They can’t even manage that

Manager blues

We’re less than a month into the new Premiership season and already the patterns for the season are being set. Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are oozing the usual nauseating class and quality; Aston Villa, Spurs, Everton, Liverpool, West Ham, Leeds and Middelsboro are chasing gallantly with mid-table signs already evident, and Newcastle, Wimbledon and Sheffield Wednesday continue the dire form of recent seasons in the bottom half of the table. Behind all these teams are various managers, some of which are good, some of which are, erm, pants frankly. Time to have a look at the men behind the 11 men.

The Top Three

You can’t aim too much criticism at the men who have dominated the Premier League for the past few seasons.

Alex Ferguson (Manchester United): It goes without saying that Alex is top of the pile. Not someone who comes across as too likeable during the heat of battle, he’s done himself even fewer favours by criticising current managerial opponents in his autobiography, ‘Managing my Life’. Brian Kidd and Gordon Strachan are just two characters he stomped on mercilessly. But showing no compassion and having no friends is not something that troubles a man who is a managerial genius. There is still a few years left in him at Old Trafford despite the boards best attemps to dethrown him by refusing to free up transfer funds or break the archaic wage structure. Managerial rating (10)

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal): He came from relative obscurity to lift a Premiership/FA Cup double in his second season which is a great feat by anyone’s standards. Has brought in quality in Petit, Henry, Viera and Suker and, of course, the questionable talent of Nicolas Anelka netted over £20m profit for the club. Still a question over the discipline within the club but they should be a major force for at least five more seasons. (9)

Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea): While he inherited a fair ol’ team from Mr Rude Mullet ((c) Anneliese M Moore), Vialli has pushed the club further than the dreadlocked chancer ever did. A title is likely within the next three years and credit must lie fully at Vialli’s door for that. Shame he has sold off a lot of the English players but in all fairness I think they’ll survive without the silky skills of Frank (own goal) Sinclair and Michael Duberry. Still has quite a bit to prove though. (8)

The chasers

These are the promising managers in charge of the clubs with the resources to challenge the top three.

John Gregory (Aston Villa): Looked to be the golden child during his first year in charge of the club. A dramatic slide after Christmas last season saw them slip out of even the European slots despite leading the Premiership for several months. Has shown a lack of decorum when dealing with difficult situations like the David Unsworth or Stan Collymore sagas. Has also shown questionable judgment in signing Paul Merson, a 31-year old self-confessed alcoholic, for nearly £6m and a journeyman like Steve Stone for £5m. All the same, he is one of the better young managers. (7)

Gerrard Houilier (Liverpool): The jury is still out on the Frenchman who has started a revolution at Liverpool. His signings are in double figures and most are hardly household names. The backbone of the Liverpool team based around Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Fowler, Rigobert Song and Michael Owen is strong though and he will live or die by the performances of new signings Smicer, Camara, Hyppia and Henchoz. (6)

Harry Redknapp (West Ham): Gone are the days when opposition fans laughed at West Ham and their vain attempts to become a ‘big’ club. Harry Redknapp has revolutionised East London’s poor relations by turning into them at top six club against all the odds. The future is bright if they can hold on to Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole and together with Trevor Sinclair and gamble signings Paolo DiCanio and Paulo Wanchope, anything can happen. Redknapp deserves credit at long last for what he has acheived. However, it is time to win something. (8)

George Graham (Spurs): A trophy in your first season is a good way of calming the frayed nerves of troubled fans like Tottenham’s. Sadly the signings have not been forthcoming but how much of this is down to Graham is debatable. He always knew a good defender when he saw one and Chris Perry is the best uncapped England defender around. But with question marks over the strikers at White Hart Lane, George had better hope for a solid first few months to the season followed by the funds to buy a top forward. It will also be interesting to see how he handles the contract situations with the clubs two biggest assets, Sol Campbell and Darren Anderton. (8)

Bryan Robson (Middlesboro): Robson learnt management lesson #1 when his expensively assembled side crumbled in 1997 and was instantaneously relegated back to division one. It’s a mystery to this day how a team that contained Ravanelli, Emerson, Juninhio, Barmby and reached two cup finals failed to win anything and get relegated on top of that. It reflected badly on Robson but to the credit of Middlesboro chairman Steve Gibson, he stuck by Robson and has reaped the rewards. Robson has built a more stable team which will probably steer clear of relegation for some time if not quite hit the heights of the Premiership. (7)

David O’Leary (Leeds United): O’Leary’s first management job has been a qualified success. There still seems to be reluctance on the part of the Leeds board to give him the necessary money to strengthen the squad and this was one area that George Graham was unhappy with during his time there. Having been forced to sell Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, O’Leary should be able to splash out the ludicrous £12m received on a striker and a top class central defender. The excess youth in the team may be the factor that keeps Leeds in the top six rather that the top three. (8)

Medicority

The managers that should keep clear of relegation but are unlikely to threaten for European spots at the top of the league.

