WFS Responds… by David GarridoThere’s a word we use in the UK which for me really encapsulates the appeal and stature of the managers we have in the Premier League: “box-office”. For me, they are like movie stars, almost as much as the players. Not just that – Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are also the producers and directors of their motion pictures, and both still in their prime. The Premier League title race and the success of English clubs in Europe this season is proof of their talents – the fact that Guardiola drove City to retaining the crown in England’s top division, something that hasn’t happened for a decade, by racking up 98 points is astonishing. What’s even harder to fathom is the fact that Liverpool, who amassed 97 points, only lost one league game all season…in fact, they’re their first team to suffer just a single league defeat and not be crowned PL champions.
More than the stats, though – it’s their attractive style and supreme coaching ability which has elevated these two to almost god-like status. Guardiola has fashioned his squad into an obscenely attractive attacking machine, and it’s not just about Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling – in the absence of Kevin de Bruyne who was out injured for spells, Bernardo Silva stepped up…and for Liverpool, this season was more about Sadio Mane than Mohamed Salah, and the emergence of two British full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, who not only helped the Reds’ defence improve significantly but also led the way with assists. Sure, both managers have enjoyed significant resources to make this happen – Liverpool’s spending on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk was key, for example – but the players are more than proving their worth…
Not that it’s just about Pep and Klopp. Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders to get his team into a Champions League final – remember that after three games in the group stage, Tottenham had just one point and were heading out. But after late goals in the next three games, then dispatching Borussia Dortmund in the last 16, a heroic quarter-final defeat at Manchester City with VAR drama to go through on away goals, and then the even more unforgettable comeback from three goals down in the second half of their semi-final second leg to knock out Ajax (away from home, again on away goals), the man affectionately known as “Poch” has defied all the odds to reach Madrid. And not that it’s all about money – with Spurs moving into their stunning new stadium, the purse strings have been tight for some time, so the club haven’t signed any players in the last two transfer windows. It simply beggars belief what Pochettino has achieved without being able to strengthen his squad.
All of the above are modern managers – they may have their own styles, but they are able to adapt, they can adopt new tactics or influences, and they are adept at reading others’ gameplans. On top of that, they are charming personalities – Klopp with his high-charged energy, Guardiola with his irresistible intensity, Pochettino with his passion and emotion. They are all assets to the Premier League, but also to football in general.
And we shouldn’t forget Arsenal or Chelsea either. Unai Emery started his love affair with the Europa League at Sevilla, lifting the trophy three times in succession with the Andalusian club, and he may well do it again with the Gunners on 29th May. Emery has the unenviable pressure of having to follow Arsene Wenger who occupied the Arsenal home dugout for all of 22 years, and he is only just starting to stamp his identity on the squad. A fascinating summer awaits at the Emirates, whereas it could be a quiet and admittedly challenging one for their opponents in Baku, Chelsea, if their two-window transfer ban is indeed confirmed. As if Maurizio Sarri hasn’t already had enough to deal with – the Italian somehow withstood the pressure to last until the end of a season in which his philosophy and tactics had been questioned, he is now likely to lose Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, and he’ll also face a battle to keep English youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi who has been the subject of several bids from Bayern Munich. Departures will be hard to stomach if Chelsea aren’t able to recruit replacements, so it’s time for more youth to be developed…
But remember that for all the assertions that the Premier League is the best in the world, this is only one season, and form is temporary but class is permanent. For English clubs to be truly heralded as the greatest on the planet, they have to sustain this success long-term. The price, as Jose Mourinho for one knows all too well, is a steep one to pay if you don’t get it right – patience can run out quickly amongst fans and at board level. So expect a reaction especially from LaLiga clubs – Real Madrid will be spending big in order to rebuild after a poor season by their lofty standards, and there may also be changes in the dressing room and the manager’s office at Barcelona as they too came up short in Europe. And talking of box-office, Diego Simeone has resisted the charms of the Premier League and Serie A to keep Atletico Madrid competitive – having already lost his captain Diego Godin, should he lose Antoine Griezmann too then “El Cholo” might decide the time is right to move on. Such a thought is terrifying for atletistas…Simeone is the glue that keeps everyone and everything together, inspiring their siege mentality.
But for now, the Premier League rules ok. They should absolutely celebrate having four finalists in the two European club competitions. The influx of money from the sale of television rights is a big reason for them being able to attract the best players, but also the best managers. Back them in the transfer market, and the manager is likely to want to stay to build a project and make his or her mark. LaLiga have woken up and smelled the coffee, so they won’t be too far behind in maximising their revenue streams… whilst the players are the headline-grabbers, being transferred for astronomic fees and commanding huge wages, in the background you can expect the battle for the top managers to rumble on.
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