The very Scottish Paul Lambert was asked to grab his things by Aston Villa on 11th February after a 2-0 loss to the usually dependably-ragged and beatable Hull City on the previous night. This left Scotland without a representation in a primary managerial capacity in England’s top league since all the money started rolling in with Sky in 1992. Tim Sherwood may display the stereotypically Scottish-esque behaviour of a king of the manor-type, angry, bring-it-all-on-at-once man…but he is far away from being a Scot.
Interestingly, in the not-so-long-ago past of 2011, there were an eyebrow-raising seven Scottish managers (over one third of the league) operating at England’s highest footballing league level, and ironically, Lambert was one of these…only he was employed by Norwich rather than Villa. However, the quandary is not as otherwise reported on varying sports channels of where have all the Scottish EPL managers gone, but WHY have all the Scottish EPL managers gone?
Upon digging a little deeper into the matter, the mist begins to clear somewhat. With regards to the afore-mentioned modern day high of seven EPL managerial Scots in 2011, the list read as follows:
- Aston Villa (Alex McLeish)
- Blackburn Rovers (Steve Kean)
- Bolton Wanderers (Owen Coyle)
- Everton (David Moyes)
- Liverpool (Kenny Dalglish)
- Manchester United (Alex Ferguson)
- Norwich (Paul Lambert)
For Scotland, with a population of over 5 million people, compared to over 50 million in England, this was an incredible development. Even more so because each of the above were born within 13 miles of Glasgow’s city centre. However, this total of seven was shown to be a positive blip rather than the norm when each candidate and their circumstances are considered.
Alex McLeish was on a hiding to nothing right from the beginning, having managed (and won the League Cup with) Aston Villa’s lifelong cross-city rivals, Birmingham City, in the previous season. His appointment began with a fan’s protest in 2011, and ended with a collective sigh of relief only 11 months later in May 2012. McLeish currently manages Genk in the Belgian Pro league.
With Steve Kean’s reign at Blackburn Rovers, there were three main issues: a proven, if unexciting, manager had been sacked (Sam Allardyce), a virtual unknown (Steve Kean himself) was promoted from the coaching set-up…and Venky’s still had the last business say for the club they gained control of in late 2010. Only recently, in Gary Bowyer’s charge, have Blackburn began to show signs of emerging from what can only be seen as one of the darkest periods in their history. Nobody was arguing Steve Kean’s qualities as a man, and the vitriol aimed at him during his tenure was shocking, however, he was clearly out of his depth, best shown by the football on the pitch which was dreadful. Kean now manages a league team AND the national team in Brunei.
Owen Coyle (born in Scotland despite playing for Ireland courtesy of his ancestors) enjoyed a strong first season at Bolton Wanderers in 2010, yet was charged with the difficult triple-whammy of reducing a wage bill, altering the direct footballing approach so ingrained in Bolton’s DNA from the Sam Allardyce (and Gary Megson) era, and bringing through the youngsters. Things soon started to unravel for Coyle, who always had the (potentially patriotic) backing of another on our list, the unique Sir Alex Ferguson. Coyle was asked to leave his role in October 2012, post-relegation from the EPL in the previous term, and claiming only 3 wins from the first 10 league games in the Championship. He now manages Houston Dynamo in the MLS.
At Everton, David Moyes could not do a Sir Alex Ferguson and stay for a quarter century, could he?? No, he could not. Despite David Moyes 11 year reign at Goodison Park from 2002-2013, and the undeniably steady job which he carried out, there were always dissenters along the way. Yes, his football was pragmatic as that was his style…play safe, play the systems you know, play to your team’s limited strengths. Make it hard for the other team to score, then you have a good chance of walking away from a game with one point, maybe three. However, Moyes was rumoured to be the 16th best paid manager in the world at the time, and with Goodison Park attracting 30000-plus per game, the budget may have been tighter than some, but he was still able to bring in Bilyaletdinov (£9m), Mikel Arteta (£2m), Andrew Johnson (£8.6m), Yakubu (£11.25m) and Joleon Lescott (£5m) amongst many skillful others along the way. So he may have been on a tight budget, but if you speak to West Brom or Hull or Derby fans around during this time, they would not be impressed with your complaints. Moyes currently takes charge of Real Sociedad in La Liga.
Then we have the biggest playing legend of them all, Kenny Dalglish. Widely recognised as Scotland’s best ever player, and one which they have not seen the likes of since. An absolute footballing genius. Dalglish took control of Liverpool, his club, for a 2nd time (the first being 1985-1991) in January 2011. The following Summer, he was gone. Although a great manager in his day, unfortunately his managerial ‘day’ had passed. This was most evident with his handling of the Suarez-racism storm with the homemade t-shirts, spending £70 million on the English trio of Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson (who are all good players, yet not close to £70m worth), and generally inconsistent performances of the team during his time in charge. There were high points, most notably the signing of Luis Suarez, winning the League Cup and stealing £50 million from Chelsea for the services of Fernando Torres. However, sometimes managers belong to an era, and his previous two managerial stints before Liverpool showed signs that he belonged to a different era, with ill-fated periods at Newcastle United (January 1997-August 1998) and Celtic (a short February-June 2000). Dalglish currently enjoys the role of a non-executive director at Liverpool.
The 6th Scottish manager at this chosen time just happened to be the best manager of the modern era when judged on silverwear, longevity of the reign, general handling of the club plus the building of an identity/brand…Sir Alex Ferguson. He was the mainstay on such a list as discussed for years, however, despite a false-start of a retirement in 2002, when he finally moved on in 2013, he was a 71 year old man that left behind a distinctly average team which would require years of rebuilding he was not willing to offer. Ferguson currently acts as an ambassador for the club he managed for so many years.
Lastly, it comes to the man of the moment, Paul Lambert, who was employed by Norwich at the time. Despite his acrimonious departure which involved heavy flirting with Aston Villa before quitting his role to push through his wants, Lambert will surely be fondly remembered by the majority of Norwich fans in long memory due to the unexpected success of his tenure. He gained consecutive promotions in 2009/10 and 2010/11, taking the team into the big time of the Premier League. They proceeded to finish 12th in the Premier League in their first season. When the short length of tenure is taken into account along with the limited budget, this was an extraordinary feat. However, the lure of one of England’s old big clubs, Aston Villa, was too much for Lambert, who could not seem himself progressing the Norwich team any further than he already had. Although Norwich fans were angered at the nature of his departure, there was surely a deep sense of appreciation for the good times he had brought back to the club during his 3 years in charge. As we have recently learned, Paul Lambert was sacked by Aston Villa last week, and is currently being touted for a role in the Borussia Dortmund set-up.
So, after weighing up the state of play in the heady days of 2011, and the stars that aligned to allow for the development of this state of play, it was clearly not going to last given many of the appointments were already on the proverbial shoogly peg when the count was taken.
Thought of the day…what odds would the bookmakers have been offering on Alex Neil on being the lone Scottish manager in the EPL next season? ‘Who is Alex Neil’ you might say? If I were not a fan of the Scottish game myself, then perhaps I would not know. However, I do know him as the young yet old (and angry) looking pint-sized gentleman appointed as Neil Adams’ replacement at Norwich on 9th January 2015. Scotland now boast a mere total of 10 managers in English league football, but Norwich are arguably best-placed tomake amendments by reaching the EPL. Adams left Norwich 7th in the table upon his departure, and they have edged up to 6th after 1 defeat in 7 games since the arrival of the new manager. They are looking good for a playoff place if the current good feel and form continues, which is the start which may lead to a promotional end. It started with Aston Villa, it may end with Norwich.