England’s managerial power play

Written by Leanne Lu

This article first appeared in the Jul/Aug 2016 issue of WGM.

Having taken a back seat to the dominance of European Super Clubs Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in recent years, England’s big Premier League clubs are going all out in 2016/17 with the world’s most sought after managers all arriving this summer for what shapes as the greatest power battle football has ever seen.

[b]Clockwise from top left: Jürgen Klopp, Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho[/b]

Blame Claudio Ranieri. After a Premier League season full of madness and surprises, it was the newly appointed Leicester City manager – a man deemed unqualified to take Chelsea to the top by owner Roman Abramovich 12 years ago – who guided his side to the pinnacle of English football.

Leicester’s incredible success in a league renowned for its ruthlessness sent the football world into meltdown. According to statistics from the League Managers’ Association, a record 56 managers were sacked across all levels of English football in the 2015/16 season, while in the top flight three of the top eight clubs sacked their managers. The carnage began last October when Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers, quickly followed by defending champions Chelsea who sent José Mourinho packing following a disappointing start to their title defense. Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal became the third big name to depart just days after leading the Red Devils to the FA Cup – the Dutchman a victim of a disappointing league performance.

As it was, clubs like Leicester City, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur snapped the traditional dominance of the big four from the last few seasons, suggesting a holistic change has begun. But in response, those traditional big clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool – have hit back quickly by luring Europe’s most sought after managers their way in a bid to reclaim their positions at the top of the EPL ladder.

[b]Leicester City stunned the Premier League's big clubs to win the title last season[/b]

Liverpool wasted no time following Rodgers’ sacking in hiring highly rated Jürgen Klopp – the German boasting a proud history of restoring once great clubs to their glory days. Manchester City soon responded by announcing Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola would replace Manuel Pellegrini in 2016/17. Chelsea then named Italian national coach Antonio Conte as their main man before football’s worst kept secret was confirmed post-season with Mourinho to take over at Manchester United.

Facing off against Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and of course Ranieri, the upcoming EPL season is shaping up as the most intriguing managerial battle in history!

Why, though, has England suddenly become a magnet to the world’s best managers given the league’s recent struggles in Europe and the dominance of clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich? It all comes down to money.

For all of their struggles on the continent – with no English side having reached the UEFA Champions League final since Chelsea lifted the trophy in 2012 – the EPL is by far the most watched league in the world. It is broadcast to 212 territories with a TV audience of 4.7 billion. Spain’s La Liga, on the other hand, attracts an audience of around 414 million viewers worldwide. No matter how often Barcelona or Real Madrid have outclassed their English counterparts on the pitch, Li Liga’s brand trails the EPL by a long distance.

The new Premier League TV deal, bolstered by its enormous fan base around the world, is worth £8 billion over the next three years with EPL clubs becoming increasingly competitive in the transfer market. As for the managers themselves? Manchester City’s Guardiola will be paid £15 million a year, while Mourinho’s incentive-heavy contract could see him earn up to £15.25 million per year should he lead United back to the promised land. They have reaped the benefits of the billionaire owners that have chased them, but none of the EPL’s big name managers are struggling with Klopp on £7 million at Liverpool and Conte £6.5 million at Chelsea – a significant increase on the £2.8 million he earned for guiding Italian giant Juventus to three titles last season!

The diversity of the Premier League also provides ambitious managers with the freedom to truly make their mark. Clubs like City, United and Chelsea boast star-studded squads most sides can only dream of no matter what league they play in. Guardiola will start the new season with the likes of Sergio Agüero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling at his disposal. He must wonder how they achieved so little last year. It’s the same elsewhere, where seemingly abundant squads are waiting for the right manager to wave his magic wand.

Liverpool, despite finishing a disappointing eighth last season, were transformed once Klopp took charge from a mediocre and boring outfit to one with high pressing and a quick transition. It will be fascinating to see how young players such as Emre Can and Divock Origi – not to mention stars Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge – progress after a full pre-season of Klopp’s tutelage.

The new season will also see some old rivalries resume. Guardiola and Mourinho were once bitter rivals in Spain and will now battle again in the Manchester derby.

Meanwhile, new rivalries will be built. Conte, another coach with fierce body language on the touchline, is similar to Klopp and their clashes will be among many to savor in the years ahead.

As for silverware? For all of their respective accomplishments – with multiple domestic and European trophies between them – it is the one held by none other than the quiet achiever Ranieri they have been employed to chase above all else. How that race plays out is well worth the price of admission.