Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini, Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri. What is common amongst these established names in European and world football? Perhaps I can throw Sir Alex Ferguson into this group as well under completely different circumstances. These are all names of managers who won the English Premier League and didn’t survive much longer after that in one way or another. Not by choice, I would like to believe the first four names wanted to stay at the clubs they helped to win the league but didn’t get the opportunity.
Roberto Mancini won Manchester City’s first English Premier League title for 50 years. His name will go down in Manchester City history and folklore but I believe the disappointing defence of their title is what led to his downfall. We all know now that Sir Alex Ferguson went out and bought Robin Van Persie to address the unfortunate situation of losing the league on Goal Difference. Van Persie went on to score 31 goals in all competition to deliver Sir Alex’s crowning moment – knocking Liverpool right off their perch. He retired at the end of the season and Roberto Mancini’s exit was confirmed before the end of the season. In essence the two previous holders of the EPL were no longer in England. Manchester United won in 2010/11, Manchester City won in 2011/12 and Manchester United won it back in 2012/13.
Fast forward to 2014 and City had just stormed to their second English Premier League title under Manuel Pellegrini. Jose Mourinho would go on to win the EPL title the following season. By January 2016 Chelsea and Mourinho had parted ways after a disastrous start to the defence of their title. By February 2016 Manchester City had confirmed that Pep Guardiola would be taking over as the next manager of the club. So again two previous holders of the EPL were no longer with the clubs they helped to win the league. Manchester City won in 2013/14, Chelsea won in 2014/15.
No one needs reminding of the unbelievable story of Leicester City in 2015/16. They literally went from surviving relegation the season before with Nigel Pearson to winning the league outright under Claudio Ranieri. Leicester City dared to dream and with each passing week the dream became a reality as all the usual suspects tripped themselves up. It’s important to note that the general feeling is that Leicester City won the league because they did what they needed to do and everyone else found new and wonderful ways to make it harder to win the league. I take no credit away but the point is that Ranieri began with minimum expectations, stayed in the race to win the league and just kept doing all the right things to win the league comfortably in the end. Expectations were raised and Leicester’s defence of their title similar to Chelsea a year before that was an utter disgrace. By the end of February 2017 Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City had parted ways. So the last 5 managers to win the English Premier League have all been sacked and Sir Alex retired, making it 6 managers.
Sir Alex Fergusons sides of 2006 – 2009 were the last to successfully defend the EPL. Before that it was Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side of 2004 – 2006. Arsene Wenger has won league titles but always failed to defend the title, which was always a criticism even before his lean spell of 10 years without a trophy. So in essence only 2 managers have won back to back EPL titles, EPL as we know it today of course otherwise the likes of Liverpool and Nottingham Forest would be in this company.
What has changed though since the early days of EPL is the lack of patience amongst club owners. If you think back to the height of the Fergie vs Wenger years, there were generally only 2 clubs who could win the league. We started this season with 6 candidates who give or take had the capability to win the league. Two Manchester clubs, three London clubs, one club from Merseyside. The EPL is regarded as the most competitive in Europe and before the fans of La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga jump me I specifically referred to competitiveness and not being the best. The EPL is also the only league that doesn’t have a Christmas break, instead the fixture list becomes even more congested whilst the Spanish, Italian, German and French clubs take a much needed two week break. The EPL is also relentless and is generally considered to be the most physical of the top flight leagues in Europe.
It is emotionally and physically draining at times just being a supporter, every weekend is packed with adrenaline and drama and of course the broadcasters have mastered the art of packaging their product for consumption. It is all the factors considered above that make winning the English Premier League akin to drinking from the poisoned chalice – Win It At Your Own Risk!
Opinion Piece by Andile Qokweni