Mel, Magath, Manuel and some Dutchmen: The Prem's fourth wave of foreign managers
ICYMI: FFT'S FOREIGN 50
31. Paolo Di Canio (Sunderland)
- March 31, 2013 to September 22, 2013
Paolo Di Canio was never going to be a calm, forgettable manager. Always passionate and frequently controversial, the Roman attention-magnet long stated his intention to manage, notably West Ham (it’s “destiny”, apparently). He started at Swindon, earning a promotion and several column inches – imagine the lower-league press corps’ delight when that quote-machine rolled into to town – before resigning over finances.
That was in February 2013 and he’d probably have waited until the summer, but he found a club in need. Starting what has become a habit of sacking underachieving managers in either October or March, Sunderland had kicked Martin O’Neill to the kerb when seven losses in eight league games left the drop zone just a point below their quivering backsides with seven games to go. The fans clamoured for passion, and the Black Cats called for Di Canio.
Di Canio’s previously stated fascist leanings caused the immediate resignation of their vice-chairman David Miliband, but few mourned the former wannabe Labour leader when Di Canio won his second game 3-0 at Newcastle. A week later he won his first home game, and although Sunderland were promptly hammered 6-1 at Villa, Wigan were more determined to be relegated and the Black Cats survived.
However, the combustible Italian’s man-management was already being queried and the summer squad overhaul – 14 players in, 15 out – didn’t work: Sunderland earned one point from the first five league games. After a 3-0 loss at West Brom, Di Canio marched towards the Hawthorns away end giving it the chin-up gesture before exploding into the dressing room to excoriate his players, some of whom apparently went nose-to-nose with him shouting “Nobody likes you here. Nobody wants you here.” Unluckily for the Italian, the board agreed. Di Canio won three out of 13 league games and is yet to find another managerial job.
32. Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City)
- June 14, 2013 to June 30, 2016
The first non-European to win the English title had his side playing with a panache that won admirers as well as games (63 per cent in his first two seasons), and usually conducted himself with a quiet dignity
For all the accusations thrown at Manchester City fans, you can’t call them impatient. Perhaps it’s the lean years – heck, decades – that give them a much more lenient view of managers whom plenty outside the club would see as underachieving. Roberto ‘Bobby Manc’ Mancini might have been expected to win more than one league title in his three full seasons, considering he’d lifted three on the bounce with Inter and then spent £285m on incoming transfers at the Etihad, but he’ll always be a hero to the blue half of Manchester.
One title in three seasons is also what Manuel Pellegrini delivered. That his triumph happened in his maiden campaign only exacerbated the subtle subsequent sense of drift. His second season was ruined by a miserable March and April (six defeats in eight), his third and final campaign terminally torpedoed by the inevitable acknowledgement that Pep Guardiola was on his way.
That said, and for all the understandable excitement over Pep, Pellegrini will forever be the most popular Chilean in Droylsden. The first non-European to win the English title had his side playing with a panache that won admirers as well as games (63 per cent in his first two seasons), and usually conducted himself with a quiet dignity. He may well be back, and he'll be welcomed by most.
33. Gus Poyet (Sunderland)
- October 8, 2013 to April 16, 2015
They won at Chelsea, hammered Cardiff, triumphed at Manchester United and saw off West Brom to complete a ‘great escape’
The Chelsea dressing room of 1997/98 hosted a team full of managers: Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli, Mark Hughes, Gianfranco Zola, Steve Clarke, Roberto Di Matteo, Dennis Wise, Dan Petrescu and Didier Deschamps all went on to notable employment. The last (so far) to reach the Premier League was Gus Poyet; he earned his stripes lower down the leagues, leading Brighton to the third-tier title then the second-tier play-offs before leaving in acrimonious circumstances.