Martin O’Neill (Leicester): From a Premiership point of view, Leicester will never have the resources to challenge consistently for a top six place. Their continued existence in the Premiership is in itself miraculous and the credit for that must go to Martin O’Neill. He’s nurtured players like Emile Heskey and Steve Guppy and made international stars out of players like Neil Lennon and Matt Elliott. Hard to say if he could do a good job at a big club but the potential is there for all to see. (8)

Jim Smith (Derby): The honeymoon period is probably over for Jim Smith who has seen his flawed starlet Paulo Wanchope leave and former prize asset Dean Sturridge fade away to relative obscurity. It’s fair to say that the Bald Eagle has little in his hand to attract top stars but the danger is that his team are going to slip towards the bottom eight in the Premiership rather than the top eight. (6)

Ruud Gullit (Newcastle): Stop press…Gullit is gone. Well, the boy was a joke in all honesty. There was rumors only 2-3 months after he took the job that he was letting his assistant Steve Clarke take training all the time while he hung out in Amsterdam. It seems that he regularly commuted from Holland anyway much to the chagrin of his employers. He spent 16m pre-season to add to the multitude of players already at the club and where did it get him? One point from five games is where it got him. We’ll probably never see him in the Premiership again. (3)

Walter Smith (Everton): Can Walter Smith stop the rot at Everton? The problems at the club start at the core of the operation and have filtered down to the front line staff. His managerial success comes in the questionable Scottish Premiership arena but there have been signs in the past month to suggest that he can push the club forward. With no money to spend, he will have to develop young talents like Michael Ball and Francis Jeffers. (6)

Egil Olsen (Wimbledon): The Norwegian has had an average start at the Dons but if he has the backing of the Norwegian owners, then he should be able to attain more transfer funds than poor old Joe Kinnear was. His future looks ropey though as he gets acclimatised to the Premiership with this season critical. The jury is still completely out on him. (6)

Danny Wilson (Sheff Wed): It has been a wretched start for Wilson at Wednesday but the only surprise about that is if it surprised anyone at all. Wilson was a mediocre player and his only managerial achievement prior to his appointment at Hilsborough was to get Barnsley promoted to the Premiership. He also took them straight back down again. This is what seperates the Danny Wilsons from the Martin O’Neills. (5)

Relegation fodder

The perennial strugglers…

Gordon Strachan (Coventry): It has been three years since Strachan took over from Big (Fat) Ron and so far he has managed to keep Coventry in the top division. Coventry have their fair share of talented players (Huckerby, McAllister, Whelan, Froggatt, and now, Robbie Keane and the Moroccans Chipo and Hadji) so you might view their seasonal relegation struggle as a bit of a disappointment. Has Strachan taken Coventry as far as he can, i.e. nowhere? He is an honest and entertaining man and he is probably more talented than his performance so far has indicated. (6)

Graham Taylor (Watford): The rise, fall, and rise again of Graham Taylor would probably make a great auto-biography (has he written one yet?). He led Watford through the four divisions in the early 1980s and even had the audacity to chase invincible Liverpool for the Championship in Watford’s first season back in the top flight. After Watford, he did well at Aston Villa before being given the England job in succession to Bobby Robson. Things fell apart for the wistful Taylor who found himself made a laughing stock as results went against him and England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994. He bravely returned to Watford in 1997, giving Luther Blisset the reigns as he sat in the shadows. Watford dropped to division two and Taylor decided it was time to don the tracksuit again. Two seasons in charge, two more promotions and Watford took their place amongst the elite again. Taylor has little chance of keeping the minnows up but his achievement in itself is remarkable. (7)

