Snakes & Ladders: Football Managers’ Biggest Game

by Sam Kimbi
13th Mar 2019

The 18/19 season so far has delivered great entertainment; football fans worldwide must be satisfied. Following a World Cup year, it’s easy for things to get mundane, but there have been controversial hiring's and firings, massive upsets, great football and a competitive Premier League season to boot.

One of the biggest success stories has been Ole Gunner Solskjaer, whose appointment following the sacking of Jose Mourinho was a massive surprise to the footballing world. I must admit I felt it showed a lack of vision from the club; I didn’t see what Manchester United was trying to achieve. I felt like another victory for player power and would set a precedent across football. However, Solskjaer has hit the ground running. Not only has he conceded just one Premier League loss (to Arsenal) with an injury-ravaged squad, but he remains in the race for the Top 4 and also led United to a Champions League quarter final, coming back from a 2-0 deficit against Paris Saint Germain that has only emboldened the voices calling for his full-time appointment. With a Top 4 finish in sight, I wouldn’t rule out a Champions League victory too. It seems more than deserved.

HOWEVER... Manchester United is by far and large the biggest job in the country and opportunities to manage a club at this level come few and far between. So what does it take to secure the biggest job in the land?

To me, Solskjaer’s appointment was the biggest example of the old saying ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know.’ Working your way through the ranks as a manager from the lower league up to the top division is possible yet rarely done. What would it take for a manager or coach to qualify for a huge job? Sam Allardyce raised this point on TV this week, saying that a manager for a lower team wouldn’t get credit for big victories, whereas managers of bigger, more established clubs get more credit for the work they do. Allardyce has long rebelled against powerful clubs and his inability to have ever secured a job, maintaining that given the opportunity and resources he would be just as successful as any manager.

Had Solksjaer displayed great tactical knowledge prior to his appointment? No. Did he show any extensive knowledge of the transfer market? No. Outside of being a former United player and coaching the Reserves a decade ago, his CV doesn’t look too impressive. Now he has a budget at his disposal that other managers would love to have, not to mention one of the most talented squads in the league. Management is never easy, but this is a dream opportunity for anyone. 
What does it take to get a top job in the Premier League? 

Overachievement is just the start. Mauricio Pochettino, Brendan Rodgers and Eddie Howe are three of the game’s brightest managers, all of whom have magiced impressive results with limited resources and created a distinguished brand of football that in any other country would guarantee them a top job. Pochettino was linked with a move to United prior to Solskjaer’s appointment and also the Real Madrid job. Howe is a different case; aged just 41 England hasn’t seen a homegrown manager with as much promise and pedigree in a long time. Leading his team to a promotion from League 2 to the Premiership was an amazing achievement. Many teams struggle to maintain the quality and position after making such a jump from the Championship to the Premiership. The fact that Bournemouth has is a testament to everyone involved and the environment they’ve created.

This isn’t to say that Howe is guaranteed success at a bigger club, but as far as deserving the opportunity goes Howe has nothing more to prove. If Chelsea decides to go in a new direction, or maybe Arsenal in a year or two, would he be in line for the job? Over a manager who has won in the Italian or French leagues, I highly doubt it.

Ex-players in general are given a head start, but after giving your career to a sport it does have merit. Paul Scholes, Sol Campbell, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Patrick Viera and others have all been appointed to top positions this season alone. It’s great for the game, younger players and the future of managers in this country especially, but how do we balance that out and allow managers who maybe have been competing in the same leagues for a decade or more to have access to the same jobs that former players are walking in to?

The managerial merry-go round is vicious and no matter what three to four years is all we can ask of any manager. The loss of Darren Moore (honourable mention) shows that doing well may not be enough if you’re not excelling. Big names tend to face a sharper decline and rarely return to management immediately after a high profile sacking. 
Managers can only be judged on the opportunities given to them and Solskjaer has taken his chance with two hands and steadied a sinking ship. With that being said, are fans confident that he is the manager to lead them to more league titles, or are other, better routes available?

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