If someone asks one to think of soccer, most people will envision the actual acts of players running about a field and kicking around of a ball. Some, too, might envisage the electric atmospheres that supporters often bring to games. But I’d wager few immediately visualize the managers standing on the touchlines when you ask them to think about the sport.
Unless you’re talking about the 2015/16 season, that is.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but managers are all the rage these days. Open up the papers or glance at your website of choice, and you’re likely to find just as likely to see the man who picks the team each weekend staring back at you as you are the star names they’re picking.
Not that managers getting attention is a particularly new thing. For those bosses steering their clubs in the wrong direction, there’s always the sack watch to keep an eye on. Sir Alex has been making headlines of his own for ages. And there was a great little spell a few years back where Mourinho, Ferguson, Wenger and Benitez were regularly exchanging barbs with one another in the press.
But unlike in most years past, of what’s transpired of the 2015/16 season so far, the spotlight has been most brightly shone on the managers.
While Vardy and Mahrez have stolen most of the attention at Leicester, plenty of praise has also been heaved Claudio Ranieri and his pizza parties’ direction too. At newly promoted Bournemouth, it’s been all about how their own upstart Eddie Howe has guided the Cherries up the pyramid. Part rock star and part savior Jürgen Klopp was brought in by Liverpool to save the day. Everton supporters have spent much time this season debating Roberto Martinez’ effectiveness and (blind?) loyalty to Tim Howard. Thanks to a currently table topping campaign, Arsène Wenger has kept his head fairly low. And at Spurs, plaudits are being regularly handed to Mauricio Pochettino for his work steadying the ship at White Hart Lane.
Those are just the managers that are doing alright this campaign — we haven’t even touched on those that have already been sacked.
Before the season even had started, rumors were swirling that Dick Advocaat didn’t want the Sunderland job: he barely lasted a month. A disappointing first month of the season kept Brendan Rodgers’ name in the headlines as speculation mounted before his October firing. Tim Sherwood’s destiny at Villa was always the ax, but he made damn sure people were looking at him before he went. At Swansea, everyone was said to see former player Gary Monk forced out as the Swans have struggled after a quick start. And this isn’t just something restricted to England either. Just ask Rafa Benitez about his recently ended time at Real Madrid, or Gary Neville’s odd takeover at Valencia.
Of course, there’s one that I’ve left out so far, and it’s the most high-profile of the bunch: José Mourinho getting canned at Chelsea less than six months after he lead them to the title. Not that Mourinho isn’t a bit of a spotlight magnet. A man known for all sorts of antics, the Special One made headlines this season for firing the team doctor, having a bib thrown at him on the bench, and for a whole host of other nonsense.
But Mourinho’s saga at Stamford Bridge is hardly the only big club where manager drama has taken center stage. A wildly uninspiring season and mixed results at Old Trafford has left Louis Van Gaal teetering on the edge of a cliff at Manchester United. And across Manchester, the Citizens’ inconsistency — and the specter of another manager’s potential arrival, which we’ll get to in a minute — has left Manuel Pellegrini dangling in the wind.
And coupled with Pep Guardiola’s impending departure from Bayern Munich at season’s end, it’s those last three managerial hot seats at several of England’s biggest clubs that will ensure that we’ll be talking about managers for the rest of the season.
It’s like we’re in a game of managers’ musical chairs, and we’re just waiting for the music to start.
Everything, it seems, is dependent upon the Spaniard. Manchester United seem resigned to the fact that Van Gaal isn’t going to get them to where they want to be. If you believe the papers, the Red Devils seem hellbent on coaxing Guardiola in to replace him. But the rumor mill — not to mention known personal connections — tells us that Pep will be heading to Manchester City in 2016/17. And if United can’t have him, then they’ll likely settle for Mourinho… provided he’s still available.
Of course, if Pep goes to Manchester City, that leaves Manuel Pellegrini out in the cold. Could he trade in his baby blue kit for a darker shade and fill the void at Chelsea that’s temporarily being filled by two-time stand-in Guus Hiddink? That’s possible, though I’d fancy Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone if I were spending Abramovich’s millions.
Watching this managerial deck shuffling will make for some excellent popcorn popping material, and more dominoes will fall before it’s all said and done. Where any of the above names end up is anybody’s guess. Some will be left without a seat when the music starts, while others will find themselves in exciting roles.
And rest assured I’ll be thoroughly enjoying it — so long as nobody tries to pry Pochettino away from my Spurs.