As the pre-season transfer market gathers momentum, the game of managerial musical chairs finally came to a halt in plenty of time for pre-season training, the music stopping to find all the hot seats occupied, some by the usual suspects to go with some young pretenders to the managerial crown, all under the same pressure to win, achieve, consolidate or survive according to expectations.
For the first time in history, the top three teams from one season all start the following season under fresh management, with Sir Alex’s replacement by David Moyes leaving Arsene Wenger as the longest serving manager in the league by a remarkable 14-year margin over Alan Pardew who has been at Newcastle since the relatively distant days of December 2010. Of the remaining 18 premier league managers, only Martin Jol, having survived at Fulham for two full seasons now, was managing his current team in the Premier League at the end of the 2011-12 season. Indeed, Brendan Rogers is now already the sixth-longest serving manager at his current club, remarkable when you think he was still Swansea’s blue-eyed boy only 15 months ago.
One of the new boys, of course, is the self-acclaimed Special One, and his re-appointment at Chelsea’s helm will brighten the league with his charisma and enigmatic sound bites, while reporters will no doubt also be clamouring for similar tasty morsels from the combined eclectic wisdom of Messers Holloway and Di Canio.
Many of the remaining regular managerial journeymen’s report cards speak of satisfactory progress at smaller clubs but with limited success. Multi club managers like Pardew, Allardyce, Jol, Bruce, Hughes and even Moyes have basically won varying degrees of nothing, supporting solid management skills with honest endeavour but sans silverware. Roberto Martinez’s glaringly isolated cup success sadly coincided with Wigan’s valiantly-opposed if long-overdue demise to championship obscurity.
Of course the main reason for this merry-go-round of success and mediocrity is self-perpetuating. Just like the best jockey gets to ride the best horses, so the best coaches get to manage the big clubs. Our Special One earned his stripes at Porto, since when he has been blessed with the kind of unlimited resources at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid that the above mentioned managers could only dream of. Manchester City’s re-emergence into the Big Four limelight at Liverpool’s expense was fast-tracked by seemingly unlimited buying power, and this now appears to be the accepted code for instant and sustained success.
In 21 Premier League seasons, with the exceptions of Blackburn in 1995 and the resurgent moneybags Manchester City in 2012, there have been just three champions, Manchester United (13 times), and Arsenal and Chelsea (3 apiece). If you throw Liverpool into the Big Four, then you find that in those same 21 seasons, these four clubs have occupied one of the top four positions on 63 of the possible 84 occasions (Man Utd all 21, Arsenal 18, Liverpool and Chelsea 12 each). Of the remaining 21 top four finishes, Newcastlle’s five successes heads the list, with Manchester City and Leeds United (remember them?) enjoyed three apiece. Blackburn, Villa and Spurs notching 2 each, with Everton, Nottingham Forest and Norwich enjoying singular success, the latter two only in the Premier League’s inaugural season.
There has been similar domination in the FA Cup since the inception of the Premier League. Despite the flirtations of many aspiring finalists, only Everton (1995), Portsmouth (2008), Manchester City (2011) and Wigan last year have wrenched the coveted cup from the clutches of the original Big Four during those years.
Success breeds success of course, and there is only so much to go around, and simple maths says for every league winner, there has to be 19 losers, or at least 15, if you want to class the qualifiers for the Champions League and Europa League as quasi-winners. If it could be practically possible for every club to be of equal value, ability and class and all coached to identical tactics and standards, there would still be one team in first place and three going down, no matter how closely fought the campaign. As it is, we are left with three divisions within a division, made up of half a dozen Champions League contenders, half a dozen perennial Premier league survivors, and the remainder who are forever looking over their shoulders at the Championship abyss.
Happily, despite its continual three-tiered structure, the magic of the Premier League remains alive and well and beloved by players, fans and pundits alike. Like a golfer standing on the first tee hoping this will be the day that everything clicks with every drive going straight down the middle and every putt finding the hole, come 17th August every fan will be full of that same boyhood optimism, that this will be their season, that the top prize can be theirs, that a European place can be achieved, that an easy season without a nerve-jangling relegation dogfight can be enjoyed.
Only time will tell, and the saying goes that there’s always next season. Well, this is it.