Guidolin, Garde, Guardiola and more: rounding off England's Foreign 50
41. Quique Sanchez Flores (Watford)
- June 5, 2015 to June 16, 2016
Devastating strike duo Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney also helped the Hornets to the FA Cup semi-final, but they slumped down the table after Christmas, winning four and losing 12 of their last 21 league fixtures
Employing five managers in 12 months isn’t usually a formula for success, but you can’t argue with Watford’s results. A combination of Giuseppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia, Billy McKinlay and Slavisa Jokanovic got the 'Orns promoted to the Premier League, and when Jokanovic couldn’t agree a contract the club-owning Pozzo family turned to Flores.
The genial Spaniard – son of a Real Madrid player and a flamenco star, godson of Alfredo Di Stefano – had a decent track record with middleweight Spanish clubs, including a Europa League triumph with Atletico Madrid in 2010. Although his first four Premier League games yielded just two goals and three points, his side suddenly hit form, winning eight of the next 14 games to be seventh at Christmas.
Were it not for the headline-hogging Leicester City, Watford’s would have been the story of the season. Devastating strike duo Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney also helped the Hornets to the FA Cup semi-finals, but they slumped down the table after Christmas, winning four and losing 12 of their last 21 league fixtures to finish a safe but disappointing 13th. Announcing a mutual split before the final game, Flores said “I love the Premier League, it has been an amazing experience, but in football you never know what is next”. In his case, it was Espanyol.
42. Slaven Bilic (West Ham)
- June 9, 2015 to date
He stayed with his country until 2012, then took a couple of surprising turns to Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas before replacing Sam Allardyce at Upton Park
The only surprise about Slaven Bilic’s arrival as a Premier League manager was that it took so long. As elegantly watchable off the field as he was on it, the classy Croatian had long been tipped to return to the country in which he had represented West Ham and Everton; managing his national team at the age of 38, he outfoxed Steve McClaren to bar England from Euro 2008.
Immediately linked with West Ham (they went for Franco Zola instead), he stayed with his country until 2012, then took a couple of surprising turns to Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas before replacing Sam Allardyce at Upton Park. Warmed up by a Europa League pre-qualification campaign starting on July 2, the Hammers hit the Premier League ground running with a 2-0 win at Arsenal, one of six victories in their opening 10 league games.
Despite a lull before Christmas, Bilic’s brand of expansive and tactically astute attacking won seven out of 11 games in an excellent post-festive run which raised hopes of Champions League qualification in the final season at the Boleyn Ground. In the end, despite their best Premier-era points total and highest finish since 1999, two defeats in the final three games condemned the tired team to seventh place and another early Europa start – but with a savvy gaffer and a huge new Olympic Stadium, the sun may be rising over east London.
43. Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
- October 8, 2015 to date
Although the Reds finished eighth in the Premier League, their record over Klopp’s 30 league games was only three points shy of the Champions League pace
After spending five years under three successive UK-born gaffers (Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers) Liverpool returned to the foreign model that they'd used for most of the century’s first decade. One of Europe’s most sought-after coaches following his eye-catching renovation of Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Norbert Klopp had previously been linked with Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City among others, but Liverpool were the right club at the right time when they fired Rodgers five months after Klopp left BVB.
The new man had the CV Liverpool needed: under his aegis, Dortmund had gone from domestic underachievement and subsequent European isolation to consecutive Bundesliga title winners and Champions League finalists. He also had the kind of sparky personality that often plays well at Anfield, especially after the somewhat unloveable Rodgers.
Although far from perfect, his first season showed easily enough promise to put him on the right side of the line that separates the lovable joker from the tragic clown. Liverpool reached the finals of the League Cup and Europa League, the latter via a fairy tale three-goal comeback at Anfield against (of course) Dortmund. And although the Reds finished eighth in the Premier League, their record over Klopp’s 30 league games was only three points shy of the Champions League pace, while the absence of European distraction should assist a concentrated domestic push to reach the top four.
44. Remi Garde (Aston Villa)
- November 2, 2015 to March 29, 2016
Garde’s points-per-game return was among the 10 lowest in Premier League history, and symbolised a season so poor that few clubs may ever have the misfortune to suffer a similar fate
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Remi Garde. An Arsene Wenger protege earmarked for coaching long before hanging up his boots, Garde had nevertheless underwhelmed at Lyon, barely managing a 50 per cent win rate and winning just the French Cup before being drummed out overseeing l’OL’s two lowest finishing positions since 1998.
Still, a job’s a job, especially in the Premier League. And Villa were in a right state by early November, with four points in 10 games under Tim Sherwood. Surely it couldn’t get worse? Technically, it didn’t – Garde collected 12 points from 20 league games. But by the time the Frenchman was sent packing in late March, the club was in total disarray, clinging on to Premier League status only by the mathematics of improbable possibilities.
The summer signings had almost universally flopped, but because the owner wanted out, the club didn’t want to spend money in January. The manager criticised the board and the players, alienating the brightest young hope (Jack Grealish) for partying after a 4-0 loss. The Player of the Season award was cancelled, for lack of candidates and fear of protest. The fans were understandably horrified; even the manager’s inevitable sacking took days on end among contract negotiations. After 28 seasons, Villa left the top flight in record-breaking disarray. Garde’s points-per-game return was among the 10 lowest in Premier League history, and symbolised a season so poor that few clubs may ever have the misfortune to suffer a similar fate.
45. Francesco Guidolin (Swansea City)
- January 18, 2016 to date
Ashley Williams had to Google him, but the sexagenarian oversaw a 25-point haul from 16 games – more or less European-qualifying pace – as the Swans rose from the fringe of the relegation battle to the top half
For an exciting few moments back there, it looked a lot like Swansea might replace Garry Monk with Marcelo Bielsa, which would be a bit like swapping Philip Hammond for Hugo Chavez. As it turned out, despite Swans chairman Huw Jenkins trekking to South America to get his man, Bielsa – who had quit Marseille after one game and would later leave Lazio after two days – proved elusive, and the Jacks turned to an experienced Italian instead.
After a quarter of a century coaching a dozen or so Italian teams (plus Monaco), Guidolin had stepped away from the touchline to become technical advisor to the Pozzo family’s chain of clubs, at the time including Watford, Udinese and Granada. Club captain Ashley Williams had to Google him, but the sexagenarian oversaw a 25-point haul from 16 games – more or less European-qualifying pace – as the Swans rose from the fringe of the relegation battle to the top half.
It wasn’t all great: most of the wins were by single-goal margins which the team rarely looked comfortable defending, while there were heavy defeats to Leicester and even Newcastle. He also seemed overly attached to a midfield diamond which rarely shone. But the results and his quiet dignity were enough for Jenkins to extend his contract for another two years despite rumours about Brendan Rodgers and that man Bielsa.