Top ten underrated Premier League managers

Date published: Tuesday 16th November 2021 5:41 - Ian Watson

Underrated managers Glenn Hoddle, Alan Curbishley, Kevin Keegan.

It’s a very British-heavy top 10 of Premier League managers who perhaps aren’t remembered with the reverence they deserve…

 

10) Alan Ball
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Ball for recognising the brilliance of Matt Le Tissier. The 1966 World Cup winner took over with Saints bottom of the table having gone Route One with Ian Branfoot but Ball saw the potential in Le Tiss before issuing one very simple instruction…

It worked. Saints stayed up by a single point before Ball and Le Tiss dragged them up to 10th the following season. That led Franny Lee to tempt Ball back to City, much to Saints’ disgust, and though the season ended in relegation with the manager mistakenly telling the City players to kill time and hold a draw against Liverpool on the final day when they needed a win, Ball’s first signing was Georgi Kinkladze, who had a similar impact at Maine Road to the one Le Tiss enjoyed at The Dell.

 

9) Sam Allardyce
Even Big Sam’s detractors would have to acknowledge that there is a reason he holds the record for most clubs managed in the Premier League. That being he is very good at what he does.

Allardyce’s style is not to everyone’s taste but his methods have worked too often in too many places for it to be a fluke.

Like most people, Big Sam seems to have become more conservative the older he has got. At Bolton, he was a pioneer for many new ideas that are now commonplace while turning a small town team in Lancashire to a club that was attracting some of Europe’s biggest names.

His spell at Newcastle was a blow to Allardyce’s ego but he then guided Blackburn and West Ham to top-half finishes. Then he turned firefighter to save skins at Sunderland and Palace, in between which he was deemed fit for the England job – before very quickly he wasn’t. Allardyce was never a good fit for Everton even if he achieved his primary objective to stabilise them and improve their 13th-placed position when he took over. That came after he announced his retirement as a manager, which he perhaps should have revisited instead of taking over a West Brom side that looked condemned before his December arrival.

There is plenty to knock him for but Allardyce’s managerial record will always stand up to scrutiny.

 


The managerial merry-go-round: a job swap for each PL manager


 

8) Claudio Ranieri
Admittedly, Ranieri is the token ‘forren’ in a very Brit-heavy list, but the Italian’s achievements in the context of his current standing more than qualify him for this list.

Ranieiri seems to have taken on the role of firefighter, tasked again with dousing the flames at Vicarage Road after failing to get the Fulham blaze under control.

But no amount of credit will ever be too much for the miracle he pulled off as Leicester boss in 2015/16. Appointed to a scornful reaction, Ranieri inspired little Leicester to become Premier League champions. Forget the perfect-storm bullsh*t about catching the big boys on the hop – Ranieri’s achievement was bona fide sorcery.

So he certainly doesn’t deserve the portrayal some offer as Ranieri being an amusing old man stood around saying dilly-dilly-ding-dong while using pizza as his only motivational tool.

 

7) Roy Evans
Evans is certainly not as revered as other former managers at Anfield, like Gerrard Houllier and Rafa Benitez. But Evans’ average league position over four years in charge is better than Benitez’s. And it shouldn’t be forgotten the mess Liverpool were in when he took over.

Evans replaced Graeme Souness in January 1994, with Liverpool listless in mid-table and out of the cups. The last graduate of the Boot Room freshened up the first XI with youngsters like Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Redknapp to finish fourth and win the League Cup in his first full season as boss.

Evans inspired second and third-place finishes in the following couple of seasons with some thrilling football but the failure to win a title or push Manchester United closer eventually saw Houllier appointed to work alongside the manager. Which did not work.

Nor did Evans again as a permanent manager anywhere else, with no club willing to take a punt on the Bootle-born boss being a success beyond Merseyside.

 

6) Ron Atkinson
Big Ron is perhaps best remembered for his pre-Premier League work at West Brom, Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday, but he also managed four clubs in the Premier League, with relative success at three.

Atkinson’s Villa almost won the very first Premier League title in 1992/93 but they eventually faded in the face of Manchester United’s ascent to become the dominant force in English football. Still, a runners-up finish remains the joint-highest placing in the Premier League for an English manager. A year later, Atkinson won the League Cup for Villa before he was sacked as the side he built reached the end of their cycle.

Atkinson was then sent to do a firefighting job at Coventry, who he kept in the Premier League while signing the likes of Gordan Strachan and Gary MacAllister, and he brought similar safety to Sheffield Wednesday when he returned on a caretaker basis.

Forest was a job too far for Big Ron and his survival habit, but it is hard to envisage anyone keeping Forest up in 1998/99. That was enough for Atkinson to walk away from management altogether but that last act and his subsequent controversies  should not discredit a stellar career as a boss.

