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3 February 2021

How, after Frank Lampard’s sacking, English managers can get back to the top of the Premiership

Top players don't often make top managers, so Ingerlanders shouldn't look to Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard next. 

By Hunter Davies

A nation mourns. Well, the Chelsea part has been. The Blessed Frank Lampard, a club legend, icon, probably even an influencer, has departed, exited, deceased as Chelsea manager. So sad. I nearly woke up my tortoise to share the bad news.

I looked back in my long-legged memory and tried to remember the last English manager of Chelsea. There has been the odd English caretaker, such as Ray Wilkins, between real managers, but looking back over the last 25 years or so, Chelsea has had 20 different managers – and all of the full-timers have been foreign. Before Frank, the last English one was Glenn Hoddle. He got the push in 1996.

We Ingerlanders hope that Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney will become a top Prem manager. Fat chance. None of the present top teams has an English manager, who are all lurking at the bottom. So Stevie and Wazza might make it at Sheffield Utd one day.

What about Rodgers at Leicester and Moyes at West Ham, who are both doing well? Good try, but no coconut. One is Northern Irish, the other a Scot.

So why are there no English-born managers at the top clubs? And what do you need to be a good Prem manager anyway?

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1) Foreign. Mans City and Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton, Spurs, Chelsea – our elite English sides all now have elite non-English managers.

2) Male. When did a woman last manage in the Prem? They should aim for assistant ref instead. Oh, hold on, only one female assistant at a time, and the job is presently held by Sian Massey-Ellis.

[See also: Penning an ode to Scott Parker, a manager from another age, and other distractions]

3) Hair. I can only think of one baldie who has made it – Pep Guardiola, but he was clever. He started shaving it when he was still playing, making it hard to tell if it was style or substance. I’m worried about the new bloke at Chelsea, Tuchel. He is thinning already.

4) Character. Helpful, but not essential. Otherwise, Gareth Ainsworth, manager of Wycombe Wanderers, with his long hair, leather jackets, and duties as lead singer of the rock band Cold Blooded Hearts, would be managing Arsenal.

5) Decisiveness. Essential. You don’t want a manager who faffs about and changes formations all the time. Being decisive, though, is a facade. Just make a decision, any decision, come on, hurry up. Lawyers, doctors, editors, politicians, managers, they do it all the time.

6) Experience. Managing is different from playing. You have to have worked for around ten years, as a coach or assistant, to learn the job. And learn about yourself.

7) Modest playing career. Top stars often don’t make top managers. It seems to need some degree of unfulfilment – a playing career stuck in the lower divisions or ruined by injury, or never really having kicked a ball, as with Mourinho. Failure can be such a spur.

8) Nice. You’re joking. They’re all bastards – obsessive, bad-tempered, self-centred, workaholics. Oh, I do hope Ole Gunnar Solskjær wins the league some time. Would be nice to have someone who appears nice do nicely for once.

9) Well dressed. Brian Clough, what a scruff he was. And that Bielsa, please, even the charity shops won’t take his cast-offs. But a little bit of style does help, if only as identification, like Malcolm Allison with his fedora. Pep used to have immaculate narrow trousers and lovely designer jackets but seems to have lost interest this season.

10) Well spoken. That Gareth Southgate, you would like your daughter to marry him. But England manager is a PR role. He has to look solid, like the man from the Pru or the new vicar. Hence the waistcoats. Prem managers can get by grunting, having a strong regional accent, or even never speaking English. When Pochettino was at Southampton, I don’t think we ever heard him speak English. Now at PSG, he probably speaks English all the time, just to confuse the French press.

11) Er that’s it. There’s no need to say successful managers need good players, good clubs, good owners, good staff, good coaches, good luck, good health and a good wife. You knew all that…

This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy