"I Know, I can't believe it either!"

“I Know, I can’t believe it either!”

Anyone looking to measure the contribution made by foreign managers to the Premier League would do well to avoid the LMA (League Managers Association) roll of honours- a list with as much of a cosmopolitan feel as your average BNP rally. Since its inauguration in 1994 only one manager from outside the British Isles has been acknowledged by his peers as that season’s highest achiever, with Arsene Wenger winning in 2002 and again in 2004.

By contrast the annual bauble has been collected by an Englishman on a record seven occasions, with Danny Wilson, Peter Reid, George Burley, Roy Hodgson, Frank Clarke, Alan Pardew and Steve Coppell all receiving higher recognition from their peers than the likes of Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez – all of whom won either domestic or European trophies during their time in England. It’s an extraordinary statistic when one considers that none of the aforementioned Englishmen have so much as a league cup between them.

Last week Sir Alex Ferguson won a record fourth LMA award, the Scot being the only manager from the British Isles to have won both the award and some actual silverware with a club. With Manchester United strolling to a record twentieth League title Ferguson’s latest LMA win hardly registers in the pantheon of major sporting upsets. It does, however, contribute to the suspicion that the award is little more than an annual carve-up among the British managers working in the Premier League.

Ferguson won this year’s award on the back of United’s title success, thereby making the equation a clear case of title win equals LMA award. Well, for Ferguson anyway, but clearly not when it came to Mancini (2012), Anchellotti (2009) and Mourinho (2005 and 2006), none of whom were recognised by the LMA for their title-winning turns. But, as mentioned, the absence of a title (or any trophy) has not been an obstacle to the award being won on eight occasions (Coppell has won the award twice) by an Englishman, which would indicate the criteria in those years was not the winning of a trophy but achieving more than could have reasonably been expected.

From a perusal of the past twenty LMA winners it wouldn’t take the most hardened of cynics to suggest that the winner therefore needs to either win a major trophy or over-achieve, but most crucially, make sure they are in possession of a British passport. How else to explain the LMA’s decision this year to overlook both Michael Laudrup and Benitez, both of whom won a trophy and both of whom most certainly over-achieved?

Laudrup began his spell as Swansea manager in the unenviable position of being a rare exception to the axiom of clubs only ever hiring managers to redress the problems left by the previous incumbent. After finishing a heroic eleventh in 2011/12, Swansea were riding the highest wave in their modern history when Brendan Rodgers jumped ship to Liverpool last July. For Laudrup the bar could not have been set any higher.

Despite being many folks tip for the drop, Laudrup’s men began the new season with a 5-0 drubbing of QPR and would eventually finish the campaign two places higher than the previous season in 9th position, with canny additions like Pablo HernándezJonathan de GuzmánKi Sung-Yueng and signing of the season Michu adding a clinical edge to the aesthetically pleasing – but often impotent – build-up play of the previous campaign.

But whilst Laudrup can take great pride from Swansea’s league form, his stand out achievement was success in the League Cup and securing European football for the first time in over twenty years in the process. That they achieved this by eliminating Liverpool and Chelsea among others only further dispelled any notion of luck being a significant factor.

But if Laudrup thought he had inherited something of a poisoned chalice it was nothing compared to the (albeit different type of) toxicity Benitez encountered at Chelsea. Never in living memory has a manager had to deal with such levels of constant vitriol from his own team’s fans as Benitez met when he took the Chelsea reigns in November. The venom from the stands would remain harmfully potent until the Spaniard hit out at the fans after an FA Cup game at Middlesboro in February, after which the level of hostility noticeably subsided. But clearly the vitriol had had an impact as a quick glance at Chelsea’s points per game ratio shows.

Until Benitez’ Middlesboro press conference the Blues’ points per game ratio was a mediocre 1.6666, but post-‘Boro the figure shot up to 2.3636. Extrapolated over the season, Chelsea’s form post-Boro would have gained them 89 points – the tally with which eventual winners United would finish.

Add in the fact that Benitez had no pre-season with which to get to know his team, had a dozen more games to contend with than any other manager and was constantly undermined by his ‘Interim’ tag and his achievement of securing third place in the most competitively ran top four race ever as well as winning the Europa League must surely rank as one of the greatest managerial performances of recent times.

Not that there was ever a danger of it being recognised as such by the LMA. When gratuitous quote-monkey Harry Redknapp claimed “any moron could do the Chelsea job” it not only betrayed the sort of dubious understanding of top level management that led to the QPR boss overseeing the third relegation of his career, it also highlighted just how reluctant British managers are to acknowledge the efforts of their foreign peers. The suspicion remains that had it been a Frank Clarke or a Peter Reid that had so expertly guided the rudderless Chelsea vessel through such choppy waters Redknapp’s cynicism would have vanished quicker than his QPR team from the top division.

However, with no sign of this parochialism disappearing any time soon, the likes of Mourinho, Mancini, Ancelotti and Benitez will have to contend themselves with their five European Cups and twelve domestic titles and alas, merely dream of one day being afforded the same levels of respect as Alan Pardew, Steve Coppell and the like.

Article first published in Late Tackle Magazine, June ‘13

 

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