Steering clear of what you could adjudge, in hindsight, to have been the most dramatic and impactful topic of the week; the vote of no confidence by MP’s to the much-maligned yet irrepressible force that is the English Football Association, we’re continuing here with our upbeat outlook on 2017 with a celebration of three of such an organisation’s jewels in their rusted, blood-spattered crown. Considering the hefty barrage of criticism we had in store for the FA last blogging year, I felt it fair to let the Government deliver their punishment in this largely unprecedented example of intervention, and while this does not mean my opinion on the matter is non-existent, nor supportive of the FA, I decided against such action this week. Swerved, in this case, in favour of an ode to a trifecta of home-grown coaching talents often appallingly unheralded by the wider footballing community for their remarkable achievements in the Premier League, as well as the Championship, League One - and in the case of Clement – the overseas market, and whom I admire greatly for far more than the performances of their sides on the pitch.
Amidst a curious constant reshuffling of managerial approaches, often from each and every corner of the globe, in such divisions, Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Paul Clement, coincidentally all in action with their sides either tomorrow or Monday, have sailed under the radar, offering a markedly differing series of philosophies to those usually attributed to products of a failing FA coaching system lacking direction, and reaping the rewards for such self-governing bravery. Compared to a 2009/10 Premier League season, in which Clement first stepped into a role as Assistant Manager at Chelsea, the number currently of English bosses in their home top flight has halved, as eight began the season in charge of clubs as diverse as Blackburn, Spurs and Portsmouth, only for just four PL clubs to opt for an English approach currently – sides with some of the smallest budgets in the league in Crystal Palace, Swansea, Burnley and Bournemouth. Notably, each of these clubs – bar Bournemouth, with Russian owner Maxim Demin enjoying a favourable relationship with Howe, and vice-versa – have British involvement in terms of ownership, with Swansea boasting majority British ownership alongside Burnley and Crystal Palace until this summer, when Americans Stephen Kaplan and Jason Levien invested; translating into each side having home-grown chairmen. The separation between our focused trio of coaches and that of Crystal Palace, Sam Allardyce, is well, noticeable, as while sharing a nationality, a potent fissure in philosophical perception of the sport draws unfavourable comparisons for the man the FA opted for, before embarrassingly ditching in scandalous circumstances last autumn.
It is not by luck, or by receiving the opportunities that favouritism threw their way, however, that Howe, Dyche and Clement have succeeded in their careers. Heading back to their playing days; the contrasts between each could not be greater – Dyche having competed on the field for 18 years for a range of sides equivalent now to League One level, Howe enjoying only two consistent periods of injury-free action, both at Bournemouth either side of the Millennium, and Clement the product of just two non-league sides in the outskirts of London, before, as previously mentioned, abandoning playing at just 23 years old. It is worth noting, however, that each plied their trade as a central defender, a possible impact on their reading of the game, from back to front (although little proof of that suspicion is demonstrated by Howe’s Bournemouth side of late) and a definite insight to the footballing culture in this country, as well as the methods of FA coaching in producing such specific new-age coaches.
For centre-backs, the demeanours of these three differ greatly from the stereotype, of which the likes of Allardyce, and many thankless EFL managers, have had shackled to their careers throughout – one of old-fashioned stubbornness, aggression and candour – another key quality of this notable wave of modern English managers. Dyche, Howe and Clement aside, Garry Monk, Keith Curle and most prominently Gareth Southgate all exude this unassumingly down-to-earth, chirpy yet methodical aura of quiet scheming. Far opposed to the self-commanding bravado and slick approach to the media that the likes of Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Walter Mazzarri impose also, they field a refreshingly grounded black-and-white-ness, almost as if the dry martinis of what can often be a portentous cocktail bar of zesty, abrasive characters in Premier League football.
Where the Guardiola’s of our world would tinker with formations and individuals each match; experimenting with left-backs in the middle, diminutive Brazilians up front and offloading the national Number 1 in favour of an incompetent Chilean, only to childishly release their anger on journalists, the Dyche’s, Howe’s and Clement’s of the same scene differ completely. They offer understated tactical approaches tailored to counter each set of opposition they receive, a mutual trust in their players and a catalogue of canny signings without as much as a word of frustration in their lack of financial freedom. This is, of course, in comparison with clubs like City, who can afford to splash out on a reported £225 million worth of players wages for the 2016/17 season – top of such a table for spending -, while Swansea sit 14th with £59 million, Bournemouth 17th with £34 million and Burnley just one spot off rock bottom Hull City (for whom the lack of spending was enough to force Englishman Steve Bruce to resign), with £33 million.
