O’Neil or Frank next? Five managers who made the leap from mid-table to Big Six

Dave Tickner
Roy Hodgson, David Moyes and Graham Potter
Roy Hodgson, David Moyes and Graham Potter

With Liverpool’s manager hunt just threatening to take a turn for the desperate, all manner of previously unthinkable mid-table names are being thrown into the mix. Almost certainly spuriously, but thrown nevertheless.

Liverpool know as well as anyone the dangers of over-promoting a mid-table manager, but have also come as close as anyone to making a success of such a move.

Here are five managers who made the Big Six jump from mid-table, with what we might charitably describe as mixed results.


David Moyes (Everton to Manchester United)
Will live forever more as the great warning from history about the dangers of over-promoting a manager. A hard-earned reputation built across more than 10 years at Everton was destroyed in less than 10 months at United, with Moyes just a wholly unsuitable choice for that kind of gig.

It’s taken another 10 years for Moyes to rehabilitate his reputation via an excellent second stint with West Ham, but even that is ending on a sour note with his relentless handbrake-on football failing to get the most out of a squad blessed with some outrageous attacking talent.

In Moyes’ defence, it’s doubtful anyone could have followed Sir Alex Ferguson and made any kind of success of it. Moyes remains the most conspicuous managerial failure of the post-Ferg doldrums, but there remains no conspicuous success either among a troop of subsequent more garlanded pretenders to the Ferg throne.

Ferguson had, essentially, made the job impossible in two ways: first, by allowing the playing squad to wither away to an alarming point of weakness and second, by still winning the league with the dregs anyway. His anointing of Moyes as his chosen successor was always more curse than blessing.

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Roy Hodgson (Fulham to Liverpool)
Liverpool’s own warning from history. With the search for a new manager growing a touch fraught already, all manner of previously unthinkable names are suddenly finding themselves bandied about. All have the whiff of Hodgson about them.

Actually, that’s not fair. None of those mid-table names being currently linked to Anfield, however spuriously, have anything like the CV Hodgson could boast at the time he got the job. The man had just led Fulham to the Europa League final and been named LMA Manager of the Year. Gary O’Neil has done many good things in his nascent managerial career, but he has not been manager of Inter.

Hodgson, though, faced a similar kind of problem to Moyes and whoever replaces Klopp coming in as he did after the beloved Rafa Benitez.

It was, and this is the kindest way to put it, a complete sh*tshow. Often, managers come up from mid-table to the big boys and struggle to adapt to the idea that they are winning lots more games but getting lots more criticism. Hodgson didn’t even win lots more games, collecting just 13 in his 31 grim games in the Anfield hotseat.

Liverpool were knocked out of the League Cup by Northampton, while talk of Hodgson’s departure was rife within a handful of games. A bristling Hodgson called that speculation ‘insulting’ and insisted he was ‘one of the most respected coaches in Europe’ before a game against newly promoted Blackpool, which Liverpool lost to sink into the bottom three.

He did manage to lift Liverpool into the top half of the table as he clung on grimly until January, but ‘lifting Liverpool into the top half of the table’ remains perhaps the most minor, trivial victory achieved by any manager in Barclays history.

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Graham Potter (Brighton to Chelsea)
The most recent manager to attempt the jump and one whose cautionary tale will be in the back of minds across Anfield, Old Trafford and more this summer. Suffered the horrible double whammy of finding out he was not (yet) remotely cut out for managing a club as large and silly as Chelsea, while also seeing the respect built up for his undeniably brilliant work at Brighton slightly diluted by the sight of Roberto De Zerbi sauntering in and quickly and casually making them even better than Potter’s team had been.

De Zerbi himself now finds himself in the Potter Position as a potential target for the big beasts despite a trying second season on the south coast. It’s all cyclical.

Potter for his part has still yet to make a decision on where precisely he sets about repairing that hard-won, quickly-destroyed reputation after a miserable six months at Chelsea that ended with a record amusingly close to that of Hodgson at Liverpool: Potter was ever so slightly worse, managing 12 wins in his 31 games.


Brendan Rodgers (Swansea to Liverpool)
It ended shambolically of course, Rodgers eventually drowning in his own hubris, but he really was so, so close to being a huge success and delivering the one thing Liverpool fans craved above all else.

Gerrard’s Slip and Crystanbul have entered Barclays legend and Rodgers – largely as a result of his own enormous ego, it must be said – has himself become something of a figure of fun despite having actually done some enormously good work in the Barclays at three different levels of expectation.

His Swansea side were a treat, his best Liverpool side came within a banter of buckling and swashing their way to a thrillingly brilliant league title and his Leicester team defied gravity for far longer than anyone could reasonably expect. The speed and nature of the unravelling as time passed at both Liverpool and Leicester is the issue.

His second spell at Celtic is also not going fully according to plan, albeit ‘The Plan’ there always being a high ‘win absolutely everything in crushingly dominant fashion’ bar to clear.

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Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton to Tottenham)
Does it count? We think it counts. While Spurs are not quite like the other Big Six clubs and remain very much the smallest member of that club, they do still have that elevated expectation and crucially far, far more attention. And Spurs had finished sixth the summer before they snaffled Poch from eighth-placed Southampton.

It was a significant step up in every measurable way and while we all know by now how many trophies Pochettino won in his time at Spurs, they won the same number in the six years before his arrival and the five years since his departure and never with the same flair, elan and sense of fun as in those Poch days.

They are right up there with the Keegan Newcastle sides as the Barclays’ best to win f*** all and were at their best from 2016 to 2018 frequently an absurdly joyous team to watch.

Poch had some excellent raw materials to work with, but harnessed the potential of Tim Sherwood’s ‘discovery’ Harry Kane brilliantly and with him operating in front of a three made up of peak Dele, peak Christian Eriksen and peak Son Heung-min, the quality of Spurs’ attacking football on their best days was something else.

But Pochettino’s great triumph at Spurs really was making them so fine an attacking force while also turning them for a tantalising period into a properly coherent and solid football team. They’d not been that for decades before or at all since. Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama stopped most attacks at source, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld mopped up what little got through that wall.

Reached a Champions League final on their way down from their 2017 high point, itself a genuine absurdity, and Pochettino should probably have walked away that night because it went very quickly very sour after that, culminating in the Jose Mourinho Unpleasantness.

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