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Is Appointing Former Players as Managers the Future of the Top EPL Clubs?
The English Premier League is the most lucrative soccer league in the world. The money from the TV rights and the income from the fans are just insane. The top clubs in the country are worth billions and their value could drop or rise significantly based on the performances on the pitch.
Delivering instant results in the form of trophies and Champions League qualification is the goal of every manager. The pressure to perform right now is the reason why many bosses have lost their job so quickly.
The best clubs in England prefer to rely on proven names and you wouldn’t normally see many young coaches get the chance to lead an elite team with plenty of resources.
And yet, the English Premier League 2020-21 season is about to start and we have three of the so-called Big 6 with young managers at the helm. Mikel Arteta is the man for Arsenal, Frank Lampard is leading Chelsea, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the power at Manchester United.
None of them has previous experience as a head coach or a manager at such level. The other common trait is that all of them are former players of the clubs and that might be the key factor.
The trio has the chance to change English soccer forever this year by showing that youth can succeed at the top. If they have a successful season, the clubs might be more inclined to give their former players a chance from now on.
In this post, I explore the factors that opened the door to the three managers and what lead to their early success. I also share my opinion on how their results in the 2020-21 EPL season could change one of the best soccer leagues in the world for good.
How Arteta, Lampard, and Solskjaer Got Their Chance
If you look at the appointments of the top English soccer clubs up to 2018 or so, you would struggle to find many young managers that got a chance at the highest level in modern times. The elite teams in the country just couldn’t afford to take risks.
One could argue that Jurgen Klopp, David Moyes, and Jose Mourinho in his first sting at Chelsea fall into that category, but I don’t think that’s the case. All of them had plenty of experience and two of them had previously won big trophies.
None of that trio can compare with Arteta, Lampard, and Solskjaer. The former players had very modest CVs when they received their big opportunity which raises the question of how they got there?
The answer is simple – they were hired in a moment of crisis. Mikel Arteta was considered for the managerial position after the departure of Arsene Wenger, but Arsenal’s board decided to play it safe and hire Unai Emery.
After he failed disastrously, the executives were forced to sack him and the club was in dire straits. There was a rift between the players and the fans, Arsenal’s reputation hit rock-bottom, and the team was in the bottom half of the EPL table.
On top of that, it’s public knowledge that the Gunners don’t have a lot of money to spend. No elite manager would take the Arsenal under such circumstances and that opened the door to Arteta who was bold enough to accept the offer.
The situation was similar with Lampard and Solskjaer. The Englishman was appointed by Chelsea when the team was restricted by a transfer ban, while the former Manchester United player took charge of his former club after a number of managers failed to deliver results after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.
It’s safe to say that all three men received unique opportunities that were the result of extraordinary circumstances. If their clubs didn’t need someone to put out fires, they wouldn’t be at their current position.
Early Success and the Reasons Behind It
Getting the job and staying at it are two very different things in English soccer, especially at the highest level. The elite clubs are more than willing to act fast and sack any manager that is underperforming after a short period of time.
If you add the critical condition of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United at the time they appointed their young managers, you would expect them to struggle badly. That hasn’t been the case and it’s time to look at the reasons why.
While I understand that each manager has his unique advantages, there are two common factors that helped them early on. Let’s take a look at them.
Uniting the Fans
The pressure from the fans is one of the biggest reasons why certain managers fail to deliver results. Once you lose the supporters, the atmosphere around the club becomes toxic. Even a manager like Arsene Wenger suffered from that in his final years and we saw airplanes showing offensive messages.
One could argue that the modern fan is just too spoiled, but that’s the topic of another post. The fact is that once the crowd at your own stadium is hostile, you’re doomed.
The players feel the pressure and they get a lot of stick on social media. That affects their performance and their belief in the manager. The board also quickly loses faith and everything starts falling apart.
That’s exactly where Manchester United and Arsenal were during the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta. The situation at Chelsea wasn’t that bad, but it was certainly going in this direction.
Once the new managers arrived, they quickly united the fan base. Lampard and Solskjaer are legends at their former clubs, while Arteta has always been a fan favorite, so they didn’t have to earn the trust of the supporters from scratch.
The fans embraced them and were ready to give them enough time to turn it around. That instantly changed the atmosphere around the clubs and affected the results positively.
Winning the Players
Another big problem in modern soccer is that the players have a lot of power. The money they’re making and all the agents that are constantly whispering in their ears have changed the mentality of the modern athlete.
If you add the social media, it’s a unique situation like never before. You would often see the players turn their backs at the manager when the going gets tough. Many bosses can’t cope with stars and their demands.
But who could be better at achieving that than the people who have been on the other side? Arteta, Lampard, and Solskjaer are all successful players that were active not so long ago. They know what it’s like to be part of a top club and the athletes trust them.
As a result, they were able to quickly establish a strong bond with most of their squad members. The players are giving everything for them and that’s another reason why they have achieved good results early in their careers.
What Does the Future Hold?
I don’t want to take anything away from the three young managers, but their good start was in a way logical. They joined their club in desperate times that meant almost no expectations from anyone, lots of patience, and a very low starting point.
Their experience and reputation as former players of their respective clubs helped them unite the fans and win the players at their side. That’s how they started their careers successfully and earned more time at the helm.
The big question is what happens next. The 2020-21 season will be pivotal for all three managers. Arteta will have to get Arsenal back into the Top 4 or at least get close enough, while Solskjaer and Lampard need to narrow the gap to Liverpool and Manchester City.
If any of them fails, he might be sacked before the end of the campaign. And yet, if more than one of them delivers, we might see a change in English soccer. The top clubs might give their former legends the chance to become managers more often.
In my personal opinion, all three managers have a solid chance to make it. Arteta strikes me as a man who has the discipline and tactical intelligence to lead the best clubs out there. Lampard certainly has the soccer brain to be at the top, while Solskajer has managed to develop some of his young players and bring back Manchester United’s identity of a relentless force.
I don’t think that all three will achieve their goals and that would be hard, considering that they are in competition against each other, but I do expect at least two of them to be successful.
There are a lot of interesting storylines before the start of the 2020-21 English Premier League season, but the fate of the three young managers at the top is among the most exciting ones to me. I will be following their careers carefully and I wish them the best.
What do you think about Arteta, Lampard, and Solskjaer? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.