The Premier League is the epitome of the global game. In the last ten years, the influx of foreign talent has been monumental to behold and beneficial to the league. It has not, however, been restricted merely to the playing personnel.
At present, three promising coaches who got their breaks coming from relative managerial obscurity are in the process of transforming their current teams with a signature style as well as substance. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino has transformed his North London Lilywhites from also-rans to title challengers for the first time in over fifty years. Southampton boss Ronald Koeman, Pochettino’s replacement at the Saints, did sterling work first to rebuild the demolition job done in the summer of 2015 and then to come through a rough patch this season to steady them once more. The aforementioned Southampton defectors are now under the stewardship of Jürgen Klopp, whose vision at Anfield is finally coming to fruition..
On the other hand, we have seen British managerial exports have their reputations brutally tarnished by torrid spells on the continent. First David Moyes and then latterly Gary Neville were spectacular failures despite both possessing more than respectable CVs. However, these experiments won’t exactly have endeared the rest of Europe to the talent on these shores. This, along with the fact that there are just 6 Brits managing permanently in the English top flight, suggest that there is an increasing marginalisation of homegrown managers, a trend capable of bankrupting the country of stellar talent.
So why has such a trend been allowed to continue? The answer probably lies in the way this country treats managers.
Statistics regarding the number of licenced coaches in the UK are bandied about a lot in comparison to other countries, and not without reason. Germany and Spain, for instance, are able to dwarf the 1,178 ‘A’ Level UEFA coaches in Britain with 5,500 and 12,720 respectively. Moreover, at UEFA ‘Pro’ level the UK is left trailing substantially with just 203 coaches — Germany have over 1,000 and Spain have over 2,000.
It’s clear, then, that there is a much larger pool of qualified coaches for those countries to choose from. The FA head of learning Jamie Houchen claimed that “In the last 10 years, England has delivered more grass-roots coaching qualifications than any other European country.” This may well be true if his touted figures of nearly 70,000 FA trained coaches are accurate — however, he does go on to say that these qualifications are unrecognised by UEFA. These Level One and Level Two pathway badges are preliminary qualifications at the bottom of a progression pyramid to the top so they mean very little in isolation. The 68,000 Level One and Two graduates won’t have a patch on those trained by UEFA standards, so it seems almost fruitless to even consider them.
But seeing as the Level One and Level Two courses are priced at just £150 and £340 respectively, they do at least have thrift going for them. The real issue for prospective coaches in the UK is that, much like the fans, they are being hamstrung by the inflated cost of football. A UEFA ‘B’ licence, the step up from the FA’s Level Two, can cost an aspiring manager between £990 and £2,450 to complete. The price in Spain and Germany? €1,100 and €430 apiece. Moreover, the UEFA ‘A’ licence, still another step below the promised land of the ‘Pro’ licence, costs a staggering £5,820 to complete. Meanwhile on the continent, coaches in Spain and Germany are able to obtain the same qualification for just €1,200 and €530 respectively.
If coaches are being forced through the administrative nuisance of Level One and Level Two courses only to be crippled by payments that dwarf their continental peers, there can be little to no hope of fixing the UK’s grassroots football institution.
What is more, coaches who do eventually make the grade face significant adversity — especially when compared to the adoration which greets young British players. While up-and-coming home-grown starlets are fawned over nationwide, there is no such preferential treatment for home-grown managers. There’s none of the loyalty or patience which the players are shown, and this can only have a negative effect on the stock of British managers.
Now, by ‘patience’, I’m not advocating giving the likes of Keith Millen or Terry Connor an extended spell — beleaguered caretakers doomed to failure — but more those who start brightly and then hit blips. This season alone has seen the demise of three managers once lauded as the future. And still they might be — but it doesn’t need saying how much managerial stock plummets after being sacked. Garry Monk’s Swansea fell from 15th to 18th after his dismissal — the first sign of trouble from this promising coach and Huw Jenkins didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Brendan Rodgers, predecessor of the aforementioned Klopp, had guided Liverpool to a palpable title challenge just two years before, yet after a difficult season and a half he, too, was shown the door. Lower down, Paul Clement of Derby County had guided Steve McLaren’s old side from 8th to 5th, pushing hard for the automatic promotion places before facing the axe in bizarre circumstances. 3 young managers, all of whom have fallen victim to the demands of immediacy and short-termism of modern football.
And while it can, and should, be said that this lack of patience isn’t just a British phenomenon, it is worth pointing out that probably the three greatest Britons ever to managed required a bedding-in period of between two and four seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankly and Brian Clough were all given time to cultivate their projects, to nurture their talent and, ultimately, to build a legacy. They had trust placed in them despite early trophyless campaigns and none of them looked back. While I’m not saying Clement, Rodgers or Monk are the next Fergie, Shankly or Clough, I am saying that the modern mindset of desire for immediate success means we’ll never know.
But I said previously, the lack of patience isn’t necessarily an issue which affects British managers — they’ve just been caught up in it. Something that does exclusively hamper home-grown coaches is elitism in the modern game. In an era where ‘overseas’ is evocative for many as something new and exciting, British managers rarely garner such enthusiasm. It’s almost taboo to suggest these managers are worthy of jobs above their station, whereas the likes of Koeman are being touted as a star already. Has Mark Hughes, for instance, not done as impressive a job at Stoke? Has he not performed extremely well, positively transforming not only the team’s personnel but also his own style of play? Football League Manager of the Decade Eddie Howe has kept Bournemouth safe on a relative shoestring budget after achieving two promotions in three seasons. Is he being linked with all the top jobs?
Indeed, Jürgen Klopp represents a valuable lesson for English clubs who suffer from the snobbish attitude towards British coaches. Following relegation with Mainz and a failed attempt at a bounceback promotion between 2006 and 2008, 13th place Borussia Dortmund took a chance on him and it paid off staggeringly well. Who is to say that there isn’t a similarly promising coach in the lower leagues whom the top flight are unwilling to take a punt on, purely on account of them not being as exciting as their European contemporaries? The likes of Lee Johnson of Bristol City, Karl Robinson of MK Dons and Gary Rowett of Birmingham have all performed admirably of late — it could well be that all they need is a chance to prove themselves in the top flight. At a time when the UK desperately needs a Klopp-esque figure, the mentality is once again holding up this breakthrough.
It’s clear that there are serious issues at both ends of the ladder — there are potential coaches at one end, struggling with their footing on the first rungs while those who’ve climbed the highest are being pushed back down by impatient owners and chairmen. Managerial careers are fundamentally different to playing careers in that they’re generally much, much longer, so if the powers that be are willing to play the waiting game, they could be able to reap the rewards of talent grown on these very shores.