Klopp and Pep miss out on top spot in the great big F365 2021/22 manager rankings

Dave Tickner

Thirty-two different managers had 33 managerial reigns in the Premier League this season and we’ve ranked the whole bloody lot of them right here.

The often laughable numbers in brackets refer to the last time we attempted this exercise back in March, which in many cases really does seem like a very, very long time ago…


33) Steve Bruce (Newcastle, August-October, 32)
Already firmly on the fans’ sh*tlist long before a horrible, grim start to the season. Inexplicably if briefly kept on by the new owners to rack up his 1,000th game and donate three goals and three points to Spurs at a time when the north Londoners couldn’t find their arsehole with both hands. Was taking Newcastle down before the takeover and under Bruce it’s hard to see how any amount of money would have saved them. Their improvement under Eddie Howe has been vast and swift and not even Bruce’s own family would honestly argue that was entirely down to the admittedly helpful multi-million-pound January investment in the squad. Hilariously touted by some high-profile characters for the Manchester United job, showing that some people will simply never, ever learn.


32) Duncan Ferguson (Everton, January, 31)
Did enough in a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa in his only game to keep a place on Frank Lampard’s managerial team, an appointment which was in truth down to two things. One, the memories of Ferguson’s previous caretaker stint when he whipped Everton into a frenzy that produced a breakneck 3-1 win over Lampard’s Chelsea and two, a pretty correct assessment that getting and keeping the unhappy Everton fans onside would be key and that having a club legend with Ferguson’s chaotic energy around the place couldn’t hurt on that score. Didn’t help Benitez, sure, but he had far too much other baggage didn’t he? Either way, Big Dunc is now off to Ewood Park anyway apparently.


31) Rafa Benitez (Everton, August-January, 29)
Started off genuinely fine, but by the time he left the atmosphere at Goodison was pure poison and Everton were firmly embroiled in a relegation scrap for which they were desperately ill-equipped and from which it required all Frank Lampard’s vast managerial nous to extricate them. As with all Everton managers, he gets the ‘not entirely his fault’ caveat but he played a weak hand very badly.


30) Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham, August-November, 28)
Wrong man, wrong time, wrong job. Lost as many games as he won, and the improvements eventually made once Antonio Conte’s methods began to stick were pretty startling. The opening-weekend win over Manchester City was genuinely impressive, but the follow-up wins over Wolves and Watford really had more questions than answers and there was no real surprise when the defeats started stacking up. Spurs looked a million miles away from a Champions League club during his reign. Though his PPG is surprisingly decent.


29) Ralf Rangnick (Manchester United, December-May, 15)
Led Manchester United to their worst ever Premier League campaign points-wise, and while it may be a bloated, disorganised mess of a club there really was no need for that to be the case. The extent of the late-season collapse really was staggering. When the divisive but still brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo dragged United to a 3-2 win over Spurs in mid-March United were fourth, five points clear of Antonio Conte’s side. To finish 13 points behind them barely two months later is preposterous. Ultimately, the only thing Rangnick managed to achieve in his six months at United was to manage his way out of that lovely, cushy consultancy gig he’d sorted himself.


28) Dean Smith (Aston Villa, August-November, 27)
Done in by the loss of a talismanic star player and failed attempts to reconfigure the side around a phalanx of new signings purchased with the windfall. He isn’t the first and won’t be the last. Saw three years of mainly fine work at Villa go down the sh*tter in the space of five awful, awful games and, having lost the job of his dreams, made the understandable but still clear error of jumping straight into the next job that became available.


27) Dean Smith (Norwich, November onwards, 16)
Speaking of which…just all a bit sh*t, wasn’t it? Not really Smith’s fault that the bottom-of-the-table-standard squad he inherited ended up bottom of the table, but again we must stress it was not mandatory for him to take that job. Five points in his first three games was a nice little dead-cat bounce and the improbable 3-0 win over Watford after a very funny win over freefalling Everton did briefly raise the absurd yet tantalising prospect of Norwich not being relegated. What would happen in that scenario? Would the world keep spinning? Would football in fact be completed and the entire sport simply cease to exist? Fortunately, normality was soon restored. Smith’s Canaries won just one of their final 15 games, against Burnley, and spent the last few months in their standard ‘focusing on getting back here next year’ set-up which, in fairness, does tend to work out for them. Smith’s only wins came against four of the five sides who finished directly above them which, if we’re being charitable, does at least indicate Norwich remain on track for another Groundhog Day promotion next season.


26) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United, August-November, 26)
It should never have taken so long, and it remains pretty wild that El Sackico at Tottenham in November was such a huge turning point in the season for both clubs. Worst 3-0 win ever. Rubbish as Solskjaer was, and as grimly and unnecessarily prolonged his inevitable departure, he does creep up the table a place or two by virtue of the sheer difficulty of the United job being highlighted by the arguably worse bollocks of it that the vastly more experienced Ralf Rangnick made. We are not remotely convinced Erik Ten Hag won’t go the same way, either.


25) Roy Hodgson (Watford, January-May, 20)
Briefly threatened to make a genuine attempt to keep Watford up with a couple of eye-catchers in February and March which explains how he dragged himself as high as 20 in the last edition of this feature, but soon gave into the inevitable and set about just enjoying his days out and topping up the retirement fund. Genuinely appeared to forget he wasn’t still Crystal Palace manager after a 1-0 defeat at Selhurst Park.


24) Xisco Munez (Watford, August-October, 25)
Watford manager. Foreign. Sacked in October. A tale as old as time. Also gave those of us who gave otherwise insane answers about Dele Alli and Ibrahima Konate a much-needed easy win in the dreaded F365 predictions, so bless him for that. Did no worse than anyone else who had a go as Watford slumped meekly back where they came from.


23) Daniel Farke (Norwich, August-November, 24)
Finally got his P45 and first win of the season on the same weekend. Cruel business, but he can’t say he wasn’t warned. There was only so long the whole ‘Far too good for the Championship, far too bad for the Premier League’ schtick could last and our hunch is he dragged it out longer than Dean Smith will.


22) Claudio Ranieri (Watford, October-January, 23)
In March we just repeated December’s entry and we see no real need to update it further, if only for it being a rare example of us getting something right: ‘Doesn’t seem to quite fit the profile for a Watford manager somehow but will still probably last about as long as all the others. Has already had a couple of grand days out with the whompings of Everton and Manchester United, but we all know that will count for nothing once he goes three games without a win in January.’ Says an awful lot about the sheer unerring inevitability of the fate awaiting all Watford managers that the timings of their assorted demises are just about the only things we didn’t get horribly, horribly wrong this season.


21) Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds, August-February, 22)
Gah, what a shame. There was a lot of chortling at the mutual affection between Leeds and Bielsa but when something like that happens at your club it is a beautiful thing and the genuine, heartfelt grief among Leeds fans at his departure should not be mocked. Not too much, anyway. But there’s no denying the evidence of your own eyes this season, however hard it is to accept. Yes the injury list was grievously debilitating but the football was dire at both ends. Something had to give. We’ll never know whether he would have kept them up as Jesse Marsch did, but we fancy there would have been more optimism for next season if Bielsa were still manager.


20) Frank Lampard (Everton, January onwards, 30)
And so we must grudgingly concede that Lampard’s Everton were almost precisely as good/bad as Benitez’s. The relegation threat grew ever more real under Lampard but he got them out of it and deserves a modicum of credit for clearing that lowest of bars. Six wins, two draws and 10 defeats from his 18 games sits fine against Benitez’s five wins, four draws and 10 defeats. He’s certainly a better fit with the fans and could yet turn out to be quite good, but it is worth remembering that Lampard has been getting an awful lot of credit for doing just as well as a man ridiculed and sacked. Everton remains a basket case of a club, and as with Benitez before him, Lampard cannot be blamed for that. But any early hint of another season even half as stressful and unpleasant as this one will have the wolves at the door pretty swiftly.


19) Sean Dyche (Burnley, August-April, 19)
We’ve patted ourselves on the back for being right about a couple of things here so only right that we point out that in March we described Dyche and Burnley as ‘the Premier League’s most enduringly perfect club-manager union’ about three weeks before his decade-long reign was brutally ended. Still feels mad that he is not Burnley manager anymore. And they still went down anyway, and probably aren’t coming back. Will Dyche return? Hard to imagine any other Premier League club giving him the job frankly, so he’ll probably have to do it the old-fashioned way by taking an unfancied club up from the Championship. You wouldn’t bet against the old jacket-eschewing, gravel-throated, disc-bearded rascal, would you?