Paul Jewell (Bradford): If ever there was a team 100% certain to get relegated, it is Bradford. An unfashionable club, with an unfashionable manager and few players of renowned. Paul Jewell has done a remarkable job in getting Bradford to the Premiership considering the contempt his appointment was met with by Bradford’s fans. He will need to bring in some quality players on the cheap to give them a fighting chance. But like Charlton before them, expect Bradford to drop in the last few weeks of the season. Jewell will probably not emerge as much of a manager for the future and disappear into the lower leagues. (6)

Peter Reid (Sunderland): Sunderland seem to have it all. They have a squad, a manager, the fans and a stadium that is primed for the big time. And this time they should consolidate their position just like they should have 2 seasons ago when they got relegated on the last day. Peter Reid has done a good job and signed players that he needed rather than players who were just a name. Instead of a Dean Holdsworth, he signed a Niall Quinn. Instead of a Paul Gascoigne, he signed a Lee Clark. It’s this sort of clever transfer dealing that won Sunderland the first division at a canter and expect this to continue through this season and onwards. (8)

Dave Jones (Southampton): Dave Jones has looked down and out several times in his short career as Southampton manager. But just like the warrior he is, Jones has battled back from the brink and pulled out some memorable performances that have kept Southampton in the top-flight. The way he has revitalised Matt LeTissier’s flagging career by playing him from the bench has been crucial to Southampton’s ‘success’. His unknown signings (Pahars and Kachoul) have emerged as heroes and it is on the basis of their talents that Southampton should stay up again this season. However, ‘success’ to the Southampton fans should be qualification for Europe and this is whay the club have to work towards. Jones may be the man to do that, but his inconsistency over the season may not see that happening. Breaking News: Sadly it seems that Jones career is in the balance as charges of child sex abuse in the 1980s have been brought against him. Not being one to judge someone before proven guilty I will only say that either way, his future as Southampton manager looks bleak. (7)

And that’s your lot

So here is the final table

Pos Manager Comments
1 Alex Ferguson Love it or loathe it, he’s the top dog.
2 Arsene Wenger Did you know Sega (Arsenal’s new sponsor) means wanker in some language? Cool.
3 George Graham He’s done it all, and now he’s trying to do it again. Can he adapt to ‘modern’ football management requirements?
4 Harry Redknapp He’s been around the block, and finally found success on a shoestring budget.
5 Gianluca Vialli Took over from Gullit and made things even better. He’s below ‘Arry because Redknapp didn’t buy Sutton!.
6 Martin O’Neill I wonder how long he will remain at Leicester with the club in turmoil.
7 David O’Leary Gives youth a chance, has honour and plays a nice game of footie. Where’s the inbred Arsenal influence gone!?
8 Peter Reid Should emulate Martin O’Neill and keep Sunderland up – however, has a lot more potential due to positive cashflow.
9 Graham Taylor Can’t fault the man in league management. Knows how to put a team together.
10 John Gregory Transfer dealings suspect, but has potential to become top notch manager.
11 Bryan Robson Learnt the hard way about wayward foreigners, but appears to be on the way up now.
12 Dave Jones Done a good job at Southampton despite being on the brink of the sack several times.
13 Jim Smith Keeping Derby up was an achievement in itself, finishing continuously in the upper half of table an even greater one.
14 Walter Smith Hasn’t got too much talent in the squad but has done better than his Merseyside counterparts so far this season.
15 Gerard Houillier Bought a bus load of foreigners and has yet to get things right. I fear he won’t.
16 Gordon Strachan Surely it is time for Strach to push Coventry upwards? The signing of Keane and the Moroccans should do that.
17 Paul Jewell Needs to prove himself in the top division.
18 Egil Olsen Done it all in Norway, but like Jewell, needs to make his mark in the Premiership.
19 Danny Wilson A moderate player, a moderate manager.
20 Ruud Gullit A disgrace. Good riddance to the dreadlocked, good luck charm sucking dickhead.

And finally…

It has been reported this morning that “Gazza” Gascoigne fancies his chances as a manager. Now firstly, Gazza was one of my idols when in my mid-teens and I still can remember the choking joy I experienced as his free-kick rippled Seaman’s net on St Hotspur Day in April 1991. But now he is a sad parody of himself, getting injured every 30 minutes and sent off during his spare time. Somehow I can’t imagine the troubled tubby having much success in the managerial arena. Imagine coming into work to find your manager sitting with his feet up on his desk throwing darts at a poster of a page three model pinned to his wall. “Hey! I got her left boob!!”

Quite.

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