Having hurriedly sacked Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland made him the top flight’s first (and to date only) Uruguayan gaffer. It started badly, with a 4-0 loss at Swansea, and by mid-April – after two points from nine games either side of a League Cup final defeat by Manchester City – the Mackems were bottom of the league with a mountain to climb. But they won at Chelsea, hammered Cardiff, triumphed at Manchester United and saw off West Brom to complete a ‘great escape’.
The feelgood factor didn’t last. Poyet clashed with incoming sporting director Lee Congerton and the results didn’t improve in 2014/15. The traditional win at Newcastle, four days before Christmas, was only their third of a season which had already included an 8-0 capitulation at Southampton. In a mid-March six-pointer at home to Aston Villa, his side were 4-0 down by half-time as the stands emptied. Of his 14 wins in 62 league games, four had come in succession during one month, which sadly proved as unrepeatable as it was unforgettable.
34. Rene Meulensteen (Fulham)
- December 1, 2013 to February 14, 2014
Considered by Crystal Palace as a replacement for Ian Holloway, he was instead parachuted in to assist his countryman Martin Jol at Fulham, struggling in the drop zone
For some, the transition from bootroom coach to manager is smoothly inevitable. For some, it never comes. And for others, it’s a brief, doomed fling. So it's proven for Rene Meulensteen, one of the most highly-regarded coaches of the Premier League era, whose own leadership career never got off the ground.
Coaching since his early twenties, the Dutchman spent 12 years (either side of briefly bossing Brondby) on the Old Trafford staff, ending up as Fergie’s first-team coach. When David Moyes arrived, Meulensteen joined Guus Hiddink at Anzhi Makhachkala, soon replacing his compatriot but lasting only 16 days in the top job.
That left him free to switch back to England. Considered by Crystal Palace as a replacement for Ian Holloway, he was instead parachuted in to assist his countryman Martin Jol at Fulham, struggling in the drop zone. Within three weeks Jol was gone and a “surprised” Meulensteen was in charge.
Not for long, though. After results included a 6-0 reverse at Hull, a home FA Cup elimination by third-tier Sheffield United and four consecutive league losses, owner Shahid Khan shunted Meulensteen to one side and appointed Felix Magath. In 10 winter weeks under the Dutchman, Fulham had gone from third bottom to rock bottom, and it was time to roll the dice one last time. Having been considered but rejected for the roles of assisting Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford, then Brendan Rodgers at Anfield, Meulensteen spent two years out of the game before cropping up at Maccabi Haifa in August 2016.
35. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Cardiff)
- January 2, 2014 to September 18, 2014
For some reason, he chose Cardiff, arguably overachieving under Mackay, until the Scotsman was forced out by ‘characterful’ owner Vincent Tan
Let it not be said that Cardiff merely went for a famous name when seeking to replace Malky Mackay. Despite still resembling a teenager, 40-year-old Solskjaer had done more than loaf about on the pundit’s sofa awaiting a desperate Premier League club: the Manchester United legend had gained his tracksuit stripes coaching the Old Trafford strikers and reserves before leading his first side Molde to consecutive Tippeligaen titles.
Having politely declined successive suitors including Norway and Aston Villa to continue learning his trade, Solskjaer seemed to be sensibly awaiting the right club. For some reason he chose Cardiff, arguably overachieving under Mackay, until the Scotsman was forced out by ‘characterful’ owner Vincent Tan – much to the disbelief of fans already enraged by Tan’s controversial abandonment of the traditional club colours, repainting the Bluebirds red.
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When Mackay walked the plank, Cardiff were 15th; they finished dead last, with Solskjaer’s 18 league games yielding 12 points and just three wins. Although the Norwegian acted with quiet dignity, humour and honesty, his signings didn’t work and his defence collapsed, at one point conceding 12 goals in three games. The impeccable timing and eye for an opportunity Solskjaer had displayed as a striker completely deserted him as a manager – until he returned to Molde, where he topped a Europa League group featuring Ajax, Celtic and Fenerbahce.
Next: The Dutch trio