18) Ralph Hasenhuttl (Southampton, 18)
At least they didn’t lose a game 9-0. Hasenhuttl’s Southampton remain a baffling and infuriating enigma of a team. At their best they are very, very good and capable of giving anyone a game. At their worst they’re just irredeemably sh*tbone awful. The end of the season was mainly the latter, winning just one and losing nine of their last 12 games. That the one win in that run came against Champions League-chasing Arsenal was extremely on brand for both, as was taking four points off Spurs and avoiding defeat in all four games against the Manchester clubs. Hasenhuttl often looks like the next cab off the rank for one of the big jobs, but equally looks well capable of taking Southampton into the Championship. He is, in his own inexplicable, mercurial way, the most interesting manager in the league. Given a big job he would surely either get 95 points or 55.


17) Graeme Jones (Newcastle, October-November, 21)
There was no disgrace to his three-game caretaker interregnum, with 1-1 draws at Palace and Brighton perfectly serviceable results and a thrashing off Chelsea also pretty much par for the course at the time. Better than his predecessor, not as good as his successor; can’t really ask or indeed want any more than that of a caretaker boss.


16) Mike Jackson (Burnley, April-May, NE)
Was given what looked like the mother of all hospital passes heading up a distinctly makeshift caretaker team of remaining staff after Dyche and his backroom staff were swept away, but the Burnley U23 boss delivered a huge and wildly unexpected new-manager bounce in winning three of his first four games that brought him April’s manager of the month award and rekindled long dormant hopes of survival. Alas, what goes up must come down and three wins in his first four gave way to three defeats in his last four. Still, 11 points from eight games was far in excess of Burnley’s overall season form and certainly no disgrace. The narrow defeat at Spurs on the season’s penultimate weekend was also particularly harsh given the nature and timing of Tottenham’s penalty.


15) Jesse Marsch (Leeds, February onwards, 17)
Kept Leeds up by the skin of his teeth. We’ve grown increasingly suspicious over his time at Leeds that the whole thing was just some kind of Ted Lasso LARP. Marsch professing not to have watched the show but then saying very Ted Lasso things and, by the end of the season, even dressing like him was getting a bit much. We know it didn’t happen and it’s all very disrespectful to a thoughtful and genuinely decent football coach, but it’s still just far too easy to imagine a scene around April where he has to have relegation explained to him, isn’t it? It’s grossly unfair that being American gives him such additional cultural hurdles to clear in English football, but there’s also no point pretending it isn’t the case. Did… okay. The defence was less shambolic and the players did seem to respond as best they could. Be honest, though. Can you even conceive of a theoretical possibility that he is still Leeds manager by the end of November? Literally no chance.

Jesse Marsch celebrates after a draw

14) Steven Gerrard (Aston Villa, November onwards, 9)
Not bad, not quite as good as we’d hoped, not even decisively better than Lampard which is very important to us as we are fully invested in this rivalry – far more than we were during their playing days – and couldn’t even hold on to a 2-0 lead over Manchester City to hand Liverpool a title absolutely dripping in narrative.


13) Michael Carrick (Manchester United, November-December, 14)
We must all accept the simple, unarguable reality that Manchester United’s best manager this season was Michael Carrick. His three matches in caretaker charge produced four points from league games against Arsenal and Chelsea in the league and secured a Champions League win over eventual semi-finalists Villarreal. You can yak about small sample sizes and you’d be right, but in a pointed shift from when he was first-team coach under Solskjaer, Carrick did appear in genuinely tricky games to have a plan beyond “Our clever players will probably sort this out, for we are Manchester United Football Club”. Given the disastrous and now, given he won’t be staying on in any capacity, pointlessness of the Rangnick era, the counterfactual in which United simply ‘give it Carrick until end of the season’ is a tantalising one. We are certainly intrigued to see where he ends up next. Could be a very interesting and very decent manager in there, which given the way he played the game would be no great surprise.


12) Patrick Vieira (Crystal Palace, 7)
Not quite as good as it looked like being at one time and ends the season as a meme thanks to that witless Goodison Park pitch invader. We remain convinced there is a very good manager there. Has definitely raised Palace’s ceiling but perhaps the task this season is to raise what remains quite a low floor. The 3-0 home wins over Spurs early in the season and Arsenal late on showed what Palace were capable of at their very best but there are just too many drab efforts along the way. Most immediate problem is likely to be replacing the goals and all-round influence of Conor Gallagher if Chelsea selfishly decide they want him next season, the big meanies.


