With an international break on the cards it is the managers of many of Europe’s biggest football clubs that have dominated the headlines this week. Below is a look at the life and experiences of some of those who ply their trade in one of the most difficult and unforgiving forms of employment.
This week saw David Moyes appointed as the new manager of Real Sociedad. Well, the Club itself has announced the move even if it is yet to be agreed in writing. But Moyes has arrived in Spain to begin the next chapter of a career that stalled following a forgettable ten months at Manchester United. Moyes is taking over a team that has quite simply failed to live up to expectations. Wins over Real and Athletico Madrid hint at the potential of a side that has grossly underperformed outside these marquee match-ups.
Sociedad are one of two teams that have historically only used Basque players. While this tradition lives on at local rivals, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad has loosened the strings, sacrificing identity in the hope of improved performances on the field. This means that Moyes can search the globe for the players he wants. But he’ll only have eighteen months to do so, with his short contract in stark contrast (much like his new wage) to the one he was handed upon taking over at Manchester United. As a United fan I wish Moyes all the best. Wrong manager, wrong time is the best four word description of his tenure at Old Trafford and I hope he proves himself a world class manager in San Sebastian at Real Sociedad.
And what about the man who replaced Moyes at Old Trafford? Louis Van Gaal certainly hasn’t had things his own way. Unlike Moyes, he was given a blank cheque book and so far very few of his signings have lived up to the price tag. Angel di Maria may have come close but it could be argued that Van Gall’s two best “signings” have been reinvigorating Marouane Fellaini and promoting young defender Paddy McNair. The last may have been out of necessity and it will be interesting to see how Van Gaal manages his defenders if/when they all return to full fitness.
With the international break many pundits and commentators have had time to pause and reflect on the opening quarter of the season. For Van Gaal, he has found his record compared to that of Moyes. And it doesn’t make for pretty reading. Less points, less goals and a lower league position. Some would argue he has given United their identity back and made them more competitive against the big teams. A late equaliser against Chelsea and a valiant performance against Manchester City with only ten men are two examples. But while this may be true unless the number in the ‘W’ column grows then this argument will lose traction. Van Gaal said at the start he shouldn’t be judged during the first three months. He was quick to realise the error of his ways, later suggesting the rebuilding job might take as long as three years. This is far more time than he will be allowed. His reputation and standing in the game mean he will be granted more slack than Moyes but anything other than a top four position will be heavily scrutinised and difficult to justify given the EPL is this season’s sole focus.
Ironically, in one piece I read this week David Moyes was identified as one of the so-called winners of Louis Van Gaal’s reign. Why? Because, the theory goes, if Van Gaal is struggling so much at United, especially given the heavy investment in the squad, then Moyes’s efforts can’t have been that bad. Moyes’s success at Everton was undoubtedly the reason behind his hiring at Sociedad but the longer Van Gaal struggles at United the more forgotten Moyes’s time at the helm will become. And that can only be a good thing for him.
At the start of the 2014-2015 season life couldn’t have been going any better for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Last years FA Cup success broke the trophy drought while the signing of Alexis Sanchez was seen as one that could propel Arsenal further forward. Danny Wellbeck’s capture on deadline day was considered a shrewd piece of work and plenty, myself included, considered them favourites for the title. But Wenger’s failure to strengthen in the form of either a central defender or defensive midfielder has proved costly. And last weeks loss, after taking the lead, to Swansea has left many searching for answers. Should Wenger have called time on his Arsenal stewardship after breaking that drought and taken on a new challenge? Has Arsenal, the football club, benefited as much as it can from Wengers management and has the time for a fresh approach come? Or even been and gone? These are questions that will continue regardless of Arsenal’s performances over the next six months and to which there seems no easy answers. Exponents of beautiful football they may be but the best football doesn’t always win matches and Wenger must be more adaptive and responsive.
When Mauricio Pochettino left Southampton for Tottenham many of the Saints so-called stars also decided the time was right to jump ship. Pochettino, rightly or wrongly, obviously felt that in order to challenge for trophies he needed to move to a bigger, more powerful club. And while he joined a club that is wealthier and, over the last decade at least, has achieved consistently better results he joined one that has also mastered the art of underachieving. Pochettino may have been a year late in taking charge at Spurs. Had he had the chance to invest the enormous transfer funds made available through the sale of Gareth Bale in players of his choosing and more suitable to his style then the results might have been very different. But managers must adapt to the players at their disposal. Pochettino’s reign is still in its infancy and he has yet to get his players on the same page as he had at Southampton. One of the hottest properties in the management market, he is quickly losing his lustre.
The man chosen to replace Pochettino at Southampton was the former Feyenoord boss Ronald Koeman, and was joined by his brother, Erwin, as his assistant. Koeman has shown that it is possible to achieve immediate success both at a new club and with multiple new signings. With the cash coming in from the sale of many of the Saints most valuable players Koeman went about replacing them with players he was familiar with. Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic, signed from Feyenoord and Twente respectively, cost much less combined than the fees they received individually for the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana. Koeman has guided the Saints to second on the table and four points clear of a flagging Manchester City outfit. And while they are yet to come up against many of the other top four contenders their performances this season show that, on current form, they can match it with anyone. Koeman has moulded a team that is excelling in every Department, getting the best out of both players who have been at the club for many years and new signings. And in his new home he has the benefit of knowing that one of the world’s best youth academy’s is likely to unearth a new star in the not-too-distant future.
And finally, to another manager who makes for an interesting case study. Jurgen Klopp is the manager of Borossia Dortmund, Germany. A side that, prior to Christoph Kramer’s own goal on the weekend, has barely had a thing go right for them this season. In the league anyway. But despite their terrible start there hasn’t been a whisper of his job being under threat. Why? Two simple reasons. One: Klopp has credits in the bank and has stuck by Dortmund when he could have left for a much fatter pay check. And two: because Dortmund themselves are a far more stable club than most. Having built themselves back up after a rather considerable fall from grace Dortmund are more than aware of the benefits of stability. Klopp has proven to be one of the most tactically adept managers over the last handful of years, but his game plan requires him to have certain players at his disposal. With injuries wreaking havoc with his squad, not to mention the enforced loss of two of his sides best players to a local rival, he has been hamstrung. Klopp may not have Dortmund at their peak now but fans and management need not fear, because he has taken them to the top before and there is nothing to suggest he won’t again.