It is evident, then, that on the comparative shoestrings, our three find themselves dramatically outperforming the likes of Sunderland (20th currently in the PL, yet 10th in this table, spending £68.3 million), Leicester City – 16th in the PL, but 11th, with £66 million in seasonal wage bills – and most any club in the Premier League currently, at least if you gauge how much each side spent for each of their points (as prior to Gameweek 25) this season. Burnley, a huge credit to Sean Dyche’s unpretentious squad building and realistic tactical organisation, top the charts for fewest millions spent per point at this stage, losing just £1.138 million of their 2016/17 wage total to be 12th, and out of the relegation scrap, while after Hull, whose £25 million was spent on just 23 senior players when the study was last updated here on January 20th, Howe’s Bournemouth follow, with £1.308 million leaving Demin’s pockets for each of the 26 points so far towards survival. Swansea’s total, it must be said, was affected by the poor form that Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley left them in, with their 21 points costing a comparatively pricey £2.809 million each, although with Clement having achieved six of those 21, his impact in just four league games – three of those against top five clubs in Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City – is clear.
In coping with the financial constraints they are posed on a daily basis, an incomparable reality to that faced by Guardiola, Mourinho, Conte and Wenger alike, Howe, Dyche and Clement – managers of the clubs with the three smallest stadium capacities in the entire Premier League it must be noted – must tailor their footballing teachings to such a narrow spectrum of opportunity. In cities and towns built on labour-intensive industry, Swansea and Burnley have transformed greatly in financial respects since the turn of the century under the stewardship of most dramatically Huw Jenkins and Barry Kilby as respective chairmen, while Bournemouth – infamously recovering from the ten point deduction imposed for going into administration to save their position in League 2 in the very last game of the 2008/09 season – have simply pulled off a minor miracle in recent years. With Howe placed at the helm at just 31 years of age in that season, with a transfer embargo and ten points to make up on their relegation rivals, his has been a story to savour in the rise of his club, bar nine months spent at Turf Moor in 2011, from the wrong end of the Football League to mid-table Premier League security. While not undermining the efforts of Dyche and Clement, the latter of whom, in keeping with many men in his position prior, can’t have had much time to study the finances of the Welsh club – with only five managers post-John Toshack (1978-1983) having survived a two-year period in charge – Howe has quickly become the sweetheart of the footballing press in this country as the voice of the victims of football’s incessant financial free-for-all, a credit to his loyalty, pragmatism and grounded nature.
None of these men, as possibly anticipated, have performed such miracles playing an ugly brand of football either; they are entertainers, a vital part of a profession that, with the reliance on televisual income currently, as well as astute tacticians. Howe, certainly, hasn’t asked his Bournemouth side to retain the methods that they would’ve discovered in desperate times in League Two, instilling what has been referred to in some quarters as an Arsenal-esque style; favouring a flowing passing approach when faced with opportunities to counter and pressing with intensity, especially utilising the fitness of wingers Junior Stanislas and Ryan Fraser. Jack Wilshere, behind either Benik Afobe or the unfortunately injury-plagued Callum Wilson leading the line, has proven an inspired signing for the Dorset side, providing a guile that has rarely existed before at the club, who were lauded for their quintessential 4-4-2 of last season, and finally standing up as a leading man in this term’s more expansive 4-2-3-1. The eighth highest passers in the division, despite being a side more often without the ball, and tellingly the second lowest tacklers also in 2016/17, the Dean Court-based outfit plainly prefer a cleaner-cut approach, personified by Harry Arter, the 15th highest passer this season, Simon Francis (the 23rd) and Steve Cook (36th, and the second highest for a non-top five club centre-back) as lynchpins of Howe’s philosophy.
