10) Ronald Koeman (Southampton/Everton)
Only the top six amassed more Premier League points than Ronald Koeman in 2016, despite what has felt like an underwhelming start to his Everton career. Only Leicester won more points than the Saints in the latter half of last season as they claimed the scalps of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool, so it’s little wonder that the Toffees saw Koeman as the man who could take them back onto the coat-tails of the elite. Considering the frustrating nature of their summer business, seventh place is probably par for Koeman and already feels like maintaining that position is the very least he should achieve. What the fans really want is more fluency, more excitement and more performances featuring the second-half aggression that rattled Arsenal. Neither sets of fans have a great deal of love for Koeman, but success is not measured in love but points, and he claimed a barrel-load of those in 2016.
9) Tony Pulis (West Brom)
Nine games without a victory at the end of the 2015/16 season made the majority of the Hawthorns either numb or incensed. Not helped by the ridiculous accomplishments of Leicester, it seemed only a matter of time before the Baggies and Pulis ended what increasingly felt like a bad-tempered marriage of convenience. The summer had the whiff of disaster until the late arrival of Nacer Chadli for a £13m fee that proved Pulis was prepared to invest the club’s money in something other than central defenders; now it feels like a triumph with Matt Phillips and actual full-back Nyom both early fan favourites. The Hawthorns is no longer a miserable place to go, with Phillips and Chadli providing service for the wonderful Salomon Rondon. Now to avoid that late-season collapse and end a three-year absence from the top half of the table.
8) Sam Allardyce (Sunderland/Crystal Palace)
In Sunderland’s first 19 games of 2016, they picked up 27 points. That’s mid-table form from a side that started the calendar year a massive seven points from safety. It helps if you can spend £15m on new players but it also helps if you have the intelligence and personality to organise and galvanise average footballers and lose only once in your final 11 games of the season. David Moyes has since proved that Allardyce should get more credit than Sunderland’s players; under a manager less-suited for a battle, they have once again plonked themselves back in trouble again. He ends the year at Crystal Palace via a 100% England record and we fully expect him to be on this list at the end of 2017 as Palace sit comfortably mid-table.
7) Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
On the plus side: A title challenge from a New Year position of being fourth-favourites.
On the negative side: Having put themselves in a position to challenge, they finished third in a two-horse race.
On the plus side: They reached the Champions League.
On the negative side: They seriously underwhelmed and exited at the first hurdle, leaving themselves with an unwanted Europa League campaign.
On the plus side: They tied down virtually their whole squad to new contracts and never looked in real danger of losing key players.
On the negative side: They spent £30m on Moussa Sissoko and £17m on Vincent Janssen.
So he’s seventh.
6) Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)
Ah, here he is. As ever, this is difficult. Having gone from topping the table to their customary fourth place in 12 months, it’s difficult to justify Wenger being any higher up this list. Having recovered with a ten-match unbeaten run to finish second for the first time in 11 years before then topping a difficult Champions League group, it’s difficult to justify Wenger being any lower down this list. The truth is that Arsenal have probably become a better team in 2016 but the competition has become more difficult by a greater amount. He has made some excellent decisions – moving Alexis Sanchez up front, buying Shkodran Mustafi – but it still feels like he can be quite easily out-thought tactically by more flexible managers. Will 2017 bring more clarity? Probably not. It was ever thus.
5) Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)
Moving up two places from the 2015 list is a man whose team started 2016 just three points above 18th-placed Newcastle and facing a relegation battle. Twelve months later, his team is seven points clear of 18th-placed Sunderland and facing a battle for a top-ten spot with established Premier League clubs like West Brom and Stoke. Significant money has been spent, but largely on young players who fit Howe’s plan; there has been no short-termist thinking from the top flight’s youngest manager. Bringing in Jack Wilshere has to be recorded as an impressive coup, as does snatching three points from the jaws of defeat against Liverpool. All that is now missing is consistency; they have not won back-to-back Premier League games since March.
4) Antonio Conte (Chelsea)
He’s only done half a job but what a bloody half-job. In 19 games, Chelsea have picked up more points than mid-tablers like West Brom, Bournemouth and Stoke managed in the whole of 2016. Having initially struggled – Chelsea were eighth at the end of September – Conte then switched to a formation that suited a squad with flawed centre-halves, defensive-minded wingers, mobile central midfielders, phenomenal attacking midfielders and a monster of a striker. They have since been a machine, giving almost nothing away defensively before overwhelming teams on the counter-attack. Buying the player of 2016 helps but so does re-igniting the flagging desire of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
3) Sean Dyche (Burnley)
We presume that Sean Dyche does not really celebrate New Year (the foreign managers have ruined that), but had he raised a glance on New Year’s Eve, 2015, he might have toasted the play-offs. Lying in fifth, Burnley were eight points behind Middlesbrough and seven behind Derby; the play-offs beckoned. What followed was a remarkable unbeaten run that took the Clarets past all their promotion opposition into the champions’ spot. Keeping Dyche was vindicated, spending £9m on Andre Gray was vindicated, trusting Joey Barton was vindicated. This season, Burnley are ahead of the curve in their quest for survival and credit must go to Dyche for making them so damned effective at Turf Moor.
2) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
His first full year in charge of Liverpool and they reached two cup finals and scored comfortably the most goals of any Premier League side. More than that, he has renewed the passion and belief of thousands upon thousands of fans who are eyeing that lofty perch once again. From seventh to second in 12 exhilarating months that have also seen new heroes signed (Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum) while over £70m was recouped from the sales of unwanted players from a bloated squad. Liverpool now press, pass, play and provide entertainment by the bucketload. The fear lingers that they are stepping into Arsenal’s territory of playing all the football without winning all the trophies, but for now, winning hearts and minds made 2016 pretty bloody special.
1) Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)
Were Leicester to now be bottom of the table with four points, then Claudio Ranieri would still be the manager of 2016 for pulling off a preposterous title victory. As 2015 ticked into 2016, the Foxes were level on points with Arsenal, three points ahead of Manchester City and four clear of Tottenham. We are all pig-sick of the 5,000/1 odds anecdote, but what is pertinent to this list is that the Foxes were still 12/1 shots at the start of 2016. We asked how Arsenal could cock it up from there, not how Leicester could go on to lose just once in the second half of the season and walk away with the title. It still sounds utterly preposterous now. As does Leicester topping their Champions League group. We think 2017 will see him leave but that should not dull the shine of 2016.