 

5) Bruce Rioch
The Scotsman’s year-long reign at Highbury between 1995 and 1996 isn’t remembered particularly fondly by Arsenal fans, who recall him as the bridge between the George Graham and Arsene Wenger eras. A bust-up with Ian Wright hardly helped his popularity with the supporters but Rioch, who got the gig after successive promotions with Bolton, left the Gunners in a better state than he found them.

Rioch began the transition from ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ and their reliance upon the long ball from the back to the passing style of football which Wenger ran with. “I wanted to leave the era of the long ball behind us and begin to get the defence to pass balls through the midfield, rather than simply launching it forward,” he later reflected.

He achieved the not-insignificant job of getting the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown to change their thinking – part of which was achieved by playing Keown in midfield – all while dragging a side that finished 12th the season before his appointment to fifth. And he also bought and bedded in Dennis Bergkamp, whose presence helped Wenger attract a stream of foreign talent after his arrival when Rioch was dismissed before the 1996/97 season.

Rioch’s tenure might not warrant a statue at the Emirates but he deserves to be remembered with more reverence.

Bruce Rioch unveils Dennis Bergkamp as an Arsenal player.

4) David O’Leary 
The passing of time and the Irishman’s later struggles at Aston Villa mean that O’Leary’s achievements at Leeds have been somewhat forgotten.

Between 1998 and 2002, he took his ‘babies’ and more than a fair share of big signings to the semi-finals of the Champions League and UEFA Cup. Domestically, they finished fourth, third, fourth and fifth.

All that was done amid a back-drop that might have made the writers of Dream Team think they were pushing their luck. “It was madness,” he told the Daily Mail recently, so Villa Park would have seemed like serenity in comparison.

There he guided Villa to sixth in the Premier League but that was as good as it got in the Midlands. Subsequent 10th and 16th-place finishes led O’Leary through the exit door, but the buzz he created with his Leeds teams remains strong in West Yorkshire two decades on and it is still a surprise that no other top-flight club offered him a similar opportunity to have another crack.

 

3) Kevin Keegan
Beyond Tyneside, the most common perception of Keegan seems to be as the bloke who let Sir Alex Ferguson live in his head rent-free, wrecking the joint in the mid-nineties.

That’s only one facet to Keegan’s managerial career. Dragging Newcastle from Division One to the top of the Premier League in the first place was a stunning achievement. And he did commendable work after the Magpies blew up down the final stretch in 1996.

Not least in bringing Alan Shearer back to St James’ Park while treating the Geordies to the best football they had seen in years or have witnessed since. After Newcastle, he put Fulham on a firmer footing and while the England job was too big for him – he’s hardly been alone in discovering that the hard way – at Manchester City he took them from Division One to ninth in his first season back in the top flight.

2) Glenn Hoddle
“There’s a guy who doesn’t get the credit he deserves [for Chelsea’s rise], and that’s because he did it at the start,” Eddie Newton told Goal this week. “That guy is Glenn Hoddle.”

Hoddle was appointed by Chelsea after guiding Swindon to the Premier League and not only did the former England midfielder have to worry about managing a club in disrepair, he also had to play too.

But from the sidelines and the sweeper position, Hoddle entirely changed Chelsea’s mindset and methods, all the while dragging them to the FA Cup final in his first full season.

The following season, he attracted Ruud Gullit to take over from him as sweeper and, not long after, manager. Because Hoddle was offered the England job.

His 60% win rate is bettered only by Sir Alf Ramsey, Fabio Capello and Gareth Southgate but he was sacked for his non-footballing beliefs. From there he did a very creditable jobs at Southampton before getting bogged down at Spurs and then Wolves.

Regardless, what he brought to Chelsea should never be overlooked.

 

1) Alan Curbishley 
Perhaps the only place Curbishley isn’t underrated is a small pocket in south-east London. There, at The Valley, he remains a deity with a stand named after him for the work he did in taking Charlton Athletic to the Premier League and keeping them there.

After more than a decade in sole charge following four as co-manager, Curbishley left the Addicks in 2006 as an established top-flight outfit having spent seven of the previous eight years in the Premier League. In six of those campaigns, they finished no lower than 14th.

A year after he departed, Charlton left the Premier League through the trap door. Having been linked with the Liverpool and England jobs on the back of his record with Charlton, Curbs opted to take over at his boyhood club, West Ham. Despite looking certainties for relegation, he kept them in the Premier League and then led them to a top-half finish in his only full season in charge. He resigned early in the 2008/09 campaign over a dispute regarding transfers before wining a case for constructive dismissal against the Hammers.

Weirdly, that was the last we’ve seen of Curbs as a manager. Which seems a waste in comparison to some of the bluffers who’ve gained repeated employment from Premier League chairmen.

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