Clement, in contrast, has inherited, rather than developed his own crop of individuals, one that with his guidance earned him PL Manager of the Month for January, a richly deserved tribute considering his could’ve easily been a baptism of fire against Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City. My perceptions of his adaptations to previous methods witnessed at the club, however, could be worthless, as this article by Wales Online perfectly captures the essence of his philosophy. Mr Wathan, kudos to you. In encouraging a stronger work ethic, casting his presence over the development of players on the training pitch, and finally imparting palpable confidence in his squad, a huge distinction to the visible malaise of relegation candidates, Aston Villa-esque in the prior months of the season, Clement has definitively proven his worth following so many years under the wing of Carlo Ancelotti. For him, any pressure is only to keep up the good work in what are bound to be the most challenging few months of his career upcoming. When posed with the position as the closest of our three to relegation, his will be a sweat-inducing next 14 games, especially with the form of Hull and Sunderland perhaps finally demonstrating signs of tangibility, but for Clement, a man who has perceived the beautiful game from more angles than most, I’m sure his calming professionalism will prove pivotal.
Dyche, ludicrously overlooked in my opinion for his perceived reluctance to adapt to the Premier League’s styles, and perhaps better regarded for his gravelly tone – of which I consider my impression to be a forte – and cult hero status with the Claret’s fans, who affectionately nickname him the ‘Ginger Mourinho’, is, admittedly a curveball to our other noted approaches, to say the least. 18th for passes attempted in this season’s stat count, their imposing Mancunian centre-back partnership of Ben Mee (76th) and Michael Keane (87th) represent their only involvement in the top 100 passing players to date, while goalkeeper Tom Heaton (112th) ranks as their fourth highest; a slightly daunting statistic, especially when coupled with the fact that Dyche’s side are dead top for long balls attempted in comparison. Perhaps not reflecting well on defendants of the Kettering-born boss’ approach to top-flight survival, it has been an undeniably effective strategy in gaining home points, which the Lancastrians can be universally grateful for in seeing them to 12th place, ahead of comparative financial giants Southampton and Leicester, with 28 of their 29 points accrued at home to the tune of 21 of their 26 goals scored, and just 11 of their 35 goals conceded – the other point salvaged just 35 miles down the M60 at Old Trafford. A side built on defensive organisation, in similar circumstances to his Portuguese counterpart’s, the lack of overall threat offered by what is honestly a Championship-standard squad, the Hendrick’s, Keane’s, Heaton’s and Defour’s aside, in a predictably stubborn 4-4-2 formation does little to aid Dyche’s cause, but in my view, he has managed stretched resources better than either of the aforementioned. This tenacity for a fight is replicated consistently by his side, one which in cases of dropping points is often unfortunate, and by not fearing the repercussions of practicing what is often now considered an outdated approach, Dyche has, in turn, moulded a squad similarly robust, impervious to setback and steely-eyed in the pursuit of such pivotal points.
There is much to be said; also, about this trio’s reliance on home-grown talent, and trust in the products they are offered. Spending a reported £34 million or so on seven senior signings this season, including the record £15 million signature of Jordan Ibe, of Howe’s 27 used players this season, 19 are British or Irish, and five of the remaining eight are products of British academies (Josh King, Nathan Ake, Brad Smith, Max Gradel and Emerson Hyndman), reflecting the success of youth football in this country. While Swansea, with the remnants of Michael Laudrup, Monk and Guidolin’s reigns evident in a heavily international squad, may not boast the same success as Bournemouth, Clement’s belief in the likes of Alfie Mawson, Jack Cork, Kyle Naughton and new signing Tom Carroll to date has been impressive, with the Reading-born boss keen to ensure the academy products of the club, some from an under-23’s side currently top of Division Two in PL2, see further game time in future.
In Clement’s position, however, you can’t blame him currently for holding back, where Dyche’s studiously assembled squad put such words into action. Costing them a reported £39 million to add Robbie Brady, Hendrick, Defour, Ashley Westwood, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Nick Pope to their squad, alongside Joey Barton on a free and Jon Flanagan on loan, Dyche has bought well in a range of areas, while remaining true to home-grown talent, with 20 of his 25 players featured in all competitions British or Irish (even when counting Bath-born Ashley Barnes as Austrian, after his sole under-20 cap for the nation). If these statistics aren’t proof of Howe and Dyche providing the backbone of British and Irish talent in the Premier League, then I might just know what could hit the stats home; in Gameweek 15, when Burnley entertained Bournemouth in a 3-2 home win, just four of the starting 22 were overseas players, while just seven of the two match day squads, totalling 36 individuals, were of the same demographic. On the same day, just five starters at Leicester vs Manchester City were British or Irish, six qualified in the same category at Arsenal vs Stoke City, and another half a dozen, including solely Troy Deeney for Watford against Everton, started at Vicarage Road.
