Man Utd’s pursuit of Erik ten Hag highlights curious trend of big six clubs shunning Premier League managers


The weirdness of Manchester United’s managerial search is not the battle lines drawn between those who want Erik Ten Hag and those who persist with the opinion that Mauricio Pochettino is made for the job, but that these were the only two apparent options and both reside abroad.

You’ll have your own exact number, but we can all agree that there are a multitude of current Premier League managers who are more tactically astute than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or offered more evidence that they can reorganise a club more quickly than Ralf Rangnick.

That is broadly typical of the Premier League. Of the current managers, only three were appointed directly from British clubs, none of whom are English – Graham Potter from Swansea and Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard from Rangers and Celtic. The rest were either out of work or appointed from abroad.

It wasn’t always this way. In the first decade of the Premier League, movement between top-flight clubs was far less rare: Glenn Hoddle (twice), Mike Walker, Bruce Rioch, Alan Ball, Stewart Houston, George Graham and Paul Jewell all did it, many in midseason. But that has dried up over the last 15 years.

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Only one manager in the last 12 years has moved in midseason from one Premier League club to another (Alan Pardew from Newcastle to Crystal Palace in 2014). Tottenham did appoint Nuno after he left Wolves, but even then he was at least their fourth choice. This season, Dean Smith joined Norwich City a matter of days after being dismissed by Aston Villa.

The same is not true abroad. Two of Barcelona’s last five head coaches – Luis Enrique and Ernesto Valverde – were effectively promoted from other La Liga clubs. Recently in Germany, Marco Rose has gone from Borussia Monchengladbach to Borussia Dortmund, Adi Hutter from Frankfurt to Monchengladbach and Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig to Bayern. In Serie A, Fiorentina appointed Spezia manager Vincenzo Italiano last June. In France, a swap: Montpellier appointed Olivier Dall’Oglio from Brest and Michel Der Zakarian made the opposite journey.

Why is this? This is not just about nationality, even if Sean Dyche and Sam Allardyce might want to suggest reverse xenophobia in the treatment of British coaches. We – or at least our clubs – simply struggle to comprehend managers stepping up. Were Klopp and Guardiola to leave Liverpool and Manchester City, it is possible that Gerrard and Arteta may be primed but they are perceived as romantic choices based on historic relationships rather than Premier League CVs. More likely is that they go for the biggest names from other European leagues.

And that feels…totally reasonable. There exists stratas within the English top flight, reinforced partly by history but mainly by vast financial inequality that we simply cannot envisage managers moving between those stratas. And it becomes self-fulfilling: the longer elite Premier League clubs go without promoting from within, the less likely it is to happen.

Naming the most overachieving managers in the Premier League this season according to preseason expectations and budgets is relatively easy: David Moyes, Thomas Frank, Graham Potter, Bruno Lage. Each has a glass ceiling on their promotion that ends abruptly below the Big Six.

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Perhaps we are right to be wary; these clubs really are different. Potter and Arteta may be roughly tasked with the same mission – building a club from the bottom up to take their clubs into new eras – but the circumstances (pressure, expectation, budget) are very different. The two most obvious examples from the last decade (Moyes at Manchester United and Nuno at Tottenham) went spectacularly badly.

Instead, we have created a cabal of super managers who play a game of continuous musical chairs in which they have a small number of clubs they would countenance managing and a cabal of super clubs who have a small number of managers they would countenance appointing.

Any new addition to the game comes from a lesser-ranked European league – Portugal, Holland, France. Nobody is saying that Potter, Hasenhuttl, Frank or Lage would succeed at Manchester United, nor even that they should be appointed. It’s that merely linking them with that job now strikes as an entirely alien concept.

Man United made an expensive mistake by not hiring Antonio Conte

By Pete Hall

Spurs have won six of their past seven Premier League games under Conte (Photo: Reuters)

It could have been all so very different, had Manchester United appointed the man so perfect to revitalise a talented but unmotivated group of players.

Antonio Conte was available, would have cost nothing, and had he been given a choice between United and Tottenham, there surely would have been only one winner. The club, however, felt Conte “did not fit” their long-term strategy. Even if it is never in Conte’s remit to stick around for a decade, he would certainly have placed United in a better league position than they are in now.

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As an alternative, United essentially wrote off this season by appointing an interim who excelled in other roles rather than that of a manager, having not even coached a team since 2018-19, and, as a result, they are now staring at the prospect of missing out on next season’s Champions League at Conte-led Tottenham’s expense.

The bewilderment does not end there. Ralf Rangnick was hired with a view to him taking a consultancy role alongside the current director of football, John Murtough, next season. Instead, sources have told i that the German will only work “a few days a month” next term, and has no say in who the next manager will be.

That means United possess one of the most transformative sporting directors in the modern era at the club, but will not use his knowledge, instead having former midfielder Darren Fletcher, new to the role this year, assist Murtough. Only at United.



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