Dust off your glitter-balls, whip out the flared trousers: the Premier League’s about to get its boogie back. Yes, Alan Pardew, last seen swinging his hips with trademark focus on the task at hand moments before his Crystal Palace side imploded in the FA Cup final, is back in the big time at West Brom. And as if that wasn’t enough to get you on your feet and fist pumping, Sam Allardyce, himself no stranger to being caught embracing the furious rhythm of the night, will also be cha-cha-chaing his way back to the dugout at Everton after cha-cha-charging a small fortune to pull the Toffees out of their present malaise.
The first thing to state on the matter is that the existence of these two vacancies was entirely unavoidable. After just two wins in 21, and about as many more goals scored in that time, Tony Pulis’ regime at the Hawthorns had oppressed so much individual creative freedom that his fall from power was likely greeted with as much joy among West Brom’s forwards as the people of Zimbabwe displayed upon their liberation from Robert Mugabe. Similarly, Everton’s season had deteriorated under Ronald Koeman and David Unsworth to the point (or lack of points) that the board at Goodison Park were left with no choice but to seek further assistance. That said, however, the fact remains that believing either man to be the antidote to stale, lower mid-table tedium is about as realistic as expecting meaningful democratic reforms to be instituted by a power-thirsty military general known as ‘The Crocodile’.
In fact, the main reason both men currently find themselves sinking luxuriously into their new leather chairs is precisely because lower mid-table tedium is what they do best. Just as the mountains of TV cash pumped into the Premier League in recent years have made it a more desirable destination than ever, the fear of falling out of the top tier has never been more pronounced. The sackings of Koeman and Pulis were risks, but both were deemed less hazardous than what sustaining the status quo threatened. When it came to deciding who were the best replacements, there will have been no talk of five-year plans or what ‘philosophy’ the clubs wished to pursue moving forwards. In both cases, pure white terror at the prospect of relegation will have been the beginning and end of all considerations.
The implications of this state of affairs are profound. While staunch defenders of British coaching have long decried the way fancy foreign big-wigs have been parachuted into the league’s elite posts, the story was always told that if you climbed your way up the ladder to the brink of the top four, the Champions League regulars would have no choice but to come calling. Then two things happened. First, the appointment, and subsequent disaster, of David Moyes as Manchester United manager left the big clubs somewhat less keen on the viability of this idea. Second, the mega money suddenly flowing into the league at all levels meant that survival and self-preservation became the sole ambition of all the rest.
With this development, the pathway to the top for young British coaches is now as clogged as Big Sam’s plughole after his morning shower and every new stream of revenue will only cement this tendency. If the current trend accelerates parallel to the pace of investment, the lower half of the Premier League is at risk of becoming a cesspool of regurgitated failure in which the same withered old faces play an increasingly despairing game of musical chairs as they float imperceptibly between myriad clubs, all clinging onto the hope that nothing ever changes.
Some of these developments we can already pencil in. Paul Clement looks like the next man to face the chopping block, and Swansea will look no further than Pulis to replace him. Clement, having saved the Swans last season, will then become the clear choice to replace Mark Hughes when Stoke start to sink towards the drop. Hughes, in turn, will take over at West Ham once they’ve had enough of David Moyes, before Moyes replaces Pardew after his bright start at West Brom soon peters out. Pardew then replaces Clement at Stoke, Allardyce succeeds Pulis at Swansea while Pulis is asked to sort out the mess Hughes leaves behind at the London Stadium. On and on it goes, all as predictable as it is depressing for all involved except the names listed above and their agents.
Money may have always driven professional football, but it’s never held so tight a grip on the wheel as it does now. In the increasingly brutal reality of risk and financial reward that occupy the Premier League, those who can point to a track record of mediocrity, or even experience of failure, outshine those without one at all. It’s musical chairs alright, just with no winners, no endpoint, no purpose. The music just keeps on playing while Pardew, Allardyce and company dance the endless night away.
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