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TEAMtalk Soccers: Manager of the Season

Ian Watson steps up to the podium to reveal the shortlist and unveil the winner of the TEAMtalk Soccers award for Manager of the Year.

Last Updated: 26/06/13 at 15:02 Post Comment

Sir Alex Ferguson: Winner of the TEAMtalk Soccers award

Sir Alex Ferguson: Winner of the TEAMtalk Soccers award

It's the last day of our two-week Soccers ceremony, so we've saved the best until last.

We all know from hours wasted on Football Manager how all-encompassing being a boss in the beautiful game is - but these are the men who set the standard for their peers.

You can read all the TEAMtalk Soccers blogs here, but for now, sit back and read who made your five-man shortlist.

5. Rafael Benitez: The defining moment of Benitez's interim reign appears to have been Chelsea's Europa League triumph, and it is that victory which has earned Rafa enough votes for a place in the top five.

Was Benitez's interim reign really a success?

When he replaced Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea - after topping the table for seven of the first nine weeks - trailed Manchester United by four points and City by three.

Benitez helped Chelsea keep pace with the blue half of Manchester but the Red Devils disappeared over the horizon, eventually bettering Chelsea's tally by 14 points.

Chelsea settled for a top-four spot, which many might view as an underachievement given the talent at Stamford Bridge.

But the manager's job at Chelsea is never straightforward; even less so for a stand-in with a Liverpool history. Supporters did not want Benitez and they were not shy in letting him and everyone else know that.

It always seemed an awkward colaboration but, after a nightmare at Inter Milan and a prolonged spell away from the game, Benitez had a reputation to restore. Leading reluctant followers to silverware achieved that and at least earned him some respect from many of the fans who were so horrified by his appointment.

4. Steve Clarke: Like Michael Laudrup, Clarke took over last summer with task of filling some big boots. Roy Hodgson was a huge success at The Hawthorns, so much so that he was plucked from Albion to manage his country.

Clarke had developed an excellent reputation as a number two but few knew how he would adapt to being the main man. Those concerns, however, proved unfounded as West Brom enjoyed a quite stunning first half of the Premier League campaign, during which they won eight of their opening 13 games and occupied third spot in late November.

OK, so Albion failed to maintain their form throughout the second half of the season, but Clarke still led his side to their highest-ever finish in the Premier League after a campaign during which the Baggies never slipped from the top half of the table.

Nor was it always smooth sailing for the head coach. Peter Odemwingie embarrassed himself in January, but Clarke managed a delicate situation in exemplary manner.

The other Albion players were far more content under Clarke, who got the best out of new boys Romelu Lukaku and Claudio Yacob, and others he inherited, such as Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley.

3. Andre Villas-Boas: After his Chelsea nightmare, Villas-Boas could have been forgiven for thinking 'here we go again' during a ropey start to his tenure at White Hart Lane.

An opening-day defeat at Newcastle was followed by home draws with West Brom and Norwich, and it was not long before some Spurs fans wanted Villas-Boas replaced, despite the fact that the side had just undergone significant changes.

A win at Manchester United bought him some breathing space with the doubters, but derby defeats to Chelsea and Arsenal soon had him back in the spotlight.

That humbling at the Emirates proved to be something of a turning point for AVB and Spurs. New signings Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson all began to settle in to life at The Lane and, of course, Gareth Bale built on his already-impressive form to establish himself as one of the hottest properties in world football.

Villas-Boas' men went on to lose only three of their remaining 25 games and, despite finishing outside the top four, the future for Spurs and Villas-Boas looks bright.

The young coach has been shortlisted for the Real Madrid job but it seems almost certain that he will be at White Hart Lane next season to continue the good work he has started.

Whether Bale will also stay, however, remains to be seen. Villas-Boas' powers of persuasion will be greatly tested this summer if he is to convince Bale to give Spurs at least one more chance of providing him with the platform his talent deserves.

2. Michael Laudrup: Swansea went into the season with many fearing the Welshman may be struck down by a severe bout of second-season syndrome.

Brendan Rodgers had moved on to supposedly bigger and better things, as had Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair and Gylfi Sigurdsson. All things considered, Laudrup arrived at the Liberty Stadium with many tipping his side for a season of struggle.

Few, then, expected Swansea to go to QPR on the opening day of the season and blow Rangers away 5-0. Even fewer expected 18-goal new boy Michu to have the impact he did.

Laudrup, though, proved the Michu find was no fluke by also recruiting Chico Flores on the cheap and securing Jonathan De Guzman on a season-long loan.

All three played a pivotal role as Swansea secured a top-half finish that even allowed for a post-Wembley slump during which they won only two of their last 11 games.

Laudrup, ultimately, made mugs of Swansea's pre-season doubters and those who thought the club would struggle after Rodgers' exit. The Dane bettered the previous season's 11-placed finish by two spots; delivered the club's first piece of major silverware; and did all that while turning over a profit in excess of £15million in the transfer market.

1. Sir Alex Ferguson: Since his retirement, Ferguson has rightly received many gushing tributes for a 26-and-a-half-year reign at Manchester United which brought the club unprecedented success.

But this award does not factor in the quarter of a century prior to last season. His final campaign as a manager was among his finest ever, and Ferguson was a landslide winner in the Manager of the Year voting.

His United side won the Premier League by an equally large margin, securing the title with four games remaining, eventually finishing 11 points clear of derby rivals City.

United could afford to take their foot off the gas long before their triumph was confirmed, with the groundwork for their 20th league championship laid months previously - much of it before the season began.

In fact, the manager did his best work before a ball was kicked. If we knew anything of Ferguson, it was that he was not going to take City's last-gasp title triumph lying down. He made sure his players remembered that sinking feeling at the Stadium of Light in May and ensured they used it as a motivation to put things right.

The masterstroke, though, came in August when he secured the capture of Robin van Persie from Arsenal. City were desperate for the Dutchman to bolster their title-winning squad, and to many players that would have been the easy, lucrative move to make.

But Ferguson convinced van Persie that United were not finished and that he could achieve his ambitions with last season's second-best side.

Ferguson and van Persie just clicked, as did United with their new talisman. He may have put Wayne Rooney's nose out of joint somewhat, but van Persie's 26 league goals were absolutely pivotal - none more so than an injury-time winner in the derby at City, after which United never surrendered top spot for the remaining 22 games.

Around van Persie, many said the side was far from Ferguson's finest, with City and, arguably, Chelsea able to boast stronger starting XIs. But Ferguson had built a squad of sufficient depth to cope with injuries, suspensions and fatigue - anything the Premier League season had to throw at them.

His final Champions League campaign did not end in the manner Ferguson would have liked, but it is his genius in domestic competition that makes him the runaway winner of our Manager of the Season award.

All the best, David Moyes...

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