The lack of opportunity for young British managers is an issue that routinely crops up when a Premier League vacancy comes available – and one that sparks plenty of debate.
Huddersfield Town moved swiftly this week to replace David Wagner with the appointment of 36-year-old German coach Jan Siewert. In the process, the Terriers virtually replicated the formula that led them to appoint Wagner back in 2015 – but it’s led several leading figures in the game to question whether a 36-year-old English coach with no managerial experience would be handed a similar opportunity.
Big Sam speaks out
Sam Allardyce broke ranks this week to admit he was ‘bewildered’ by the lack of interest in hiring British coaches in the top two tiers – but is he right to suggest there is a legitimate bias in the game against homegrown coaches. When it comes to the circumstances behind Siewert’s appointment, surely Big Sam has something of a point that a rookie youth team coach from a leading English club wouldn’t be provided with the extraordinary opportunity Siewert has been handed – jumping straight into the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the biggest league in the world.
The fact that Mark Hudson – highly rated within the club and the same age as Siewert – was only handed one game as caretaker Terriers boss to prove his worth suggests Allardyce’s theory has some credence. With Premier League relegation looking a dead certainty, would it have done any harm to have given him a chance?
A quick glance across the Premier League shows how limited the current pathway is for young ambitious British managers. All five ‘homegrown’ managers have had to put in plenty of hard yards to earn their crack at the Premier League – and sometimes more than once. At 60, Chris Hughton feels as if he has been around the management game for ages, but he only landed his first shot at management at the age of 50.
Wily old veterans Neil Warnock and Roy Hodgson can boast almost 40 jobs between them but have only just over a decade of Premier League serve combined. Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche both had to battle against the tide to get their chance to mix it with the elite – but would either of them be realistic contenders if one of the ‘Big Six’ jobs came calling?
It seems pretty much the only way a young coach can get fast-tracked to managing an ambitious Premier League or Championship club is by holding existing cult status with a club. West Brom’s Darren Moore is perhaps the best example of this. The Baggies hierarchy turned to him hoping a fan favourite would at least lift the sour atmosphere at the Hawthorns with relegation inevitable towards the end of the 2017/18 season. As it happens, Moore managed to make something of the poisoned chalice handed to him and is continuing to perform well in the Championship – but would he ever have been handed the job if the circumstances hadn’t been dire?
Even name recognition isn’t necessarily enough these days, with the likes of Sol Campbell (Macclesfield) and Paul Scholes (closing in on the Oldham job) having to earn their spurs in the lower leagues despite their wealth of experience within the game.
That’s necessarily no bad thing given a stellar playing career ultimately counts for nothing when it comes to innate coaching ability, but the fact that even former Premier League greats who could previously rely on their reputation to gain a fast-track managerial pass are dropping so far down suggests the path to the elite is becoming rockier for budding managers.
The rise of the maverick
However, dig a little deeply and it’s easy to see why Premier League and Championship chairman are increasingly taking a punt on a left-field appointment.
Beyond the Big Six, it’s becoming increasingly hard to split a cluster of around 20 medium-size clubs who all have a realistic expectation of competing at Premier League level. For any ambitious Championship club without parachute payments, a maverick coach with unconventional ideas can be a gamechanger in extracting the marginal gains needed for an unexpected promotion push.
Marcelo Bielsa and Daniel Farke have differing approaches to the game and are at different points in their respective careers, but one thing that links them both is a fixed philosophy as to how they want to drive their respective clubs forward – and that has helped Leeds and Norwich hit pole position in the Championship without the luxury of a financial advantage over several of their rivals.
Do enough British managers take that all-encompassing, forensic approach to their work? Certainly there are exceptions emerging – Nathan Jones at Stoke for one – but a perceived lack of strategic vision from British managers could be one reason so many owners are turning elsewhere.
The continental structure is king
The likes of Wagner and Siewert also instinctively understand they are simply one chain in the cog of the slick machine that is any ambitious professional club in 2019. They arrive with little ego or entourage – recognising their remit is to coach the team, not run the club.
With the lifespan of the average top-flight manager now standing at just under 100 games, it’s little wonder that club owners now put their faith in a coherent continental-style structure to eventually help move their club forward.
If they feel the fundamentals at their club are right, that frees them up to take the odd calculated gamble with their choice of manager – and they will be prepared to scour far and wide to find candidates with the flexibility, drive, tactical acumen and communication skills needed to succeed in the modern game.
Do you agree that young British managers should get more of a break?
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