The Premier League boasts some of the top managers in world football, with Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Jürgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino appointed at five of the top six English clubs currently. Arsene Wenger’s departure from Arsenal saw the Gunners linked with several other top coaches such as Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone and Juventus’ Max Allegri before Unai Emery was appointed. Similarly, speculation over Conte’s future at Chelsea has seen them linked with Maurizio Sarri, whose Napoli side almost pipped Juventus to the Calcio A title in the closest title race in recent seasons, as well as former PSG boss Laurent Blanc. Moreover, there are top coaches further down the table in the Premier League with Rafael Benitez, who won the Champions League with Liverpool, at Newcastle and Manuel Pelligrini, who won the league with Man City, recently appointed at West Ham.
All of these coaches were appointed within the last four seasons. However, Premier League teams and players have not been at the top of world football in recent years. Chelsea’s 2012 triumph was the last time that a Premier League side won the Champions League, and no English side managed to reach the final until Klopp’s Liverpool reached it this past season. Furthermore, there were only seven Prem players that made the top 30 of the 2017 Ballon d’Or list, with Harry Kane being the highest player on the list at 10th. So if it has not been the overwhelming quality that is attracting top managers to the Premier League, what has been attracting them?
There is a certain prestige about the Premier League which seems to attract top talent regardless of the recent performances of English clubs. Perhaps it is because England is ‘the home of football’, or because there are so many historic clubs that retain huge fanbases across the globe. Whatever it is, it is not a new phenomenon as top managers have been heading to the Premier League for years. Jose Mourinho picked Chelsea in 2004 after shocking the world by winning the Champions League with underdogs Porto in addition to winning the domestic Primeira Liga in Portugal. The same year, Benitez joined Liverpool after winning La Liga and the UEFA Cup with Valencia in the 2003/04 season. The pair were perhaps the most desirable coaches in world football at the time and both picked the Premier League in an event which mirrors Mourinho and Guardiola joining Manchester United and Manchester City respectively in 2016.
Pellegrini and Benitez opting to join lower-table sides reciprocates the patterns of top players, who have joined lower-table clubs to experience playing in the Premier League—a common occurrence not just recently, but in the league’s history as well. Juninho Paulista had been on the radar of Europe’s top clubs before surprisingly signing for Middlesbrough in 1995, and after a stint at Atletico Madrid, the attacking midfielder re-joined the Teesside club in the summer of 2002 after winning the World Cup with Brazil. Summer of 2002 also saw another exciting attacker join a Premier League minnow as Jay-Jay Okocha opted to sign for Bolton—the Nigerian had become the most expensive African footballer of all time when he signed for PSG for £14 million just four years earlier. Similarly, in 2006 Argentinian internationals Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez bizarrely signed for West Ham, before promptly being signed by Liverpool and Man United respectively the following summer. Meanwhile, in more recent years, eyebrows were raised when Stoke signed Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri in 2015. These signings demonstrate that there is clearly a certain prestige attached to the Premier League which makes it a desirable destination for both coaches and players at the top of world football.
The unpredictability factor
There is also an element of uncertainty regarding the Premier League, especially in comparison with Europe’s other major leagues. In recent years, it has effectively become a foregone conclusion that Juventus will win Serie A, PSG will win Ligue 1, Bayern Munich will win the Bundesliga and either Barcelona or Real Madrid will win La Liga. There have been exceptions, such as Atletico’s domestic triumph in 2013/14 and Monaco’s in 2016/17, however the Italian, French and German leagues have generally been dominated by one team whilst the Spanish league has been dominated by two. However, four different sides have won the Premier League in the last six seasons, making the league less predictable, with Leicester’s unbelievable 2016 triumph being on of the greatest shocks in sporting history. Although some believe that Guardiola’s City are threatening to pull away from the opposition, it is generally believed that any of the top six in England could potentially push for the title. This greater competition for the top spot may well be a factor which is attracting top managers, as it poses a greater challenge than managing a side which everyone automatically expects to win the league.
There is also, however, great risk in joining a top Premier League side. The fans of the Premier League’s top six clubs will generally be disappointed if their club fails to push for the title, meaning that there is little room for error when managing a top side in England. Louis Van Gaal was very highly regarded when he joined Manchester United in 2014 as a highly decorated manager who had recently impressed with the Netherlands at the World Cup. However, just four years on he is remembered by most in Britain as a failure, whose boring possession for possession’s sake football achieved little during his two seasons in Manchester. The current United boss, Jose Mourinho, also saw his reputation damaged when he was sacked by Chelsea after a poor start to the 2015/16 season, with his exceptionally high stature failing to save his job. Perhaps the best example of the danger of being a top Premier League manager is the fate of Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman revolutionized the league with his emphasis on nutrition, alternative training techniques, and passing style in the 90s and his Arsenal side famously went unbeaten in their 2003/04 title triumph. Nevertheless, disappointing results and a lack of trophies saw a plethora of “Wenger Out” banners at the Emirates before the legendary manager went out on a whimper as Arsenal finished sixth in his final campaign at the club last season.
The Premier League easily attracts top coaches with its unique prestige and high competition. However, it is far from easy to be a top manager in the Premier League with the extraordinary pressure and demand for instant success.