With big money, comes big ambitions. As cash is injected into dejected teams, managers feel the creep of doom looming above their heads.
This season has brought into focus the theme of issues in transition amongst certain owners in their quest for results. Managerial sackings could be seen from a mile away and most of these mistakes could have been prevented. Here are the post-mortems of departures in the Premier League thus far.
de Boer blunder
The first time we saw this was when Frank de Boer entered the fray at Crystal Palace and then promptly departed barely a month into the opening season.
The uproar was mostly linked with the fact that the Dutchman was brought in to teach his attractive style of play—that was last seen at Ajax—but the club didn’t seem to have the commitment to allow him to bring in the players he wanted, or research his history with other clubs to identify whether he was even a good fit for the Eagles. They wanted him to pull out the Allardyce roots that were still embedded in the squad, but expected a sudden change in style to be integrated quickly and produce bountiful results on the pitch.
This could likely never be the case in such a short term. De Boer’s relationship with the club had allegedly evaporated quickly after shunting certain players not in his image. As a result Palace didn’t have the numbers or quality to meet the difference. The manager lost the team and the owners soon after when they failed to score in any of his games.
Before he could get into the meat of the fixtures, de Boer was gone.
Perhaps looking at his tenure at Inter Milan, where he met similar impasses over squad issues, tactical troubles and his uncompromising philosophy and man management skills – it should have been a clear red flag for Crystal Palace before even hiring him. In Milan, de Boer wasn’t blameless. Yet he was blighted by a deadly cocktail of player scandals, stinking transfers, compounded by his freezing out of star players. Inevitably, after a quick revival effort against Juventus, he was again searching for a new house on ‘sunnier’ shores.
High hopes for Shakespeare
The recent sacking of Craig Shakespeare by Leicester FC, in my mind, is an extension of the issue at hand. New managers are under pressure to immediately establish a style that maintains results and also keeps star players happy.
Leicester played out of their skin in the title winning 15/16 season, and managed to keep that form in the recently ended European campaign. That was all an anomaly, however, rather than a trend. In reality, Leicester will likely never hit those heights again, but it must in some way alter an owner’s perception of league form and where the team aims to stand in the table.
Their situation has been miraculous. They were in a perfect storm of ridiculous form three years ago, where they escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth with a patchwork of rejected, seemingly average but tightly knit players. After sacking their manager due to a scandalous pre-season, they hired Claudio Ranieri to hammer the presumed nail into the coffin. But he didn’t.
A string of victories coincided with the inconsistency of all of the “big teams” in the following season and the uptick of form by Jamie Vardy, Rihad Mahrez and Kasper Schmeichel. The latter of whom had fought to break away from his father’s shadow and finally started maintaining the consistency to have a fighting chance to do so. Leicester deployed a gung-ho counter attacking system—one that shocked sides that tried to break them down—relying on Vardy to break the defensive line and fielding a fairly old fashioned 4-4-2 at times. They eventually won the title against all odds, but things went sour for the “tinker man” who tinkered a little too much and Shakespeare came into the breech a year on.
He was rewarded for his long service at the club—rather than his pedigree—and managed to stabilise results after a tawdry start under Claudio Ranieri. Ultimately, Shakespeare wasn’t the man fit for a long term future managing the club as it tried to establish ambitious goals for a team that violently swung from extremes.
Crossroads at King Power
Where do the Foxes go from here?
They have mostly coasted on the backs of the core squad that got them out of the relegation spots, and signings like Islam Slimani and Demarai Gray haven’t gelled as required. Vardy isn’t getting younger and they have a core of Champions League experienced players who will be itching for another night under the European lights. They have lost their head scout to Everton—about which, more later—and have very few younger players (barring Chilwell and perhaps Choudri) coming through the pipeline to back up the experienced players.
Links to Burnley’s Sean Dyche may sound unimpressive, but it could be a mutually shrewd move. Leicester would thereby secure a manager who can create solid squads that rely on meat and potatoes defensive foundations. He’s also a manager who, after paying his dues at an unfashionable team, deserves a chance of competing at a slightly higher rung. Dyche is not simply a “hoofball” tactician, managing to create some great displays against Everton and Chelsea earlier this season, but one who can maintain stability for a side otherwise floundering.
As discussed in more detail in my previous article, Ronald Koeman hasn’t kicked on from his previously solid season with Everton, taking them to 6th in the league. His drumming by the Gunners at home this past weekend has cut his tenure short. Sixteen months into his contract and now Everton must also evaluate where and with whom their future lies.
First, we have to see Koeman’s hiring and sacking in context.
After dealing with Roberto Martinez’s chummy attitude towards management, Everton hired the Dutchman who was known for coldly making decisions for the better of the team. But his ability to pick and choose where to put his flag in the sand has brought more trouble to the team than it should.
Koeman identified issues with Oumar Niasse—who looked a bit out of his depth—and humiliated him by refusing to give him a locker and relegated him to train with the youth teams. He was loaned out to Hull FC in a desperate attempt to shift weight. Koeman was then forced to watch the Senegalese striker miraculously fire in freely for the Tigers in the second half of the season.
In his absence, Everton relied too much on the goals of Romelu Lukaku last season. However, being aware of his reluctance to sign a new contract, they had plenty of time to identify players who would better fill the gap before his inevitable big money move. Signings Sandro Ramirez, Nikolaj Vlasic haven’t met the mark (with the latter being played on the wings) and the inexperienced Dominic Calvert Lewin has had to fill in but simply isn’t the prolific striker they need.
Since arriving back from his loan, Niasse had been shunned again and looked to be sold in the Summer transfer window to Crystal Palace, but has come to Everton’s aid with a double against Bournemouth and a conciliatory goal against Arsenal in recent games. He certainly isn’t Lukaku, but in hindsight, Niasse is an embarrassing shot in the foot for the Dutchman.
Premier League extracts a premium
Maybe Everton’s Chief Scout, Steve Walsh, has miscommunicated with Ronald Koeman as to what the team needs. For his part, Koeman begged for a new target man and left back cover for Leighton Baines. In the end, nothing was pulled off in time to save the manager and Everton is rudderless once again.
Everton does have an abundance of riches in central midfield, however, after signing three during the summer. They also still have the highly rated Tom Davies—who had been pushed down the pecking order under Koeman—and Ross Barkley waiting in the wings once he bounces back from injury. It is still unclear as to whether the former manager rated the young Evertonian. Koeman had given Barkley numerous ultimatums to push on and establish himself. He was even made subject to a dramatic transfer to Chelsea in the dying seconds of the transfer window, before Barkley allegedly changed his mind at the training ground. It seems to me, that Everton have the rough product in Barkley to be something special, but not yet the coaching to get it out of him.
These midfield signings seem weird to me because even though they are targeting a fairer share of goals in the team, they are letting wider positions atrophy. Winger Kevin Mirallas was unsuccessfully offered up on loan—due to his attitude—and Aaron Lennon is getting older.
Koeman’s demise is a result of good recruitment for the wrong places. As a result, he had to make do with fielding players out of position and not getting the best out of the squad. Finding a coach to replace him will be tough. Obviously Everton’s owner, Farhad Moshri, wants to bring in a coach with the optimism and ambition required to push them forward, but who is also able to cobble together a fit and fiddle team from the scraps left.
However the queue for such a PL manager seems to be growing longer every week.