The post mortems after recent major international football tournaments always focus on the number of foreign players in British football, and understandably so. There's no doubt that the influx of players from the continent and beyond, some of whom have been mediocre at best, has had an impact on the development of British players. However, it's pleasing to see that when it comes to Premiership managers, there's a healthy proportion of British managers plying their trade and competing with the suave sophistication we associate with the likes of AVB, Laudrup, Di Matteo and their continental peers.
The advent of the Premier League was soon followed by an influx of continental managers into the domestic game. I'd say that became more apparent after Arsene Wenger's appointment and the subsequent impact he had on British football. His methods and ideals have probably been copied or adapted more than any other manager's in the history of the British game - I think messers Ranieri, Houllier, Gross, Gullit etc. have much to thank Wenger for. I get this - it seems that a young, qualified if not particularly experienced, articulate and polished continental manager may be more desirable to Premiership clubs than a tough, battle hardened British gaffer who speaks his mind. Ok, I'm perhaps painting a picture of two polar opposites here but when clubs are looking for corporate partners and an international fan base, it's clear that the person entrusted with leading that club from a footballing point of view needs to be more aware of the value of good PR than say, Jack Charlton was when he took over at my beloved club Middlesbrough some 40 odd years ago.
Much has been made of the success enjoyed by Scottish managers in the Premiership and rightly so. Whilst Sir Alex and my personal favourite David Moyes have done so much to build that reputation, I'm particularly pleased to see Steve Clarke progress from the position of right hand man and make such an impressive start as a manager in his own right. Of all the British Premiership managers, he is perhaps most similar to his continental peers. Perhaps lacking the polish and media profile of his old team mate at Stamford Bridge, Robert Di Matteo, his experience of working with top European players and coaches at Chelsea and Liverpool provides credibility at this level, and must make him more qualified than the likes of Di Matteo and Laudrup when it comes to exposure and experience of elite European football. It's early days for Clarke as a manager and I'm sure top chairmen will reserve judgement until he has at least a year of management under his belt, but I wouldn't blame the very biggest clubs if they had Clarke's name down on a short list when succession planning is required.
Of the remaining British managers, I can't hide my admiration for the job Tony Pulis has done at Stoke. Rather like Neil Warnock, Pulis seems to relish the combined role of pantomime villain and underdog rolled into one. To have established a club like Stoke in the Premiership is, for me, on a par with the job that maybe Harry Redknapp did at Spurs or Alan Pardew continues to do at Newcastle. It sometimes feels like Pulis has been teleported from the 80s, and I'm sure he would have looked right at home in the dug out opposite Ron Atkinson, Billy Mcneill, Graham Taylor or Bruce Rioch during that era. His methods are not admired by all, but what I really like is that he, along with his chairman Peter Coates, has improved the club each year that they've been in the top flight. In doing so, he has fulfilled the modest aspirations of all associated with the football club. Now prepared to invest to a level befitting a top half club that recently enjoyed European football, I don't think they'll ever get ahead of themselves whilst Pulis and Coates are there and that is so refreshing when you consider some of the ridiculous aspirations other clubs have, at times, publicly stated (I'm thinking chicken farmers predominantly there). Pulis' career at clubs like Bristol City, Gillingham and Plymouth hasn't necessarily prepared him specifically for the demands of the Premier League in this day and age but he has adapted to it with such success that he certainly deserves his seat at the table next to some of his more critically acclaimed counterparts.
Being a big non league football fan, I'm delighted to see Brian Mcdermott in the Premiership pitting his wits against some of the world's best. A former manager at clubs as famous as Slough Town and Woking, his calm approach and dignified manner make many warm to him. He's done a fantastic job at Reading but clearly faces a tough challenge, rather like Chris Hughton at Norwich. Regardless of how this season pans out, both Mcdermott and Hughton have, for me, better prospects for the future than the likes of Mark Hughes or Sam Allardyce. I'm not a big fan of either and I'd go so far as to say that their teams are just as likely to go down as Reading or Norwich are from what I've seen. Whilst respected, experienced managers, I really feel that Hughes and Allardyce are in a phase in their respective careers where they struggle to adapt to the demands of Premiership management today.
It might be a bold statement, but I'd rather see someone like Keith Hill or Nigel Clough given the chance to manage a modest club in the top flight. Though very different in their styles and backgrounds, I'm a huge admirer of what they've both achieved. Fans of Premiership clubs might argue that experience at the top and all the demands that go with elite football management may not, at face value at least, be suited to a character like Hill who appears to be so down to earth he could be mistaken for a supporter sat on the bus riding to a game. Perhaps it would be a step too far for two managers who are used to working to a tight budget and picking players from obscurity before developing them into established Championship footballers, but I think they are incredibly talented and astute managers.
I go back to the likes of David Moyes and Tony Pulis on this one though - they both worked at unfashionable football league clubs before they arrived and largely mastered the art of managing in the Premiership. For every fashionable, scarf wearing continental manager in the Premiership, I'd like to see at least one British ex-centre half, pumping his fist and bellowing at his players to squeeze that bit more out of them. Yes, this might be the reason why our national side cannot string two passes together - I know! (and how else would I ever make it to the promised land of the Premiership!).
All that considered, Steve Clarke may well be the hybrid model manager of the future in the British game - at ease with continental methods but also capable of capturing the very best of British footballing culture.
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