11) Brendan Rodgers (Leicester, 13)
A positive end to a disappointing domestic season saw Rodgers’ Leicester finish in a slightly misleading eighth spot and just four points adrift of a European place they never actually remotely challenged for. The Europa Conference quite rightly became a clear focus in the latter months of the season as Leicester eyed up another piece of silverware for their impressive recent collection. Wasn’t to be, but if the end-of-season form can be carried into the next, where juggling priorities will be less of an issue, then all is still good. Rodgers did just about enough to prevent this being a season that did any lasting damage to his reputation or standing within the game, not that he would worry himself with that sort of thing. Ahem.


10) Bruno Lage (Wolves, 6)
Slips inevitably from that March high thanks to Wolves ending the season with one of the all-time great flip-flop and cigar conclusions to a campaign, a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on the first weekend of April being their final success of the campaign. Lost five of their last seven and, arguably more damning still, managed only to draw with Norwich. Overall still a positive first season in charge, but you just have to be slightly careful when you finish so badly to make sure it doesn’t leak into the following campaign. Start rather than finish like that, and things get unpleasant pretty quickly. Should be noted, though, that Wolves did also start the season without four defeats in their first five games and Lage – and indeed the club – remained admirably unflustered before calmly turning things around and embarking on what did for much of the time look an entirely plausible tilt at a European place.


9) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal, 5)
Went as low as 16th and then as high as 5th in these rankings this season which arguably tells you just as much about our knee-jerky lack of conviction as it does about Arteta and his process. Still, though, Arsenal seem to currently exist in a constant loop of progress and regression arguably not helped by a very online fanbase prone to shouting from the rooftops about how great it all is during the good runs and then declaring that the sky has fallen in during the bad. The net result of this season is demonstrable, unarguable progress because fifth is better than eighth no matter how you slice it, but with no European football and Manchester United a pure basket case and Spurs being very Spurs indeed until basically April, this was a huge chance for a return to the Champions League and Arteta f***ed it. Hindsight proves that the lack of January activity was demonstrably an error, Arsenal contriving to look by far the weariest team among the top five on the run-in despite having the least football, and the whole attitude to the crucial NLD from its initial postponement to how they eventually performed in it was unforgivably small time.


8) Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea, 3)
It’s a tough school, but leading this Chelsea team to a distant third and winning no trophies means this season can be scored as no more than a bare passing grade for Tuchel, who gets credit for dealing manfully with the crisis that engulfed the club, albeit that credit is itself caveated by knowing full well what he was walking into. The end of the Abramovich Era might help Tuchel in a way, at least in terms of job security. A season like this one would have been instant P45 at one time, or at the very least leave him a precarious three-draws-in-October away from the boot. Now, potentially, has the chance to do what no Chelsea manager has done for quite some time and stick around long enough to build something of his own.


7) Thomas Frank (Brentford, 12)
Very, very good. Obviously helped to have Christian Eriksen fall in his lap in January but it’s testament to Frank that his countryman was up for choosing Brentford as the setting for the feelgood story of the season. A run of seven defeats in eight games in the new year threatened to drag Brentford into a relegation scrap they always looked capable of avoiding, but those fears were assuaged with a brilliant end to the season and much of the credit for the lack of panic must go to the manager. Seven wins plus a well-deserved draw against Spurs from their last 11 games of the season was hugely positive. Next challenge, avoiding any of that second-season syndrome unpleasantness.


6) David Moyes (West Ham, 1)
Defeat in the Europa League semi-finals after the Hammers had correctly turned their focus that way means Moyes drops from the summit but is still firmly in the top group of managers who can be very happy indeed with their year’s work. So impressively did Moyes juggle the challenges of Thursday-Sunday football before Christmas that West Ham had that luxury of being able to focus as clearly as they did on the Europa League knockouts without taking any unnecessary risks with next year’s European spot. That it comes in the Conference is only the very mildest of disappointments because successive European qualifications for West Ham is a genuinely notable achievement.


5) Graham Potter (Brighton, 11)
Led Brighton to their best ever league finish and the run-in featured some of Brighton’s very best days. Beat Arsenal and Tottenham away from home in successive weeks, with the Spurs win particularly eye-catching. Potter did an absolute number on Conte and Spurs that day, and it was the only defeat Spurs suffered during an 11-game charge for the top four that yielded 26 points from the other 10 games. Brighton recruited well last summer and took another step forward and all evidence of eyes and stats still suggests that if they can just find a halfway competent striker from somewhere they have a team and manager still yet to reach their peak.


