Foreign vs. British managers – the top and bottom split?

There is a distinct pattern forming in the Premier League and one worth delving into the how and why of the matter. It concerns foreign managers and their seemingly apparent top heavy employment into ‘bigger’ clubs. Just why won’t the Premier League’s bottom half employ managers from the continent? Let us examine.

Before we begin, any of you with memory spans long enough to remember Alain Perrin and Velimir Zajec being employed into the Portsmouth manager’s job, you have done well, as they provide clear exceptions to the debate. But the connection between foreign managers and certain clubs runs far deeper.

Firstly, it must be conceded that the bigger money is at the bigger clubs. Take Chelsea as they are a glaringly obvious example. Following Abramovich’s takeover of the club, Chelsea have not only tarnished the reputation of several managerial figureheads in the game, but they’ve indeed had the funds to lure them to Stamford Bridge in the first place.

The same process is repeating itself further north in Manchester as Roberto Mancini succeeded a Brit in Mark Hughes at Eastlands in 2009. Big funds equal big pay packets for big European personalities.

Moreover, Gerard Houllier took over at Villa Park in 2010 after the club’s respectable sixth place finish in the 2009-10 season.

Martin Jol took over in the summer of 2011 at Fulham after an eighth place finish the season before. Hang on and wait a second I hear you cry. Are all of the clubs being mentioned really considered ‘big’ clubs?

The answer deliberately is no, but when you look more closely, there is one thing in common amongst all the teams mentioned thus far. Foreign ownership.

It seems that in the Premier League, foreign ownership has a distinct correlation with the clubs favoured employment of a foreign coach also. With exceptions here and there including Martinez at Wigan, many foreign coaches in recent seasons have been employed into clubs whose ownership too derives from origins far from these shores.

Mohamed Al Fayed has welcomed Jean Tigana and Martin Jol. Milan Mandaric employed Alain Perrin and Velimir Zajec. Randy Lerner welcomed Gerard Houllier. Maybe the correlation isn’t between being at the top and having a foreign boss, being at the bottom and not. Maybe it is about ownership preferences. If you look further afield in the Championship, Leicester City’s foreign owners first employed Sven Goran Eriksson before realising that Nigel Pearson was their man.

Let us speed up to present day and the 2011-12 season specifically. Despite the Premier League having a clear bias towards Glaswegians, a lot of the bottom half is made up of teams with both British owners and British managers. Stoke, Swansea, West Brom, Bolton, Norwich and so on continue to favour employment of talent from these shores.

Cultural knowledge certainly plays a part. For bottom half teams, it is simply much safer to employ a British manager. Let us take the three promoted teams in QPR, Norwich and Swansea. All teams stuck with their managers until Neil Warnock recently. Partly due to their work in gaining promotion from England’s second tier of course, these managers knowledge of England’s subsidiary leagues is extensive and there is a greater sense of connection between fans and boss, fundamental in climbing the Premier League ladder. Maybe this is why Perrin and Zajec didn’t last five minutes? (aside poor form of course).

For teams already competing at the top such as Chelsea and Manchester City, the foreign preference is much more justifiable on the premise that these teams are established and can afford to tinker with a more European playing style as requested by the clubs owners.

Of course, there are exceptions here and there. Just ask Tottenham fans about the appointment of Juande Ramos under Daniel Levy or the Glazers takeover at Old Trafford (although too scared to ever get reservations about Fergie’s position).

There is still something to be said about foreign ownership and the innate temptation to employ a foreign coaching flavour into the English Premier League.

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