Ten Premier League managers who completely f**ked their big chance, with Potter on brink at Chelsea
Graham Potter is on the brink at Chelsea but he would not be the first Premier League manager to have completely f**ked their biggest chance. Hello, Man Utd.
10) Nuno Espirito Santo at Spurs
Behold, Tottenham’s search for a manager in the close season of 2021.
Daniel Levy targeted the complete antithesis to the previous permanent incumbent, Jose Mourinho, when he outlined a need to ‘return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining’. Forty-two days later, and after failing to procure Julian Nagelsmann (appointed by Bayern Munich), Hansi Flick (appointed by the German national team), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain said no), Antonio Conte (pulled out of negotiations), Paulo Fonseca (talks broke down), Gennaro Gattuso (fan pressure), Erik ten Hag (uncharismatic interview) or Graham Potter (too expensive), with Scott Parker, Ralph Hasenhuttl, Robertos Martinez and Mancini and Brendan Rodgers also on an exhaustive shortlist of prospective targets, Spurs landed on a generous 10th choice: Nuno Espirito Santo.
The Portuguese had left Wolves six weeks before and thus been available throughout a bumbling summer. It was a risible appointment at the conclusion of a laughable process and one which ended in predictable collapse. Spurs sacked Nuno just 17 games, eight wins and a negative goal difference into a two-year contract which underlined the lack of faith he had at boardroom level, never mind the scarcity of support shown by the fans, his last match being a thorough beating handed out at home by a similarly disjointed Man Utd.
The 49-year-old is currently locked in a Saudi Professional League title race with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr as manager of Al-Ittihad, which sums up the relevance and reputation of both individuals in 2023.
9) Paolo Di Canio at Sunderland
“I am at the beginning of my career,” said Paolo Di Canio at his unveiling as Sunderland manager in April 2013. “One day we will discover that I am either a fantastic, good or normal manager.”
Option d) a predictably ludicrous manager, soon turned out to be the answer.
Di Canio was the first of those relegation-escaping mid-season appointments the Black Cats made in the 2010s as they delayed the inevitable, the Italian taking over from Martin O’Neill in 16th with a one-point cushion to the bottom three. He kept them up by three points with wins over Newcastle and Everton, was given 14 new players by director of football Roberto Di Fanti in the summer, including £6m non-scoring striker Jozy Altidore and £2.7m non-talented winger Charis Mavrias, and was sacked five winless games into the 2013/14 season.
Considering Di Canio, who guided Swindon Town to the League Two title in 2012, was “at the beginning” of his managerial journey six months before, it is curious to learn he has not returned to coaching since leaving Sunderland a decade ago. Probably something to do with him banning ketchup, mayonnaise, mobile phones, ice in Coke, coffee before training and singing on matchdays. Or because he publicly hammered players after every defeat to the point that senior squad members felt compelled to call a meeting with club CEO Margaret Byrne to tell her the situation was untenable. Maybe the fascism stuff didn’t help either. Difficult to say.
8) Nathan Jones at Southampton
We miss him. His Premier League star burned briefly but so bright that it will never have to again. Which is good because no top-flight club will go near the Welshman again.
7) Mike Walker at Everton
The last British manager to win away at Bayern Munich when he guided Norwich to UEFA Cup victory in 1993, Mike Walker packed some remarkable Premier League heritage into a 98-game top-flight coaching career. He finished third with the Canaries in 1993 after leading the table ahead of Man Utd until as late as April. He became the first boss to directly swap Premier League clubs in the middle of a season. He engineered the first of Everton’s remarkable survival successes in the 1990s with a final day 4-2 win over Wimbledon in 1994, having trailed 2-1 at half-time.
Walker cashed in on his rising stock at the right time, leaving Europe-bothering Norwich in January 1994 after the lure of reviving a fallen giant in Everton proved too tempting. The legal wrangling over compensation and potential points deductions lasted longer than Walker’s tenure; he remains the Toffees’ most disastrous permanent post-war manager and neither his reputation nor standing in the game ever recovered.
6) Rene Meulensteen at Fulham
A coveted and respected coach after his work under Sir Alex Ferguson at Man Utd, Rene Meulensteen parlayed that into an awkward working relationship with Fulham manager Martin Jol as the Cottagers’ new head coach. With that arrangement encouraging no upturn in form, Meulensteen assumed first-team responsibilities from the sacked Jol in December 2013.
The 49-year-old had been predicted by many to achieve great things. Man Utd striker Robin van Persie regarded his compatriot as “one of the best coaches in the world” and rescuing Fulham was the first step towards breaking out on his own. But Meulensteen made way for cheese fan Felix Magath in February, his tenure still standing as the second shortest in Premier League history. Subsequent roles as consultant for the Philadelphia Union and manager of Maccabi Haifa and Kerala Blasters – both reigns lasting six months – have done nothing to restore a reputation left in tatters on British shores.
5) Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa
After spending his opening few months as Aston Villa manager fielding the same press conference questions about whether he considered his first senior coaching role in England to be a stepping stone towards his ultimate goal of taking the Liverpool job, Steven Gerrard came up with an ingenious solution: be a bit rubbish.
It certainly stopped the speculation; Gerrard remains one of the favourites to replace Jurgen Klopp only through a paucity of options and a legendary playing career at Anfield. It cannot have much to do with those 343 days in charge at Villa Park, during which he botched a captaincy changeover, rejected the concept of width, spent about £90m on a load of players in their late 20s on long-term contracts and lost almost half his games.
4) Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace
While Frank de Boer managed to jump on the Netherlands national team manager carousel despite those seats being traditionally reserved for Ronald Koeman, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat and Guus Hiddink, Ronald’s brother has little to no future in the game as a coach at club level.
Crystal Palace saw to that. The Dutchman was the sorest of thumbs in their managerial lineage until Patrick Vieira’s ascension: Dowie, Taylor, Warnock, Hart, Burley, Freedman Holloway, Pulis, Warnock, Pardew, Allardyce, De Boer, Hodgson. Not helped by a relative lack of investment, De Boer nevertheless compounded that issue with incoherent tactics and ostentatious training-ground shows of his own playing ability. Four games – all defeats to nil – of the 2017/18 season was all the proof Steve Parish needed to abandon the experiment. And “the worst manager in the history of the Premier League” has only had one first-team club role since, thoroughly underwhelming at Atlanta United.
3) Bob Bradley at Swansea
It’s one thing to f**k up your own big chance. But it takes failure on a much grander level to help f**k up the chances of your fellow countrymen. Bob Bradley was the unfortunate flagbearer for American coaches in the Premier League, the canary down the mine who walked through criticism about saying “PK” instead of penalty and “road game” instead of away fixture so others could run.
Swansea called on Bradley after sacking Francesco Guidolin in October 2016. He won two of his 11 games, a ridiculous 5-4 victory against Crystal Palace in which Fernando Llorente scored twice in second-half stoppage time, and a 3-0 demolition of David Moyes’ doomed Sunderland. But as relegation became a likely reality, Bradley was dispensed with after 84 days.
Jesse Marsch did little to repair the damage Bradley’s Swansea reign caused and it is no coincidence that the 64-year-old has only managed in MLS since.
2) Roy Hodgson at Liverpool
In ordinary circumstances, entrusting the post-Rafael Benitez rebuild of Liverpool to a manager who had just reached the Europa League final with a mid-table team might have been a wise decision. But Roy Hodgson was an uncomfortable fit for all involved, exacerbating the issues he inherited from despised owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
It was a weird time. Liverpool released then re-signed Fabio Aurelio, also bringing in Christian Poulsen and Paul Konchesky. They lost to Northampton Town in the League Cup. Hodgson called a Merseyside derby defeat “our best performance of the season”, engaged in an unseemly feud with reported possible replacement Frank Rijkaard, admitted the Reds were in a relegation battle after losing at home to Blackpool and was gone within six months.
Discounting his retirement-inducing reign at Watford, Hodgson has maintained a Premier League win percentage of anywhere between 32.4% and 35.3% at his five English top-flight clubs. It just so happens that Liverpool expected a little more than to be reduced to the level of Blackburn, Fulham, West Brom or Palace. He took the England post 18 months after leaving Anfield but Hodgson himself described Liverpool as “the biggest job in club football” at his unveiling. And so it proved.
1) David Moyes at Man Utd
A handover so misguided and a reign so cataclysmic that it can be difficult to sort unbelievable fact from exaggerated fiction. David Moyes did not advise Rio Ferdinand to watch videos of Phil Jagielka to learn how to defend properly, did not get his squad to practise set-pieces in a public park and did not ostracise Wilfried Zaha because the winger slept with his daughter.
But David Moyes did renounce every member of a successful and established an Utd coaching staff for his own, did spend his only summer transfer window pursuing Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago and most harrowingly of all, did ban dining on chips before games.
The job consumed him. Moyes has since suggested that he felt he had no choice in the matter when Ferguson met him to anoint the Everton manager as his successor. A six-year contract turned into a ten-month reign. But the biggest mistake Moyes made was to be Moyes: to act, talk, coach and carry himself in exactly the same underdog manner which helped him shine at Goodison Park.
The solitary first-team signing of his shambolic only summer in charge was that of a former player who had been available for £4m less a month earlier due to a contract clause Moyes must have been privy to in his previous role. Man Utd were the ones at fault for expecting anything different; it was their error which will forever help define the Scot’s career.
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