LONDON — Football managers don’t win matches, players win matches. Managers may choose the players and the tactics but they don’t score goals or make tackles. Plenty of managers seem to think they are the stars of the show, but fans part with their money to see players in action. The game is about players.That was, broadly, the advice given to most football writers when they were starting out, and it still remains true that you should concentrate on what happens on the pitch and not be unduly influenced by what managers have to say about it.
You don’t need to be reading David Peace’s latest book to appreciate that managers until quite recently were considered the least important, most interchangeable component at a football club. Even now, the game is not about managers. But the 2013-14 English Premier League season just might be.
Certainly, it is difficult to make any sort of predictions, to extrapolate anything from what was won or lost last season, when clubs from Manchester United and Chelsea down to Stoke and Sunderland have changed managers over the summer.
All right, Paolo Di Canio was installed at Sunderland before the break, but this is still his first full season in charge and anything may happen. A wise old Sunderland supporter who has seen at least 20 managers come and go said he had identified three possible outcomes — outrageous success, outrageous failure or outrageous behaviour.
He just didn’t know which two to put his money on. Everton supporters are similarly divided over the wisdom of recruiting a manager who took his side down last season. Roberto Martínez is highly unlikely to be outrageous but at this stage it is impossible to tell whether Everton are going to be a rip-roaring success, or trade the robustness developed under David Moyes for the perplexing inconsistency that Wigan fans had to put up with for the past few seasons.
Talking of robustness, most people still have Mark Hughes down as a capable manager and a good appointment for Stoke, though he certainly managed to make enemies at his last two clubs in London and many supposed neutrals are gleefully predicting an early exit.
Hughes may manage to tone down the Potters a bit, though probably not an awful lot since at his unveiling he was still complaining that he had no idea why his Blackburn side had gained such a reputation for physicality. He must never have checked out the Fair Play League, in which they finished bottom every season between 2004 and 2008.
Moyes, of course, is part of the main theme of managerial change. A good time to take over at United? Moyes claims it is, or at least he did when he was still staging press conferences, though at this stage it seems inauspicious, to say the least, that Sir Alex Ferguson’s voluntary step-down happened to coincide with José Mourinho’s return to Chelsea.
There are those who say Ferguson’s immediate successor at Old Trafford was always going to be on a hiding to nothing, and that the clever policy would have been to wait until one or two others had tried and failed.
At least Moyes was brave enough to accept the challenge, though between the intractable Wayne Rooney situation and the eagerness with which Mourinho has pounced on the possibility of picking up a player Ferguson may well have been wrong to marginalise, the former Everton manager must feel as though he has been in the Old Trafford hot seat for two years rather than two months.
Three of last season’s top-four clubs have changed manager over the summer, a highly unusual situation in itself, and given Arsenal’s almost wilful stasis that probably means the title will be won by a club with a new manager, or in Chelsea’s case an old one on his second visit.
Tottenham have been spending impressively over the summer and one imagines will shortly have the Gareth Bale bounty to invest, though that does not quite propel them into the ranks of genuine title contenders. As has been all too obvious at White Hart Lane in recent seasons, success for Spurs amounts to cracking the Champions League, and success beyond their wildest dreams only amounts to doing so at the expense of Arsenal.
André Villas-Boas may have other ideas but even he does not have the sort of managerial pedigree to set beside the CVs of Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City.
The latter has bought decisively and astutely, making City fans feel the club are moving forward again after standing still last season. As Pellegrini has managed to improve all the clubs he has managed in Spain – even Real Madrid reached a record number of points in the season he was there and it is debatable whether he deserved sacking just because Barcelona finished with three more – it is reasonable to assume he will be able to give City the nudge they need to do better than last season, and that may well be enough to see them finish above United.
Whether it will be enough to see off Chelsea is another matter. With Mourinho back in London, especially if he hijacks Rooney, the title is not going to be another two-horse race unless United are the ones to blow up. There are three sides with a realistic chance of winning the Premier League, and with questions already surfacing about how Moyes might react to adversity and criticism, it is possible that the defending champions will be the ones with most to prove.
Enough procrastination, you will now be wanting a naming of names so you can laugh at me this time next year. Fair enough. Top three — City, Chelsea, United, in that order. Fourth Champions League place — Tottenham. Relegated — Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Fulham.
Teams to do surprisingly well — Hull, Stoke, Aston Villa. Teams to struggle against relegation — Norwich, Southampton, Sunderland, West Ham.
Teams that could finish anywhere between fifth and 17th and, to be absolutely honest, your correspondent hasn’t got a clue how they will go — Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle.
Teams that haven’t been mentioned yet but are too good to be ignored — Arsenal, Swansea, West Brom.
Let’s put those three well-managed sides down for the cups. Even Arsène Wenger would be glad of one of those at the moment. — The Guardian.
Powered by WPeMatico