This is the Premier League era of the super manager

Date published: Monday 6th December 2021 11:56 - Dave Tickner

Man Utd interim boss Ralf Rangnick puts his thumbs up

The Premier League has now fully committed itself to the era of the super manager.

Some clubs have been on board with that plan for a good few years now, while other very large and important clubs who should know better have taken a little more convincing. But now we are there.

The Premier League now boasts an astonishing breadth and depth of managerial talent and no club can even think of getting away with carrying a dud for any length of time.

It’s not entirely new. It’s not like the Premier League hasn’t had great managers before; its first two decades were defined by the dominating presence of Sir Alex Ferguson and his titanic feuds and battles with fellow all-time greats Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho (before his descent from manager to meme), and Kevin Keegan.

But there has never before been the depth of management talent in the Premier League – perhaps any league – that we have right now.

It helps, of course, that three of the Big So-Called Six have made quite startling upgrades over the last 12 months, Chelsea starting the trend by replacing Frank Lampard with Thomas Tuchel, with handy results. Tottenham and Manchester United have now followed suit with Antonio Conte for post-fall Mourinho via Nuno Espirito Santo and Ralf Rangnick for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte

Conte is, clearly, an elite manager who has already made some quite startling improvements at Tottenham. Oliver Skipp, for instance, turns out to have had forward gears all along once a coach came along with the capacity to locate them, while Ben Davies has been transformed into a creative underlapping centre-back. He’s not fixed the Harry Kane Problem just yet, but given the records of both manager and player over several years, you wouldn’t bet against it coming together quite soon. In any case, the idea of a Spurs side able to threaten the top four without Kane’s contribution would have previously been the stuff of fantasy.

Rangnick has been at United for just one game. In truth they already looked more organised under Michael Carrick than they ever had under Solskjaer, but further improvement is near certain.

The German’s arrival also means the Premier League now boasts not one but two godfathers of modern coaching with Rangnick joining Marcelo Bielsa in the English top flight.

It all adds to the mix. Those two coaches’ coaches, legends in their field, now working alongside and against the best of the current crop they have inspired – your Klopps, your Guardiolas, your Tuchels – means narrative is never far away.


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Then, despite the tabloid wailing and gnashing, there are the British managers. This group is led by David Moyes as if to drive home the craziness of it all, a man reliving those early successful years at Everton now with West Ham years after he had long appeared condemned to irrelevance, a career forever reduced to that Manchester United failure. It’s lovely stuff.

Then there’s Graham Potter’s quiet revolution at xG giants Brighton, where one still has cause to ponder the tantalising but unknowable counter-factual where the Seagulls have a reliable and functioning striker instead of Neal Maupay. He also by all accounts wanted absolutely no part of the Tottenham clown show in the summer, ergo a clever man as well as a talented coach. And talking of clown shows, Eddie Howe back in the big time with the blessing and curse that comes with taking on the challenge at the now unfathomably wealthy but still quite sh*t Newcastle. It seems like a perfectly pitched appointment for club and manager and may be the one sensible thing the new owners have done since barrelling into town without really showing any understanding of what they were or should be doing.

So competitive is the Premier League now that the most successful homegrown manager of recent years is now under severe pressure. Brendan Rodgers did more than he perhaps gets credit for to help start Liverpool on their current path and has been excellent for Leicester via a hugely successful stop-off at Celtic.

His Leicester team can no longer defend set-pieces even a tiny bit, though, and the sight of his side being deservedly beaten on Super Sunday while the commentators quite openly and undeniably correctly mocked the Foxes’ failings will do nothing to dampen that mounting pressure.

Steven Gerrard watches from the touchline

Then there’s the identity of the manager who beat him: Aston Villa’s Steven Gerrard, who has made no secret of Rodgers’ influence. In many ways the most interesting of the bunch, and a man who has already pulled off the neat but deceptively difficult trick of becoming ‘Steven Gerrard, football manager’ rather than ‘Steven Gerrard, storied former player’. It’s hard to pinpoint or define precisely what it is, but it’s a trick that neither Lampard nor Solskjaer – or even Mikel Arteta – ever quite managed to pull off.

Taking over at a club where he isn’t a legendary former player has obviously helped, but there’s more to it than that. A quiet authority that belies his inexperience in the role and challenges the notion that great former players – especially by-example leaders of Gerrard’s type – find the transition to management difficult.

He has already got something new and exciting out of this Villa side, with wins over Brighton, Palace and Leicester in his first four games a commendable start. Most impressive of all for Villa’s long-term prospects, though, might actually be the one defeat under Gerrard in which the Villans nevertheless stood up commendably in the face of Manchester City on one of their otherworldly good days.

Palace are also worth a mention here. While their penchant for daftness late in matches is costing them, they too have one of the Premier League’s on-field greats in the dugout and making a good fist of the transition in Patrick Vieira.

Even Watford have brought in a proper manager you’ve heard of after their latest trademark October sacking.

So deep is the managerial standard now in the Premier League – and so irredeemably Everton are Everton – that poor old Rafa Benitez just can’t keep up and already looks a man as far out of time as Mourinho towards the end, just without the whole ‘unbearable absolute arsehole’ schtick.

There have already been six managerial changes in the top flight this season. On one hand, that’s absurd – almost a third of the league under different management than that which started the season. On the other, all six appear to have upgraded and often quite dramatically.

The result is a concentration of managerial talent in one league that is surely unprecedented.

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