5 July 2012

Premier League merry-go-round

Since the end of last season, there has been a managerial merry-go-round spinning around in the Premier League.

No fewer than six teams have changed their managers, while European champions Chelsea toyed with the idea of replacing theirs. Today, we look at all seven clubs and assess whether they've hired the next Arsene Wenger or the new Les Reed...

ASTON VILLA
Outgoing manager: Alex McLeish
Incoming manager: Paul Lambert

Aston Villa should have known what they were letting themselves in for when they hired Alex McLeish, who took Birmingham City down into the Championship, at the start of last season.

You can make all the excuses you like in support of Big 'Eck - the sales of big-name players like Ashley Young, overreliance on youngsters, the absence of Stilian Petrov - but the truth is Villa should not have finished just two points above the relegation zone. McLeish was never popular at Villa Park, and his sacking came as no surprise.

Enter the man who propelled Norwich from League One to 12th in the Premier League, McLeish's fellow Scotsman, Paul Lambert. He is just the right man to take a team that was on course for the Championship back up the table.

The young coach was a breath of fresh air in the PL last season, fielding an attacking-minded Norwich side full of hungry British players plucked from the lower leagues. With a decent transfer kitty, he can do something similar to bolster Villa's thin squad. Defensive midfielder Karim El Ahmadi could be the first of several wise acquisitions made by Lambert.

Verdict: GOOD CHOICE.

CHELSEA
Outgoing manager: Roberto Di Matteo (interim)
Incoming manager: Roberto Di Matteo (permanent)

After sacking your manager in March, his replacement gets your team back on track with an excellent run of form which culminates in the most unlikely victory in the UEFA Champions League Final. What do you do?

If you're Roman Abramovich, you sack him. Thankfully, Abramovich didn't, and Roberto Di Matteo was in fact given the Stamford Bridge reins on a full-time basis. After all, it would have been an appalling decision to dismiss a fans' favourite, and the first man in Chelsea's history to lead them to Europe's top prize.

Now, though, Red Rom has to KEEP HIM. If the going gets tough, don't tell Di Matteo to get gone. Don't tell him that he's just keeping the seat warm for Josep Guardiola. Chelsea need a stable manager to have sustained success, and the young Italian should be here for the long-term.

Chelsea don't look like Premier League title contenders yet, but Di Matteo can oversee a transitional period from the old guard of John Terry and Frank Lampard to the new breed of Marko Marin and Eden Hazard.

Verdict: GOOD CHOICE.

LIVERPOOL
Outgoing manager: Kenny Dalglish
Incoming manager: Brendan Rodgers

As far as second comings are concerned, Kenny Dalglish's at Anfield was about as successful as Kevin Keegan's at Newcastle United and the movie Grease 2.

Dalglish spent vast amounts of money on players that weren't necessarily worth it, like the £35million striker Andy Carroll. An 8th place finish led Liverpool fans to conclude that King Kenny was not the messiah, but a very bad manager.

With their one-time Kop idol gone, some fans quickly set about criticising his replacement. Of course, Brendan Rodgers doesn't warrant that, having turned Swansea City into the PL's equivalent of Barcelona. In their first season back in England's top flight, the Swans came within one goal of finishing in the top half.

Ulsterman Rodgers is another forward-thinking young coach who, if given time by Liverpool's American owners, could become a shrewd investment. If he brings in the right players to fit his tiki-taka-esque philosophy, silverware might soon be on its way.

Verdict: GOOD CHOICE.

NORWICH CITY
Outgoing manager: Paul Lambert
Incoming manager: Chris Hughton

After losing Paul Lambert to Aston Villa, Norwich needed a new manager who could achieve their next objective, namely establishing the Canaries in the Premier League.

Chris Hughton was very harshly sacked by Newcastle United in December 2010 and surprisingly replaced by Alan Pardew, although in retrospect, that was a gamble which paid dividends for the Magpies. Hughton resurfaced at Birmingham City, where he led a downbeat Blues side through choppy financial waters and into the Championship play-offs.

It was no surprise that the Premier League soon came calling, and less so that it was Norwich who wanted his services. Hughton comes across as one of the genuine nice guys in football management, and his man-management skills will be very useful at Norwich. I predict a very bright future for the boys in yellow.

Verdict: GOOD CHOICE.

SWANSEA CITY
Outgoing manager: Brendan Rodgers
Incoming manager: Michael Laudrup

On 16 May, Swansea lost their 'Swanselona' architect Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. There was a great fear that if the Welsh wonders hired the wrong manager to replace him, it would undo all of Rodgers' hard work.

In the end, they plumped for Denmark legend Michael Laudrup. Surprisingly, this is Laudrup's first stint in British football, and up until now, he has had a managerial career that has been steady but not brilliant. His most successful spells were with Brondby and Getafe.

Laudrup is held in such high esteem in footballing circles that the Swans may be able to attract better players than they previously could, and his attractive playing style is very similar to Rodgers'. They might not enjoy as much success as they did last term, but it's also unlikely that Swansea will suffer from second season syndrome, which often ends in relegation.

Verdict: JURY'S OUT.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Outgoing manager: Harry Redknapp
Incoming manager: Andre Villas-Boas

6 February 2012 might go down as one of Harry Redknapp's better days, but it won't be too fondly remembered by Tottenham Hotspur supporters.

On that day, Fabio Capello resigned as England boss. Spurs were unlikely title contenders, but with Redknapp hotly tipped to replace Capello, their form plummeted and they ultimately missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification. It was very much lose-lose for 'Arry, who didn't get the England job, and then was sacked by Spurs with 12 months of his contract left to run.

It's hard to figure out why Tottenham should sack Redknapp immediately, instead of holding onto him for one more year and then approaching Guardiola. His replacement was 34-year-old Andre Villas-Boas, who crumbled so spectacularly when faced with managing Chelsea's old guard, who weren't much younger than him.

Villas-Boas can go on to become an outstanding manager in the future, but I feel that he would have been better served managing in somewhere like Serie A before returning to England. Inter Milan would have been a perfect fit for the Portuguese.

Tottenham's decision to appoint Villas-Boas is, at the very best, a risky one. Tottenham could genuinely win the Premier League one day with him at the helm, but I fear that he'll let his ego get the better of him again. That could drive Gareth Bale and Luka Modric away from White Hart Lane, and then you'd have a real recipe for disaster.

Verdict: BAD CHOICE?

WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Outgoing manager: Roy Hodgson
Incoming manager: Steve Clarke

Roy Hodgson is the main reason why West Bromwich Albion are on their way to becoming part of the Premier League furniture instead of footballing elevators, so when he took the England manager's job, the Baggies had a big hole to fill.

The man to fill it was managerial novice Steve Clarke, who as a coach has worked alongside a number of bosses, including Ruud Gullit, Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish. He has learned his trade at several clubs, and he'll have his own plans for West Brom.

It's hard to tell whether Clarke's transition from a number 2 to a number 1 will be successful. One thing you can safely bet on is that Albion will be more sturdy in defence. The Scot is a former defender himself, and keeping things solid at the back will probably be quite high on his list of priorities.

Verdict: JURY'S OUT.

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