As things stand, the vacant Everton job is the best any British manager can hope for – and that looks set to be the status quo for some time. Perhaps stressed relationships in the Chelsea camp will see Antonio Conte depart before next season, perhaps another non-top four finish will convince Arsene Wenger to step down at Arsenal. But both clubs would break a twenty-year habit if they replaced them with British successors while only catastrophe would see any of the remaining big six part with their current gaffers, who are all amongst the very best in the business.
Of course, this problem is nothing new. Since 2012, David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers are the only British managers to be permanently employed by the big six and the former’s tenure at Manchester United didn’t even last a whole season, whereas the latter was sharply ousted the moment results soured and a more exciting counterpart from abroad became available. There is quite simply a glass ceiling for Brits seeking employment at the top end of the Premier League, and a stigma attached to them.
The common counter-argument is that British managers are unfairly pigeonholed as little more than relegation experts, using prehistoric tactics to grind out results and unfamiliar with the sensitive nuances of working with the best players in the world. It’s certainly true that British managers don’t get the chances to prove their ideas aren’t outdated and that they can deliver entertaining football when provided with entertaining players. But perhaps there’s a good reason for that.
Enter Mark Hughes – a British manager who, at the age of 53, possesses all the attributes in theory to rise to the very top of a multi-cultural Premier League. A playing career took him from Manchester United to Barcelona and Bayern Munich and eventually Blackburn Rovers. That holistic journey of not only differing tiers of English football but also the continent should leave him with fantastic all-round knowledge of the game, the kind needed to effectively integrate foreign talents with the British style and the kind to be successful at a top club. He’s vastly experienced too – in fact, Hughes was already managing the Wales national team before hanging up his boots in 2002 and has already overseen a whopping 570 games from the dugout.
And yet, Hughes’ managerial career has been laden with mediocrity. For none of his six employers to date has he generated a win-rate of 50% or greater and his 13 years in the management business are yet to yield a trophy. In fact, he’s won the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award just once during that period, let alone a Manager of the Year accolade, and his best finish in the top flight was over a decade ago, when he unexpectedly guided Blackburn Rovers to 6th place back in 2005/06.
At first glance, it would seem the same confines apply – Hughes has only ever been employed by team that were mid-table or lower at the time, despite his association with three of the greatest clubs in the game today. But in truth, the Welshman has been given every chance to break that mould, to prove British managers understand foreign players and foreign ideals and use them to create an exciting brand of football, and he’s simply failed to take them.
The most obvious example is Manchester City. Hughes always worked under the cloud of never being the owners’ man, having been appointed just a month before the Sheik takeover in 2008, but he made glaringly little progress with the vast talent made available to him, an illustrious list including the likes of Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Nigel De Jong, Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. The best he could manage with that cohort was 9th place, followed by 10th the following season when he was relieved of his duties halfway through.
Perhaps the job was too big for him – after all, City were essentially building a footballing powerhouse from scratch – but we’ve seen a similar pattern at Stoke City where, despite significant backing from the board, Hughes has failed to get the best out of highly-talented foreign players. Four years down the line in one of the Premier League’s more ambitious vanity projects, Hughes finds himself reverting back to the tactics of a predecessor in Tony Pulis he was asked to replace largely due to style of football.
Indeed, the Potters have found themselves increasingly dependent on direct football and set piece goals over the last four seasons, averaging the least possession, producing the most long balls and scoring the fewest goals from open play under Hughes’ reign during 2016/17, while Peter Crouch’s revived importance since the start of last term has been particularly telling of how the philosophical revolution at Stoke has steadily run out of steam.
That is despite some fantastic foreign talents for a club of Stoke’s stature being at Hughes’ disposal; Bojan, Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Jese and Gianelli Imbula all offer top pedigree, the type of pedigree Hughes should be able to tap into. But Hughes has rarely got a consistent tune out of them for more than a few months at a time, both individually and collectively, and any hint of combining foreign flair with traditional British tactical ideals has steadily waned.
Of course, it would be unfair to suggest Hughes is the ultimate reason British managers don’t get chances at top clubs. Moyes and Roy Hodgson, during his Liverpool and England tenures, have only maintained the stereotypes of attritional football, outdated ideas and the inability to appeal to big-name players – the Paul Pogbas and Mesut Ozils of this world.
And yet, Hughes has been better-placed and better-equipped than anybody to dispel those myths throughout the last 13 years through experience, reputation, transfer budgets and transfer policies. While there have been brief glimpses of his ability to do so, they’ve all lacked the longevity to be truly convincing. And if someone like Hughes, a former Barcelona and Bayern Munich forward, can’t find success at a big club or consistent results using foreign talent, what chance does someone like Sean Dyche have?