Question: What do Bob Paisley, Fabio Capello and Vicente del Bosque all have in common?
Answer: They’ve all enjoyed significant success on both domestic and European stages after being promoted from their role as assistant manager.
Paisley managed to excel after emerging from Bill Shankly’s formidable shadow, Capello made Milan sexy again and del Bosque triumphed at Real Madrid before nurturing one of the greatest international teams of all time. So why isn’t this approach a familiar trait in the Premier League?
With every team seemingly desperate to replicate the ‘tiki-taka’ football of Barcelona, it only seems logical that they should consider adopting their philosophies off the pitch as well. When Frank Rijkaard departed the Nou Camp in 2008, the club distanced itself from renowned figures in world football and instead appointed former player and reserve team manager Pep Guardiola. Four years on and the Catalan giants have amassed an astonishing 14 trophies, flaunting the type of football that does justice to the expression, ‘the beautiful game’.
If Guardiola’s managerial sabbatical caught people by surprise then so did the announcement of his replacement, the shy and endearing Tito Vilanova. However, if Pep was the face of the sexy revolution then Vilanova was arguably the brains, often hailed as the man who reinvented Lionel Messi as a prolific ‘false 9’. So while the club may have succumbed to their fierce rivals in La Liga and Chelsea in the Champions League, the owners were more than convinced of the new direction and way of life that had evolved as a result of their partnership.
Unfortunately the success rate of such appointments on home soil is less than encouraging. Who can forget Steve McClaren’s stint as England manager in 2006? The uninspiring football delivered by an uninspiring man, left to cower under an umbrella from the criticism that rained down upon him.
In club football, Wolves explored just about every possibility before insisting that Terry Connor had been their first choice all along. Lifeguards were a familiar sight at Molineux, presumably employed in an attempt to save a man who looked increasingly out of his depth. And somehow, to this very day, Steve Kean continues to sweat away in the Blackburn hot seat despite the unrelenting protest from supporters.
In amongst these tragic cases, one sentimental promotion prompted an inconceivable wave of achievement. Against all the odds, Roberto Di Matteo transformed a club in disarray and guided them to European glory. The Italian knew exactly what needed to be corrected and utilised his relationships with key members of the squad to quickly implement the changes. However, despite his incredible accomplishments, succeeding where so many big names had failed to bring Roman Abramovich has most desired treasure, it took an eternity for him to be offered the role on a permanent basis. Evidence then, that such iconic traditions like Liverpool hiring their new managers from the ‘Anfield boot room’ are a thing of the past.
Roman is not alone is his reluctance to hire unassuming personnel to take their club forward. Just like with player transfers, fans are eager to see a big name take the reins and this puts pressure on those in charge. Appointments from within are still perceived as a short-term solution or cost-cutting option, with experience and status within the media trumping potential every single time. The truth remains that few teams can afford the luxury of a lengthy redevelopment process, especially with such a priority placed on immediate success. But I can’t help thinking is there any greater risk in appointing your reserve or youth team manager over the likes of say, Mick McCarthy or Alan Curbishley?
Maybe the reason we don’t see more individuals appointed from within is because clubs are rarely happy with the foundations or existing set-up put in place by the outgoing manager. For better or worse, incoming managers are keen to stamp their own identity on the club and swiftly begin tearing up the carefully laid roots. It’s also worth pointing out that the nature of Guardiola’s departure was unique, any manager that’s sacked or exits because of poor results is likely take to be followed by the majority of their backroom staff.
With Ferguson and Wenger edging closer to retirement, perhaps the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United will be the only realistic options for any such future appointments. Both clubs will be devoted to continuing the success, values and playing philosophies of such great men and yet only time will tell whether the likes of Steve Bould or Brian McClair are ludicrous or worthwhile names for consideration.