The Premier League’s status as one of the best has come about because it has been able to combine it’s own traits with those of foreign leagues and morphed them into something far outstretching the others. It might have been easy to look at English football as one dimensional, a league where there is a right and wrong way of playing. But since the floodgates have opened for foreign managers, the styles of football have become varied, and much of the work to take the Premier League forward has been on the backs of those who arrived from other nations.
It should be damning of English football that no one was able to get the best out of Paul Scholes at international level—certainly one of England’s most talented and technically gifted footballers during his prime. There was no logical thought process to get the best out of a group that featured Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, and the go-to formation was always the rigid but safe 4-4-2.
It should have said a lot when the English FA were reportedly after Jose Mourinho to succeed Fabio Capello. An interesting choice considering they wanted to go English with their next appointment, but certainly with the mindset that someone like Mourinho, or indeed Pep Guardiola, might have been able to offer so much more if they were available.
It’s not just that foreign managers might be better, but it also has plenty to down with their upbringing and experiences in and around the game. Hard working, sleeves rolled up and getting stuck in is the English mentality, and that’s fine, but it’s rapidly going out of fashion. Do we look to the lack of English managers moving abroad as something simply in line with the players’ mentality and that they just don’t fancy a different environment?
Rafa Benitez has been mocked wherever he has gone following his Liverpool departure, and it’s hard to see why. How many managers in the Premier League during his time at Anfield would have been able to bring the best out of Xabi Alonso (and he is the big talking point, maybe even more so than Fernando Torres), Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Torres? That team who almost won the Premier League title was no accident, there was a meticulous thought process on how to compliment the best players and bring about their finest qualities.
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Perhaps it helped a lot that Benitez was Spanish and understood how to properly use a creative midfielder like Alonso, one who exhibited all the necessary qualities to be a creative spark but a position deep in the midfield. It would have been easy for some managers to simply tie him down as the holding midfielder and leave the rest to another midfield partner, or, shockingly, force him onto the flanks.
But managers like that force alternative ideas on the rest of the game, sparking many more to contemplate a permanent switch to a three man midfield and a lone striker. It’s about identifying what you have and what works best for your players.
To send an appropriate amount of praise Arsene Wenger’s way: would English football have seen another group of Invincibles in the modern game had it not been for Arsenal’s team of 2003-04? The Frenchman helped to make others aware of the strength of foreign markets and the impact players from the continent can have in English football. The awareness of the quality from other nations forces England to stand up and take notice, driving them into action and towards something of equal measurement.
But it probably says a lot about the mentality in this country when people like Wenger and Benitez are so openly ridiculed. Why should it be so that foreign managers are spoken down to in such a manner, especially after they’d done so much to help elevate the profile of English football? And that’s what the Premier League wants, doesn’t it? It wants to make legitimate claims that it is unrivalled. Boasting some of the leading players in Europe like Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, and Thierry Henry is what gives English football legs to stand on.
It’s not really a slight on the English tradition that clubs are looking abroad for influences and leadership, but those actions do concede that other elements away from British shores are equally important for a fruitful future. The position of Director of Football has always been seen as a continental ideal, but clubs like Barcelona have proven that it can be a success if the right individuals are in place.
It would be wrong to ignore the impact Arsene Wenger alone has had on football in this country. From setting up a youth academy that may one day be the greatest source of talent for Arsenal, to doing away with pre-game diets of beers and Mars bars. It also needs to be noted how many clubs have looked to follow the example of the Frenchman and have shown a desire to look abroad for a long term manager.
The Premier League wouldn’t be in a position to show it’s dominance on the continent and to a worldwide audience were it not for foreign managers and their ideas to elevate the game. It is perhaps most telling that every Premier League representative in the Champions League final has been managed by a non-English manager.