4) Pep Guardiola (Manchester City, 4)
Has normalised excellence to the extent that another Premier League win arguably doesn’t even quite balance out another Champions League failure. Didn’t even win the customary Carabao this season ffs. Also bafflingly insistent that everyone in England wanted Liverpool to win the league, which was a bit weird. Despite not being officially on Twitter, is definitely on Twitter. Less doom-scrolling, more Champions League winning next season please, Pep.


3) Antonio Conte (Tottenham, November onwards, 10)
It took a bit of time and more than one meltdown where it looked like the whole thing could end in tears – especially after that defeat at Burnley – but once Spurs were down to one game a week and Conte was able to really focus on ingraining his ideas and patterns on the squad, the power of an elite manager became impossible to miss. Conte further enhanced his reputation for being able to create wing-backs out of literally any old bits of squad he finds lying around the place with Ryan Sessegnon, Matt Doherty and even Emerson Royal all looking the part at various points in a sensational run-in where Spurs took 26 points from the last 11 games of the season to capitalise on Arsenal’s stumble and seal an all-important return to the Champions League.

More impressively still, in sticking Spurs back in that top four Conte appears to have done what previous Spurs managers to achieve that could not and convince Daniel Levy to change his approach. A £150m cash injection from ENIC gives Spurs – who have plenty of FFP headroom – money to spend this summer and the imminent arrival of Ivan Perisic is both a statement of intent generally but also, as a 33-year-old brought in for the here and now with no eye on future profits, a marked shift in how things operate in N17. Arsenal’s stumble and United’s total collapse obviously helped, but Conte transformed Spurs over the closing weeks of the season and with new signings and a proper pre-season, next year could be pretty special. It will pretty much have to be, because whatever happens there’s also quite a decent chance it will be his first and last full season at Spurs because Conte is Conte and Spurs are Spurs.


2) Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool, 2)
We warned you. We warned you in March that Klopp and co risked ‘ending the season with only one or two trophies and thus…exposed as total frauds’. Quadruples are really hard to win, it turns out, but it was a genuinely sensational attempt. To play every possible game and get right to the last knockings of the season with all things possible was incredible and Klopp managed them pretty expertly down that closing straight. By the end of April and into May it is entirely fair to say Liverpool were not producing their very best football, but that is pretty much the price you pay for chasing all the pots. That they came so close is incredible, even if only ending with the two most minor gongs gave the season an unavoidable if unfair feeling of anti-climax. The Ancelotti Masterplan angle on the Champions League final has also been overplayed a bit, we reckon. Clearly a very good coach who did a very good job, but his genius plan for the final did lean quite heavily on “You there, Courtois, save all the shots”.

There are questions to ask over Liverpool’s cup final performances, though – even the two they eventually won on penalties – especially when coupled with a failure to win any of six league games against the rest of the eventual top four. What’s really going to bake Klopp’s noodle is whether the Champions League final would have gone the same way had Liverpool been 10 points behind City – as looked likely at one point – and able to coast home in second with laser focus on Real Madrid? When the dust settles, though, it’s still an incredible season for Liverpool competing on all fronts to the very end. Especially in light of last year’s defensive woes and scramble just to finish in the top four.


1) Eddie Howe (Newcastle, November onwards, 8)
There is a £100m elephant in the room and there’s no point pretending otherwise, but Howe has still done something utterly remarkable at Newcastle. Clearly, the January investment was a huge factor, but a) Howe had already made significant improvements to the shape and tactics by then and b) there is roughly zero chance £100m would have saved Bruce’s Newcastle from the drop, less still seen them end the season producing Champions League form and finishing the season just two points behind a Wolves side who spent most of the campaign eyeing a possible return to Europe.

It is important to remember just how epically crap Newcastle were in the early part of the season. They didn’t win a game until December. Never mind relegation, a third of the way into the season they were threatening to go full Derby. Of course, those early 2022 results that lifted Newcastle clear of the relegation scrap also allowed them to play with a joy and freedom in front of carefree fans just happy to see their team being safe and half-decent while dreaming of what the future might hold.

That dynamic will now change. The next big challenge will be to maintain their freewheeling end-of-season form when the pressure is on. Newcastle won’t instantly become title challengers but there are certainly fault lines in the Big Six to attack, and the possibility of seeing how a manager like Howe handles the opportunity to compete at the top end of the table will be undeniably fascinating no matter the misgivings about the investment that has put him and his club there.