Europe · Managers · Premier League

The dying breed of the English manager

Roberto Martinez is set to be confirmed as the new manager of Wigan Athletic. The appointment is a very sensible one, as Martinez guided Swansea from League One mediocrity to the cusp of the Championship playoff with essentially the same squad — a key skill heading into a club managing to survive in the Premier League despite limited means.

The appointment is also a just reward for one of the young up-and-coming managers making their way in the lower divisions in England, but it does highlight a curious trend: the disappearance of the English football manager.

None of the Big Four in the Premier League (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal) sport England-born managers, and they haven’t for a while. The closest thing is Scotland’s Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

Strange times for the nation that created the sport. Englishmen not only invented football, but also took it to every corner of the planet, teaching just about every country how to play and love the sport. That’s a tremendous debt that every football fan owes the nation.

But it’s been a long time since then, and times have changed.

The last English manager to manage a Big Four Premier League Club (not counting caretaker managers such as Ray Wilkins this past season with Chelsea) was Liverpool’s Roy Evans, who steered the club from 1994 to 1998, and resigned in November of ’98 because Gerard Houllier had been appointed to share the manager’s role with him. That was more than 10 years ago.

Even England’s national team, surely the last great bastion of English football, is currently run by a non-English manager, and has been for slightly more than eight of the last 10 years.

The breakdown of Premier League Managers currently reads like this:

English: Phil Brown, Gary Megson, Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Paul Hart, Steve Bruce
Other British: Alex Ferguson (Scotland), David Moyes (Scotland), Tony Pulis (Wales), Martin O’Neill (Northern Ireland), Alex McLeish (Scotland), Mark Hughes (Wales)
Irish: Owen Coyle, Mick McCarthy
Other European: Arsene Wenger (France), Rafael Benítez (Spain), Roberto Martínez (Spain), Gianfranco Zola (Italy), Carlo Ancelotti (Italy)
  • English (7): Phil Brown, Gary Megson, Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Paul Hart, Steve Bruce
  • Other British (6): Alex Ferguson (Scotland), David Moyes (Scotland), Tony Pulis (Wales), Martin O’Neill (Northern Ireland), Alex McLeish (Scotland), Mark Hughes (Wales)
  • Irish (2): Owen Coyle, Mick McCarthy
  • Other European (5): Arsene Wenger (France), Rafael Benítez (Spain), Roberto Martínez (Spain), Gianfranco Zola (Italy), Carlo Ancelotti (Italy)

Add to that Fabio Capello (Italy) in charge of England, and only one third of the top 21 managers in the country are English. And while Martínez and Gianfranco Zola have strong ties to English football, they both still learned the game and its tactics in their native countries, before refining them in British shores.

Fans have been complaining about the lack of English leadership, particularly at national team level, blaming the FA among others for not focusing on choosing good English managers. But there have been several factors that come into play:

* The best of the best of the best: With the Premier League currently boasting the status of “best football league in the world,” you’re always likely to attract the best talent in players and managers. It’s only natural that a number of foreign managers make their way into the league. It’s true of Spain and has certainly been true of Italy in the past.

* Increased amounts of foreign players require a more continental/global point of view from the manager: managing your Ghanaian left back is not exactly the same and coaching your English holding midfielder.

* Rushed appointments are destroying potential careers: Gareth Southgate, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer all needed more experience before being thrown in to the fires of the Premier League. At least Middlesbrough is sticking with Southgate to let him develop, despite the team’s relegation.

* Sentimental choices that backfire: Tony Adams? He may have got on well with Portsmouth’s bosses, but was never really a good choice (or a good manager in general). This sort of appointment only adds to the idea that English managers are not as good.

* Increased foreign ownership: People like Roman Abramovich, Tom Hicks, George Gillet and Malcolm Glazer have little bested interest in getting an English manager specifically. Even “enlightened” foreign owners like Aston Villa’s Randy Lerner care more about the manager’s overall credentials than their nationality.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be a dearth of top-shelf English managers out there. Look at that list from the Premier League: Phil Brown, Gary Megson, Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Paul Hart, Steve Bruce. Given the choice of any manager in the world, few English fans might choose one of those over someone like Guus Hiddink. And at least one of those, Paul Hart, has yet to be confirmed for next season, despite doing a fantastic job of rescuing Portsmouth from relegation about Redknapp’s abandonment and Tony Adams’ mismanagement.

You’d expect that things would be better at the lower league levels, and they are, but not as much as you’d think: 53 out of 89 managers currently appointed are English. That’s 59.6 %, less certainly than I would’ve expected. It is overwhelmingly British however, which you’d expect in the UK with the Premier League having so much more power and influencw than its Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish counterparts. The top Welsh teams play in the English league system anyway. And Scottish-born managers like Ferguson, Bob Shankly and Matt Busby have been ever-present in the English top division’s history.

This may just be a historical blip, and the next Alf Ramsey may be just around the corner, but with the Premier League still occupying the higher echelons of world football, expect more continental managers to begin making their way to England.


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