Lack of wise old heads is thrusting talented but callow coaches towards elite jobs

<span>Left to right: Roberto De Zerbi, Thomas Tuchel and Kieran McKenna are all in-demand.</span><span>Composite: Action Images/Reuters; EPA; Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Left to right: Roberto De Zerbi, Thomas Tuchel and Kieran McKenna are all in-demand.Composite: Action Images/Reuters; EPA; Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

For an elite club, what constitutes the ideal candidate for a managerial vacancy? The checklist includes the following: progressive football, preferably the pressing approach; adaptability to different cultures; previous elite experience with silverware favoured; HR expertise within an organisational structure where managing upwards is key. And in English football at least, a charismatic carnival-barker act with the media is still favoured while the increasingly powerful sporting director class remain publicly silent.

That Arne Slot will carry the title of head coach at Anfield is pertinent; Jürgen Klopp was – definitively – Liverpool’s manager. But now the club’s football operations are headed by Michael Edwards, assisted by Julian Ward, successive former sporting directors who both returned once the German’s departure was announced.

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If Pep Guardiola is Manchester City’s maestro, the club structure bespoke to the genius’s aristo-technocratic specifications, Klopp, though diplomatic in public, occasionally strained against Fenway Sports Group’s hierarchy. He turned out to be so irreplaceable his job title was retired and he may well be among the last of the giants.

January’s announcement of Klopp’s departure, and Slot being selected, preceded a glut of vacancies becoming available across Europe. As it stands, six of this season’s Premier League clubs will kick off next season under new management.

That is not including Manchester United, where Erik ten Hag’s future is uncertain at very best. On Friday, Xavi was removed by Barcelona, while Stefano Pioli was signing off after Milan’s game against Salernitana on Saturday. That came the week after Juventus sacked Massimiliano Allegri.

So there are plenty of opportunities but who are the candidates in what looks a seller’s market? It turns out there aren’t many to fit the aforementioned criteria. There was a point when Xabi Alonso had the choice of Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and perhaps even Real Madrid. He then decided to remain at Bayer Leverkusen. Were he suddenly to re-enter the market, Barcelona and Bayern remain possibilities and that impending vacancy at United joins Chelsea and three Italian clubs.

Alonso fits the above checklist to a tee, even if Bayer’s pressing game, with its collective of talented youngsters and refreshed journeymen, was picked apart by the 66-year-old Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta in Wednesday’s Europa League final. That Dublin success is a reminder that eccentric yet clear-minded greybeards still have their place in the game. Carlo Ancelotti, who has negotiated the egos and power structures in all five of Europe’s top leagues over the past three decades, can collect his fifth Champions League winner’s medal as a coach next Saturday at Wembley.

The problem for those clubs increasingly desperate for a new manager/head coach is there is no young Ancelotti, Klopp or Guardiola on the market. The corporate and financial element that now subsumes elite football makes finding top coaches more challenging.

It has led to a curious set of equations, including the strange cases of Kieran McKenna and Enzo Maresca, who have never overseen a top-division game between them but are linked with some of the continent’s biggest clubs. McKenna’s Ipswich heroics may well have given him a decision between Brighton, Chelsea and United.

Vincent Kompany, meanwhile, after Burnley won five Premier League matches, while collecting 24 points and always looking unlikely to avoid relegation, seems to be headed for Bayern Munich. That checklist again: Kompany has charisma, in Belgium he is known as “Le President”; Burnley did at least play attacking football; with an MBA and as a German speaker from his time at Hamburg, he speaks the local language and the business lingua franca of the suits. All he lacks is any evidence – from either Anderlecht or Turf Moor – that he is anything like an elite coach.

He replaces Thomas Tuchel, who wilfully failed the test of maintaining relations with Bayern’s power-broking legends and thrusting executives but could now end up working for Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Tuchel is the master tactician who lacks tact, as shown by rancorous exits from Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and now Bayern.

Manchester United’s further flirtations with more corporate-adjacent types such as Gareth Southgate and Graham Potter have the look of Ratcliffe seeking holistic operators to work within a structure in which the billionaire calls the shots, having already brought Ineos values to Old Trafford’s offices.

Brighton scouted the unique talents of Roberto De Zerbi, but their refusal to bend the structure put in place by the owner, Tony Bloom, and the chief executive, Paul Barber, resulted in the Italian walking away with two years on his contract, and with their blessing. De Zerbi wanted to add more players of peak 25-30 age but was denied.

Chelsea, a club taking much from Brighton, including plentiful on-field and backroom talent, would seem a poor fit for De Zerbi considering Mauricio Pochettino, far more clubbable, looked utterly miserable while working for the consortium that owns the club. The mavericks will just have to forge their own way.

Where Liverpool and Klopp became indivisible, football’s corporate direction means the model where the manager is a club’s most important operative is being discontinued, even if that comes at the price of success, continuity and, as this summer proves, viable candidates.