with one each at Portsmouth (who were a top club at the time), Arsenal, Everton and Man City, you begin to see why their win percentage is so comparatively high. This of course is with the exceptions of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, Michael Laudrup at Swansea, Gianfranco Zola at West Ham and Roberto Martinez at Wigan, who all did very well for the restricted budgets and statuses of each of their clubs, so really you have to be left to make your own conclusions from these stats.
It should be mentioned though, on another table I found (here if you want to have a look) the rest of the top 30 managers in terms of matches managed is, in all but the one case of Roberto Martinez, populated by English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish managers. From the 43% win rate of Kevin Keegan to the 28% served up by Steve Bruce, this yet again demonstrates the longevity of British managers, while also giving a little more insight into actually how successful these guys have been, surprisingly impressive in many cases, throughout their long careers in management. Whilst mentioning long careers, it’s got to be pointed out that in this table, the youngest British manager is Mark Hughes, 52 years old now, representing a lack of young home-grown talent coming through after being stunted by the aforementioned financial success of the Premier League model, which not only restricts opportunities for home-grown players, but evidently managers now too.
But these statistics can easily be misinterpreted to fit the opinions of many journalists and fans, so I must clarify that these percentages shouldn’t be taken exactly at face value, as then a whole load of false facts could be formed. Let’s be clear; the win percentage of a certain manager entirely depends on the budgets they have available, standard of existing players at the club, facilities which the club has to offer, the level of competition around them and many other outside factors, so we cannot rank Mourinho as the best manager in Premier League history simply because he has won the most games in the shortest period of time. No, the quality of a manager depends on much more than that; developing players, working with difficult budget constraints, motivating the players and forging the perfect tactic to work into different match situations, with players able to fulfil their roles to an x, which would see the manager’s job look easy when it all comes together.
It’s easy to see why Sam Allardyce came to the conclusion in a press conference prior to his West Ham side’s match against Man City (then managed by Roberto Mancini) in 2012 that if his surname was Allardici (or rather if he was Italian, as he was implying) he would be in charge of a top four club. This came a few years after his assertions that if he was given the job at Real Madrid (can you imagine?!) he would win the title every season, taking a dig at the bias of football chairmen and board directors, who he fairly stereotyped to favour a foreign hand to take the helm. I’ve got to say, I would back this opinion, as the successors of Fergie at Manchester United have each proven the position isn’t as easy as the Scot made it look. Even with the multi-million signings of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata from David Moyes, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Anthony Martial from Louis van Gaal(‘S RED ARMY!) and Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović from Jose (although it is a bit too early to judge for the poor Portuguese), the throne has become no more comfortable for each incumbent. So, there is a lot to prove if Mourinho, or anyone else wants to prove they can do any better with what, in reality, is a much bigger budget than Ferguson ever used, with arguably the best squad in the circumstances (other than maybe 1999 or 2007) in the Premier League era of history of the club. Of course this is only one example, but it is a painful one for me (sob, sob), and one of the most glaring in the modern era of the game, demonstrating that the nationality of a manager doesn’t necessarily dictate how well they will perform in a certain role.
So, taking this into account, is this just the FA’s problem, in forming (or, rather, failing to form) a system which produces cutting-edge, varied and intelligent managers who have the ability and confidence to manage in the true upper echelons of the game’s hierarchy, Champions League clubs fighting for titles? Surely that’s got to be the reason we as a nation fail to keep up with others in relative golden periods right now, such as Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Argentina? Well, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog (six weeks ago now, I believe), this is something the FA has pinpointed as a major fault in previous generations, and something they are apparently working hard to fix, but we must be patient for the results. You’d have to assume that is the case at least, without being on the inside, as the best specifically English candidates for the England job we have at the moment are Gareth Southgate, who has only had been employed at Middlesbrough and the FA in his career, Eddie Howe, a career-long devotee to Bournemouth so far, and Alan Pardew I guess, who has never reached the heights of the Premier League. Edit: When first writing this, I cast Pardew off as a poor option, but when realising what he has actually achieved in the game with lowly clubs is crazy, as he has admittedly reached two FA Cup finals (coming both times with West Ham in 2006 and Crystal Palace just this year) and finishing 5th with an extremely average Newcastle side in 2011/12, winning the Premier League Manager of the Year in the process. So there you go, he might just be the perfect choice for the job, as long as you ignore his head-butt on David Meyler and abuse of Manuel Pellegrini, calling him a rather harsh ‘f***ing old c**t’ (#LAD) after a few touchline disagreements in a match back in 2014.
All we can do for now though I guess is focus our, and when I say our I mean the FA’s, resources on improving these coaching qualifications for future bosses as much as possible, allowing them both the freedom to create their own era-defining styles, à la Guardiola or Klopp, and the education to test their credentials in as rigorous a test as possible. What England needs is progressive, rather than submissive, managers, people willing to take (educated) risks in order to get to the top, with something different from each candidate in order to discover what really works, depending on the game situation. What the FA needs, more than anything, is to look at the rest of the world, see what is effective, and beat them at their own game of rapid improvement. Right now though, we are the ones being beaten, getting pushed back behind the other runners in a marathon of football, but certainly with enough stamina to retake a strong foothold in the proceedings as long as we knuckle down, believe in ourselves and run our own race, because we cannot afford to be ignored and languish in failure; the England team needs to succeed. And part of where that starts is with enough talented, top-level English managers to challenge for positions at the very top of the game, no matter whether the FA is going to appoint an English manager or not.
Yes, that’s right, after that impassioned speech about the importance of English managers; I’m saying it doesn’t actually matter whether the England team appoints a foreigner or an Englishman for the position. Why should it? As far as I’m aware, from my findings there is no distinct difference between the nationalities in terms of performance, other than in totally different circumstances, such as Jose Mourinho at Chelsea vs Sam Allardyce at Sunderland, where no real conclusion can be made other than foreigners are favoured for the top jobs because they have been successful in other nations. So, in response to my question and title for this very blog, yes I think we do celebrate foreign managers a little too much, we are a little too easy to lay plaudits at their feet as soon as they go on a winning run of over three matches compared to our attitude towards English managers, who always seem to be on a little more scrutiny than their overseas counterparts, as the threat of getting the England job is always hanging over their heads as Englishmen, and as soon as that happens all the tabloids will be on your case, revealing your darkest secrets. In future, I think we should be a little more considerate for both sides really, and hope that we should not view them as two distinct and totally opposite groups, rather just managers of the beautiful game who happen to come from nations, some (all) of which are more successful at football than England, and others, who are from England and the rest of the UK. Let’s celebrate football for all it is worth, because the game belongs to us all, and that makes it only fair enough to have as many managers of different nationalities in the Premier League, providing the opportunities for home-grown coaches are still there.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!