When the manager of the year award is handed out in May it’s a pretty safe bet that Tony Pulis won’t need to hire a tuxedo. With Stoke currently occupying 11th place in the Premier League it hardly seems realistic to predict any prizes heading their manager’s way. The same can be said of Roy Hodgson and Alex McLeish, although there teams are sitting comfortably in mid-table they’re unlikely to win anything other than credit when it comes to awards.
Since the Premier League manager’s awards inception in 1994, the man in charge of the champions has been the winner every season- bar 2001 when the powers that be decided George Burley deserved a nod for guiding Ipswich to fifth. This year the chances are that Carlos Ancelotti will be lifting the almost irrelevant accolade unless of course Sir Alex, or maybe even Arsene Wenger can overtake the Blues at the top of the table. Yet would Ancelotti deserve to be classed as manager of the year for winning the title? Surely he would you cry after all he’d have not only stopped United winning a fourth successive crown, but also have done what no other manager since Jose Mourinho has achieved- winning the title in his debut season. Let’s look at the facts though, last season United won the league by playing worse than any champions in recent memory, this year they seem to be attempting to go one better –or worse- by winning the title by playing quite badly on a regular basis. If Chelsea do win the title, yes of course it’s an achievement but quite frankly a top Chelsea side would be out of reach for Fergie’s floundering team this year, not a mere four points ahead.
Then there’s the chance that Sir Alex does what he does best and wins yet another title just as people are writing him off. Well as I’ve just mentioned if that happens, it will be one of the least impressive title winning campaigns ever. A win is a win, of course and Fergie will have made history, yet again, so will receive the plaudits he’s become accustomed to. If, although it seems unlikely Wenger does manage to overcome the top two then he’ll have justified his transfer, reserve cup side, giving youngsters a chance, Sol Campbell, Manuel Almunia, playing football the right way, 35 passes before a shot policy. Everyone will no doubt be queuing up to tell him how they always had faith in him and his victory is a victory for football. Possibly. Yet he’d also have seen his side beaten in their own backyard, comfortably by both top rivals and endured some of the most calamitous goalkeeping since Gomes sorted his act out, plus Wenger would have won the title after trying and failing for five years. Whichever manager does lift the title there’s a good argument to be made that none of them would have really been at the top of their game, merely not as bad as their nearest rivals- admittedly requisite for reward, but uninspiring nonetheless.
Then there’s the 2nd tier of English football, ranging from Man City, Villa and Spurs. If any of these manage to beat Liverpool to fourth spot then there could be some justification for giving the man in charge the manager of the year award. However there’s a good reason why none of them would deserve it. Firstly at Man City Mancini inherited a team in a good position with an excellent squad, to give him an award for just over half a season’s effort would be a little generous. Martin O’Neill would seem like a worthy recipient but he’d have grabbed fourth spot because Liverpool would have declined rather than Villa upping their game, after all Benitez’s side have been a shadow of the one last season and off-field angst seems to have upset the whole club including the team. Harry Redknapp’s Spurs would have achieved the same, merely overtaking a distraught Liverpool team by default rather than amazing their fans with a consistent campaign, as numerous and articles have highlighted, Spurs have had a mixed season to say the least, regardless of how it ends. Of course if Liverpool do achieve fourth, then giving Benitez a manager of the year award would seem crazy considering the expectations many had of his team going one better then last season or at least mounting some form of title challenge.
That moves us into the 3rd tier of the premier league, ranging from Everton through to Sunderland. Moyes has done another fantastic job at Goodison with recent victories over United and Chelsea, making many wonder what might have been had they not started the season so badly. Moyes may well deserve to be named manager of the year- he’s won the LMA version more than Fergie- especially considering the injuries he’s had to deal with. The only reason he may not receive such recognition is that he’s also overseen, two derby defeats, an opening day mauling and several disappointing away losses. This season for Everton has been good, rather than great. Sunderland’s Steve Bruce would probably get the award if it was for honesty. Never shy of admitting when his team are poor, he’s found himself making a lot of admissions lately as Sunderland have been dire. Sam Allardyce at Blackburn has done a steady job but he’s merely lived up to what you’d expect rather than surpassed any expectations. Gianfranco Zola has had a bit of a disappointing season this time round- admittedly through no fault of his own as he’s had little or no money but it’s been disappointing nonetheless. Mick McCarthy has got some decent results at Wolves but the idea of listening to him give a speech is enough to stop anyone handing him any prizes. That just leaves the rest of the relegation battlers and the fact that they’re battling the drop should prevent any of their managers getting any awards-unless they give it Avram Grant out of sympathy so that he can sell it.
That leaves just my trio of real contenders. Pulis deserves plaudits for avoiding the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’ and actually picking up where he left off last season by making the Britannia Stadium a difficult place to visit and even picking up some points on the road. Hodgson has done it again, making his Fulham side one of the real banana skins in the league and he’s even managed the impossible by turning Bobby Zamora into an England contender. As for McLeish, his Birmingham side have been the real surprise package going on a twelve-match unbeaten league run and taking points off three of the top four this season.
Of course the season’s not over yet and as Hull proved last year, there’s always the possibility of a rapid free-fall happening at Birmingham, Stoke or Fulham. As this season has shown though, that looks highly unlikely. If the powers that be really wanted to give the Premier League manager’s award to someone who really deserves it, then they could set a new precedent by giving it to one of the managers who’ve managed to exceed expectations rather than just fulfil them; somehow though I doubt it.
Read more of Justin Mottershead work at his blog ‘Name is on the Trophy’