Who is the best player in the Premier League – Wayne Rooney or Didier Drogba? With both strikers in red-hot form, it appears a two-horse race for the PFA Player of the Year award is already a forgone conclusion.
But what about the scarfed tacticians and track suited gaffers on the sidelines? History tells us The Manager of the Year award traditionally goes to whoever guides their team to the title. 15 of the 16 awards presented since the Premier League’s inception have gone to league-winning managers, but is this outcome really as predictable as a Rory Delap throw-in?
No team has ever won four consecutive top-flight titles in England and if Alex Ferguson is to alter this fact he will have to do it the hard way. He has always developed his United teams in cycles, but the current crop of players at Old Trafford suggests a team coming to the end of its cycle. Cristiano Ronaldo has already left, Chris Smalling’s arrival in June is expected to pave the way for Nemanja Vidic’s exit and it is difficult to see Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin Van der Sar playing beyond the end of next season. Add to this the turmoil surrounding the club’s finances and you could actually be forgiven for feeling sorry for Fergie.
But Manchester United have a fear factor about them no other team comes close to. Last week Aston Villa faced a 10-man United side for the entire second-half. You might argue that a team with ambitions of breaking into the top four would see this as an opportunity to claim all three points and send out a warning sign to the teams around them. However, this didn’t happen and I don’t think it was because Aston Villa are young, naïve or inexperienced, but rather because United have a scary history of defying the odds.
If Sir Alex can secure a record consecutive fourth league title, thus surpassing the 18 league titles record currently shared with Liverpool, then the Manager of the Year award will surely also be his for a fourth consecutive year.
What an incredible season it has been so far for Chelsea’s Italian manager. Top of the Premier League, cruising in the FA Cup and strong contenders for the Champions League. Ancelotti also appears to be taking John Terry’s misdemeanours in his stride, although repeatedly plugging his ears when the topic is mentioned might be quite amusing. Some may argue that inheriting a team of world-class players and getting them to perform is not a difficult task. But Ancelotti has near enough the same bunch of players Guus Hiddink and Phil Scolari had at their disposal – only they didn’t win the league.
Ancelotti resisted the temptation to dip into Abramovich’s piggy-bank despite a proposed transfer ban looming over Stamford Bridge following the fallout of Gael Kakuta’s transfer from Lens. This appears to have galvanised the squad and players such as Florent Malouda, Michael Ballack and Deco, who have previously flattered to deceive, actually look interested in pulling on a Chelsea shirt. Instead of criticising Drogba for his injury antics, critics are lauding him for his strength and power, and even Nicolas ‘Le Sulk’ Anelka has been caught smiling on the odd occasion.
If Chelsea go on to lift the title then credit, along with the Manager of the Year award, must surely go to Ancelotti and his man-management skills.
In 2001 George Burley became the first and only manager to be crowned Manager of the Year who had not won the Premier League. That season, Burley guided Ipswich to a fifth place finish, securing a UEFA Cup spot for the Tractor Boys upon their return to the Premiership.
Avram Grant is not going to lead Portsmouth to fifth place and European Qualification via the FA Cup is unlikely to be at the top of his agenda. But if in the next 13 games he can rescue the side six points adrift at the foot of the table and eight points from safety then he will have done so with his hands and feet tied behind his back.
This might leave him physically unable to collect the Manager of the Year trophy, but he will be a worthy winner having been unable to buy players and seeing his best players sold against his will.