Johannesburg - Last weekend’s Football Association Challenge Cup final was not only a confrontation between the record title holders Arsenal and the league champions Chelsea, it was also a clash featuring two different eras of managers.
On the one side, you have the youthful, high-profile coach – the new elite, if you will – who come from Europe and look back at distinguished careers as players. On the other side, you have the coaches who are clearly in the twilight years of their careers – which, their critics say, is reflected in the way their teams play.
Chelsea’s Antonio Conte is a representative of the former, while the Gunners’ Arsène Wenger represents the latter.
Conte, who won five Serie A titles and the Champions League with Juventus as a player, has just completed his first season in England and won the league title with the Blues, while Wenger played less than 100 league games during an undistinguished career with Mulhouse and Strasbourg.
The Frenchman is 67, while Conte is 47.
Most of the others in the new generation are also on the “right” side of 50, or just about: Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola (46), Manchester United’s José Mourinho (54), Southampton’s Claude Puel (55), Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp (49), Tottenham Hotspurs’ Mauricio Pochettino (45) and Everton’s Ronald Koeman (54).
Mourinho is the exception among them in that the Portuguese national never really made it as a player, and only gained international fame and fortune once Benni McCarthy helped him to an unexpected victory over Manchester United in the first leg of the 2003/04 round of 16 Champions League, which they then went on to win.
Like Wenger, Sam Allardyce is into his 60s and, also like Wenger, his professional career as a player was nothing to write home about. Although he played close to 500 league games, only about 60 were in the first division. His accolades as a player consist of winning the second division with Bolton Wanderers and gaining promotion to the third with Preston North End.
He also made the Football League Fourth Division Team of the Year in 1987.
Of the top eight finishers in the Premier League this season, all but Arsenal were coached by members of the new elite, with the highest finish for an English coach being Bournemouth, who secured a credible ninth place under former player Eddie Howe.
Locals missing in action
To find the last local coach to win the top flight in English football paints an even drearier picture – one needs to go back to the 1991/02 season, when Howard Wilkinson took Leeds United to title honours.
This, of course, leads to the question: why is it that the successful clubs tend to appoint youthful foreign coaches?
The answer is simple – they want successful coaches, and success is measured in the trophies that are won, not in taking an unfashionable club to third place, for instance.
And as the successful clubs in England employ foreign coaches, English coaches have a tough time achieving success, which in turn means they don’t get employed by successful clubs, and so the cycle goes.
Former Manchester City player Uwe Rösler, who has coached a number of clubs, but has failed to break into the Premier League, explained it thus: “You have foreign owners, very wealthy business people [who are] investing hundreds of millions of pounds in football clubs, and they do not want to trust unproven managers”.
There is an upside, though, former Barcelona player Xavi believes.
“Foreign coaches going over there [to England] has undoubtedly helped, taking the typically English game – direct, long ball, second ball, typical number nine to bring down the ball, crosses into the box – and improved it.
“Mauricio is doing a brilliant job at Tottenham with that model. Pep at City has raised the league’s quality – he’s a game-changer. Klopp is a phenomenon”.
It seems probable that, when the old guard, including Wenger and Allardyce, are finally sent into retirement, clubs will look towards the continent, where there are already plenty of young and successful coaches waiting in the wings. Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann, Leonardo Jardim and Zinedine Zidane are just a few, and Howe seems to be the only realistic English hopeful on the horizon.