New mangerial hires come with risks
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in a football club boardroom. Such is the cult of the manager in modern day football that the choice of a new one has become weighted down with risk and responsibility. For any board, the decision whether to appoint a successor who brings something wildly different to his predecessor -- or someone who won’t rock boats and prefers to tread with a gentle step -- is a major question.
Now, just imagine the weird combination of strain and relief that filled the air in Sunderland over the weekend. Sunderland’s owner, Ellis Short, is now seeking his second manager in six months after it became clear that Paolo Di Canio had run out of ideas. The interesting thing is that when you rewind six months, Di Canio clearly seemed like the brightest of ideas at the time within the boardroom. Di Canio was the man who evidently ticked more boxes than anyone else. The fact there were a whole load of other, riskier boxes, which were overlooked, took its toll in the end. It’s safe to say that Sunderland will probably plump for something that contrasts with Di Canio because, let’s face it, there are not too many out there similar to the emotionally hair-raising Italian.
Glancing around the number of Europe’s elite clubs who are bedding in new coaches, just two deserve to feel particularly satisfied with the early signs. Neither are in the Premier League.
Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo's partnership helped Manchester City defeat Manchester United on Sunday (Image: WhoScored.com).
There are only three clubs who can boast a perfect record so far in their opening league and Champions League games, and two of them are under new management -- the Barcelona of Gerardo "Tata" Martino and the Napoli of Rafael Benitez.
In Spain, Barcelona have won their first five La Liga matches, and this statistic brings a good omen as each time they have done so in the past they have gone on to win the title. So far, the Argentine manager is making an encouraging impression.
Benitez is stirring things up nicely in Serie A. Napoli’s blistering start to the season suggests last season’s runners-up are in the mood to push themselves even higher. The Spanish coach tried to keep things cool after a notable win away at AC Milan. “We were at 72 percent, we are now at 73 percent. However we can still improve,” he said, enticingly.
Whilst the king-makers of Barcelona and Napoli can feel justifiably excited about life under their new coach, perhaps the happiest directors in the whole of Europe this weekend enjoyed a perfect sky blue day at Manchester City. A walloping victory over the neighbors, Manchester United, achieved with such power and panache, set an extraordinarily high benchmark for what Manuel Pellegrini’s team can do.
The decision to replace Roberto Mancini, who had overseen the breakthrough into the big-time and a place at the top of the English game for the first time in over four decades, was a complex one. In seeking an improvement they went on record saying they wanted a manager to take care of a more “holistic” approach.
Quite what that meant was anybody’s guess, but City’s combination of Abu Dhabi ownership and Spanish technical direction led them to the door of Pellegrini, a Chilean gentleman who likes his football to do the talking for him. Pellegrini is a more subtle leader than Mancini. He tends not to speak in dramatic terms, or allow himself to get involved in the soap opera and snappy sound-bites of English football.
City’s Chief Executive Ferran Soriano set clear the aims for the club Pellegrini joined over the summer. Five trophies in five years is on the agenda. “The squad we have is capable of winning the Premier League and is not a squad that should be kicked out at the group stage of the Champions League,” noted Soriano. The stakes are high.
There were a few sharp questions when Pellegrini watched his team falter in his first two away games at newly promoted Cardiff and mid-table Stoke. It was obvious that both new Manchester managers were under the microscope for the derby, and Pellegrini sailed serenely through his first major examination in English football. His body language in celebration of the four peaches of goals his team racked up in just 50 minutes was that of a comfortable, contented man. He just shook his fists and smiled broadly. It wasn’t all about him. It was simple pride in the development of the team.
What City produced was quite some show of force. All over the pitch their players excelled and the collective result was scintillating and devastating. The three new players seemed to fit perfectly into the bigger picture approach -- Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas contributed excellent assists, and Fernandinho dovetailed superbly with an inspired Yaya Toure. Samir Nasri, who has been erratic in City colors, was electrifying enough at times to look like a new player.
All in all it was a great example of gentle, subtle management, integrating a few new players and new ideas to a bunch of top professionals, to give an enhanced all round picture.
Naturally, such a happy Pellegrini could only mean one thing for the new manager in the other dugout: David Moyes is feeling the heat. The task of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson is weighing heavily, and the scrutiny that comes with that is going to present a major challenge for the former Everton boss.
Ferguson was a master of making sure that wounded animals came out ready to bite back in their next encounter. For Moyes, that just happens to be another hot proposition, with Liverpool, and the returning Luis Suarez, on the horizon.
The United hierarchy settled very quickly on their choice of Moyes, and they could do with a positive injection just as much as the manager. Every new boss needs a statement or two to prove his worth and stamp his personality on a club. The wait, for Moyes, is proving profoundly uncomfortable. After all, as Di Canio’s departure showed, eventually time runs out for all managers.