Paul Lambert and the Premier League Mid-table Managerial Merry-Go-Round8 min read
Stoke City: Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes, Paul Lambert
Crystal Palace: Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson
West Ham: Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes
West Brom: Roy Hodgson, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew
Everton: David Moyes, Sam Allardyce
Newcastle: Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew
Do you notice some kind of a pattern here?
There’s been outrage amongst Stoke City supporters, after their club appointed Paul Lambert to replace the sacked Mark Hughes.
Lambert was allegedly Stoke’s fourth choice option – after Gary Rowett, Quique Sanchez Flores and Martin O’Neill – which smacks of desperation.
The British bosses listed at the top of this page are often branded as ‘firefighters’.
Men who come in when clubs are in serious danger of being relegated from the Premier League, manage to achieve survival by getting things ‘back to basics’ and sorting out their teams defensively.
Disclaimer: Hodgson and Moyes are currently bucking the trend here, with Crystal Palace and West Ham both looking like mid-table sides who are getting the most out of their attacking players.
Stoke have conceded 50 goals in 23 league games so far this season, so it is obvious that the defence is one aspect of the team that needs improving.
If Lambert does manage to keep Stoke up their fans could be forgiven for preparing for this merry-go-round of managers to continue, and an eternity of mid-to-lower-table finishes before the lifespan of the next manager comes to an end.
Money from new TV deal has not brought progress
The average amount of money that each club earns from the new and improved Premier League TV deal (introduced in 2016) was supposed to herald a new era for the clubs outside ‘Big Six.’
That hasn’t happened. Arsenal, whose recruitment, management, and team have been heavily criticised this season, are the lowest placed of the ‘Big Six’ – in sixth place – yet have still picked up five more points than a massively overachieving Burnley side who are breaking all kinds of club records.
Pundits and fans alike suggested Everton had an outside chance of breaking into the top four this term after their summer outlay.
Instead, the Toffees are in ninth place, with just 26 points and a -13 goal difference.
Having replaced the struggling Ronald Koeman with Allardyce, the Mersyside club have managed just four shots on target in their last five league outings.
It is highly improbable that Allardyce’s men will get relegated. At the same time, their fans are unlikely to have many goals or passages of pulsating attacking play to shout about any time soon.
Although a team from outside the ‘Big Six’ has reached the FA Cup final in four of the past five seasons, the same can’t be said for the EFL Cup – six of the last eight finalists have been contested between two ‘Big Six teams’ and that’s likely to be the case this year as well.
2013 was the last time we saw a ‘smaller’ club win domestic honours; Wigan won the FA Cup – and were relegated the following week – while earlier in the year Swansea City beat Bradford City in the EFL Cup final.
The point here is that since then, the lower-ranking Premier League teams haven’t really compensated for their failure to break the mould in the league by picking up silverware.
So without trophies nor progress nor too much to get excited about, what really is there for fans of teams outside the top six who have been promised better?
Football League Fans Having a Better Time of It
Unfortunately, I am an Arsenal fan – so my team aren’t going through a particularly good time at the moment – but if I were a fan of say, Everton, Stoke, West Brom, Southampton, or Newcastle, I’d wouldn’t be too pleased by the lack of ambition on show there either.
I often used to feel puzzled when fans of Championship teams – such as Bristol City, Brentford, Cardiff and Wolves – said they’d rather their side didn’t get promoted, so that they could enjoy picking up three points more than once a month.
Surely you’d rather watch world class Premier League manager and players light up your ground every week, even if it did mean the team you supported ended up on the wrong end of a four-goal thrashing once in a while.
Yet having considered the state of affairs in the lower reaches of the top flight, I am beginning to understand this stance a lot more.
Supporters of Championship teams must head into the start of a season with an exciting sense of uncertainty. They could be about to witness the breakthrough of a youth academy star, like Will Hughes at Derby for example. Or they may get to welcome an ambitious manager with an exciting brand of football lead them on an unexpected promotion charge, like Gary Rowett and Lee Johnson are doing at Derby County and Bristol City respectively.
We’ve seen plenty of teams deliver high-octane football and survive – or come close to surviving. Phil Brown’s Hull side who just avoided the drop in 2008-09, the Blackpool team who nearly stayed up in 2010-11 spring to mind. Wigan Athletic also produced some memorable survival salvos, mainly after they started to adopt a more attacking approach in the last few weeks of the season.
Huddersfield Town, who are currently in 14th place, as well as the previously mentioned Burnley, are making a mockery of their resources, but the same can’t be said about a handful of mid-table sides who seem to be sleep-walking from season to season without developing.
I may look back at this blog piece in a few months time with a red face. It could be that Paul Lambert completely turns around Stoke’s fortunes and makes clever use of the flair players which they possess, such as Xerdan Shaqiri, Jese Rodriguez, and Eric Choupo-Moting.
But the point is, that is what supporters of Stoke – and supporters of several other mid-ranking top flight teams in England – were expecting to happen two years ago.
Most of these fans are a long way off seeing the success and swashbuckling football they were promised.