Inevitably, this may lead to the assumption that Howe, Dyche and Clement fit the mould of future England managers, an opinion that when set upon, can blight a manager’s entire career. Each has their qualities, each has their obvious flaws for the role that I dearly hope Gareth Southgate can prove himself in. Southgate, developing agreeably in the incumbency to date by fulfilling the presentable, responsible and trustworthy stereotypes made of him, as if attempting to impress a prospective father-in-law, while returning some of what I have to admit have been the most impressive Three Lions performances I have seen in recent years, has racked up the miles on his journey to the top, and firmly deserves this opportunity. Much will be proven when inevitably qualification for Russia 2018 is assured, and with the considerable international experience of Southgate, albeit blighted by the image of his blazing penalty miss against Germany in 1996, it should be fascinating to prove just how pivotal such lessons are to a manager in his position. Hopefully, it will be the difference between the tenures of Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson, Steve McClaren and the late Graham Taylor – each devoid of any playing knowledge anywhere near to the international scene – and the likes of Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsay, restoring pride to a nation universally tied with the sport. Rather that, at least than a Glenn Hoddle – washed up 20 years later on ITV, babbling on about very little, showed up even by Ryan Giggs as a pundit.
Back to Howe, Dyche and Clement, however, and for me, it is, perhaps surprisingly the latter, whose approach I believe is best suited to the international platform. A career coach, and juxtaposition to what I just described in requiring international experience, Clement has proven, in two admittedly short spells at Derby County and Swansea so far that his methods are effective, on players of a seemingly diminishing quality, to restore their motivation, work rate and performance levels of their glory days, as well as younger players, in encouraging them to raise their game in matching their elders.
Dyche, I perceive to be far too closely comparable to Allardyce for the public’s liking, despite as men being worlds away, while Howe, an interesting prospect maybe even 20 years down the line, a testament to his extensive CV at such a tender age, surely has high odds of stepping into the St George’s Park office one day. One appearance for England’s under 21’s does not seriously constitute international ‘experience’ in my books, so it would be his stockpiling of club management that he would be forced to draw upon. Having already proven he can seamlessly switch between systems, such transferrable tactical nous is a vital pillar of an international manager’s knowledge, and with the development of individuals he has displayed throughout his Cherries tenure, not least inspiring what is still mostly his Championship-winning squad of 2014/15 to step up to the Premier League challenge, it is easy to see why Howe was linked, briefly, to the England job post-Allardyce, and why he will continue to be mooted in future. He will, as is the nature of the beast, need to be battle-hardened if he ever assumes the role, and without a serious setback to his Bournemouth career so far, at least another decade, I believe, of club management, is necessary before, surely one day, he will be able to command the role, typically modest though he would be in it.
Inspiration is something, at times, difficult to pinpoint. It’s a subconscious player on each of our decisions, and I prefer to believe that each of us, as football fans, have been rounded by our memories, our heroes, our enemies and the hindsight we hold on each of them. Personally, I believe there are a lot of admirable qualities, as kinsmen and as sportspeople, to learn from individuals such as Howe, Dyche and Clement – not least their professional, yet closely relatable, approach to everything they do. They may not be grand trendsetters; they may not be world-famous masters of the sport, obnoxious philosophers requiring a constant ego massage or ground-breaking names to set alight a stadium, but I’ll tell you what they are; tenacious, studious, approachable and unselfish.
They don’t ask for anything from us, they do their job because they love the game, their team and their fans, and when they carry it off with such ease, who is to criticise them? Howe has charm, Dyche has grit, and Clement has an incredible interpersonal talent, all of which any manager would be proud to be attributed to I’m sure. Above all specific tactical plans that any manager could be lauded for, I believe personal characteristics crown individuals in such an intrinsically testing position of physical and mental stamina, ultimately guiding them down a path towards success or failure. Look into every minute detail, or base your decisions upon two or three factors – it’s your choice as a manager, and on the most basic of psychological human levels, this can only be decided by your way of thinking. Howe’s, Dyche’s and Clement’s in particular have inspired mine recently, and I just wanted to articulate how I respect them as such, as I believe there is much to be studied from one another, with football just a outlet of that across our lifetimes.
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!