About a season ago, we at the TheHardTackle marked out 6 managers for you to keep a close eye on during the 2011-12 season. These were men who had something to prove – to their paymasters, and their players, and to themselves. Some of them found their positions suspect as they precariously teetered over the edge, while others assumed they literally had a tabula rasa – a blank slate – to start afresh.
So how did we do? Did the managers we mark out, as ones likely to experience “eventful” seasons, experience just that?
They say a week is a long time in politics. A season of football, then, might seem like an eternity for Andre Villas-Boas. He didn’t even manage to last one at Stamford Bridge while in charge of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea side and is now tipped to be Redknapp’s replacement at Tottenham. Yes, yours truly had predicted that he’d last two seasons in the Chelsea job, but that was clearly an overestimation of Villas-Boas’ capability and Abramovich’s patience.
But we’re going to pat ourselves on the back for having pointed out that his fate would’ve been sealed by Christmas time. Villas-Boas had, by then, dismantled Chelsea’s spine, entrusted the midfield with mercurial young under-performers and had managed to lose the dressing room. Teams like Arsenal, whom a physically-superior Chelsea have always had the measure of, were suddenly hammering the Blues 5-3 at home.
The Pottery Barn rule did apply, after all. Brought in to improve an unsatisfactory situation, he oversaw one of Chelsea’s worst runs of form with the Blues never managing to recover into fourth spot. The final flourish that saw them emerge Champions League winners eventually, came about as a result of a 4-1 decimation of visiting Napoli in the shadow of Villas-Boas’ departure.
We asked you to watch him “especially” in November of last year. By then, the writing was on the wall.
Gian Piero Gasperini
Enrico Preziosi, president of Genoa, once called Gasperini their Ferguson. We worried, last season that his career at Inter would mirror that of Roy Hodgson. The kind of man on a personal mission impossible, resurrecting the flagging fortunes of a club going downhill with hardly the personality required to man the helm.
When his predecessor Leonardo rescued Internazionale from the clutches of a Rafa Benitez inspired hangover, leading them to a creditable second place in the League, and still got fired by Massimo Moratti, you knew Gasperini would have his task cut out for him. His inability to settle with a preferred formation in the pre-season games was a sign of things to come.
Few managers have bitten the dust in so quick a manner. After falling to newly promoted Novara, capping off a 5-game winless streak, Inter put him out of his misery. We’re chalking this one as a good call on our part. We feared he wasn’t the man of the moment, and he proved just that. Or perhaps we jinxed him with that comparison with Hodgson.
Such high hopes for The King! Kenny Dalglish, who had so much promise as the potential savior of Liverpool, let everyone down with a mixture of puzzling tactics, poor man management and an inability to stem the decline in morale at Anfield. Few have squandered this much goodwill with little to show for it, as the former manager of Liverpool did. Kenny was supposed to keep us entertained with his soundbites aimed at Fergie.
But with little success on the field, his swagger off it became inevitably subdued. It showed in the club’s attitude as Liverpool crashed to one draw after another, with the ball flirting with the goalposts more often than it did with the back of the net.
The Luis Suarez controversy distracted Dalglish into going on the back foot. He never got back. Dalglish had seemingly become a victim of the circumstances instead of controlling them, when Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand despite indicating to Kenny that he would. It showed just how much the man entrusted with leading Anfield’s renaissance had been reduced to a pawn.
We’d marked him out as a manager to watch. But admittedly for entirely different reasons. It seems nothing ever went according to plan, for Kenny Dalglish.
Is a team still an underdog if it’s backed to the hilt by Qatari benevolence? Nobody would have expected Malaga CF, a side more comfortable lower down the table, to be contending for a Champions League spot much less seal one. When Pellegrini was tapped by Al Thani to lead his team, he was put in charge of a project which looked at building a credible alternative to the Madrid-Barcelona duopoly.
Malaga almost blew it in his first season in charge as they plunged the depths of the table. But with cash to splash around, Malaga added reinforcements in the form of Julio Baptista, Sergio Asenjo and Martin Dimichelis and reached a decent 11th spot on the League standings. With Ruud van Nistelrooy, Joaquin Sanchez, Sergio Sanchez and Jeremy Toulalan joining the side, Pellegrini proved his mettle by ensuring his side would go on to taste Champions League football for the first time in their history.
We hoped a top 4 finish wouldn’t be beyond the wildest of Arabian dreams, and we were thrilled as Pellegrini obliged. Success tends to breed even greater success, and if Pellegrini can shake the very top of the Spanish domestic league, we’re in for a rollicking next couple of seasons.
Would The Special One have been fired if he failed to bring the title back to the Santiago Bernabeu? Fortunately, that’s a question we won’t have to answer as Jose Mourinho delivered the title Madridistas have been pining for ever since Barcelona made it a habit of winning it. In the clash of leaders, Mourinho saved his head and his seat, while his Catalan counterpart Pep Guardiola walked off into the sunset, on his own terms but nevertheless cutting a sad and sorry figure.
Having seen off Jorge Valdano – the thorn in his side at Madrid – Jose Mourinho had nobody to blame if his grand experiment failed. Now, the least that will be expected of him will be to hold on to the La Liga title and drive home his point that Barcelona’s era has come to an end.
Having won the King’s Cup in his first season, and the domestic league title in his next, Jose Mourinho has proven he’s been taking the Galacticos – in the right direction – upwards, one sure step at a time. Until he moves yet again.
Predicting it could be Wenger’s last season in charge, was always going to be a bold claim. Kudos to the Frenchman for leading his team to a 3rd spot finish, despite the rule of Manchester City, the renewal of Chelsea and the rise of the Spurs. At one point, however, it did look like Wenger was staring down the barrel as Arsenal started off the season in the relegation zone.
But Wenger had a certain Dutch magician to thank, one who could allegedly score whenever he wanted. Robin van Persie single-handedly kept Arsenal’s record of uninterrupted European appearances intact even after the departure of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. With Stan Kroenke reportedly making his presence even more felt in the boardroom, Wenger would have felt the weight of expectations burden him more than in any other seasons.
We remain, however, unconvinced that Wenger would have pulled off this miracle even without fortuitous circumstances leading the way. Dalglish’s Liverpool imploded, Villas-Boas wiped out Chelsea and Redknapp’s flirting with the national team manager’s job meant the Spurs would come crashing down. Arsenal managed to make the job harder for themselves, when they should have ideally sleepwalked their way into 3rd place towards the end of the season.
So the question to be asked is – will Wenger’s success last season dissuade Arsenal from doing what’s really necessary for the club to challenge for the title?
A pretty good haul. These were men whom we’d expected would either achieve something impressive or fall incredibly short. On the whole, 3 out of the 6 managers we’d marked out as needing a close eye on them, ended up getting fired. While the other 3 achieved unprecedented success, in trying times and with the odds stacked against them.
With the advantage of retrospect, do you believe we could we have picked a better 6 to watch closely last season? Know of any other 6 managers who had more eventful seasons? Let us know.