There was a time when British football managers ruled the world. Names such as Shankly, Busby, Paisley, Clough and Stein were held in the highest regard.
Not only were they at the pinnacle of their powers at their various clubs but they were at the vanguard of the game, tactically and otherwise.
All had that special quality that marked them out from the rest and kept their teams ahead of the curve for the most part.
And then, with the advent of the Premier League, came a foreign invasion. Managers with new ideas and new ways of working that differed markedly from what had been previously seen as ‘the norm.’
In the modern era, only Sir Alex Ferguson could possibly compare, with a gentle nod in Martin O’Neill’s direction.
Other British club managers over the last decade or so have certainly been left behind in almost every facet of their work, with the possible exception of Brendan Rodgers, now at Leicester.
When you watch a Rodgers team, it has the ‘continental’ look about it.
From team shape and formation to the way in which they play, with a short, sharp passing style, it’s not difficult to imagine the Foxes playing in any of the other European leagues with a degree of ease and familiarity.
The same can’t be said of those teams spearheaded by ‘old school’ English managers that just haven’t moved with the times and who, for all intents and purposes, are soon going to end up on the scrapheap if they’re not there already.
There’s currently 8 PL teams managed by English managers. Current league position of each manager: 10th Smith, 12th Hodgson, 15th Dyche, 16th Potter, 17th Bruce, 18th Parker, 19th Allardyce, 20th Heckingbottom (replaced Wilder 🏴)
— Marc Wood (@marcw1987) March 28, 2021
Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes, David Moyes… two remain in Premier League employment at the moment, one is enjoying a semi-retirement of sorts and the other has taken a technical director role… but not in the English top-flight or any of the lower leagues.
For Allardyce in particular, the ‘Premier League saviour’ tag has all but been consigned to the rubbish bin now after an appalling few months at the helm of West Bromwich Albion.
Taking things ‘back to basics’ is all well and good if you’ve got the personnel to drag you out of the trenches, but WBA were known as a decent enough passing team under Slaven Bilic, just one that’d lost their way under the Croatian.
Route one was never going to work, but more fool Albion’s owners for believing that someone whose best days have long gone was going to preserve their top-flight status.
Sam Allardyce's first four home games with West Brom:
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) January 26, 2021
To coin a phrase from Jose Mourinho, both Mark Hughes and Alan Pardew are specialists in failure. The latter did well enough at West Ham 15 or so years ago and had fleeting success at Newcastle (another Allardyce stop off), but has failed to convince anywhere else to any great degree.
Hughes hasn’t had a job in management anywhere for three years and there’s a reason for that.
Moyes, meanwhile, despite enjoying a magnificent season and one in which he’s a reasonable shout for manager of the year, only knows how to play one way and with players of a particular skill set.
It’s very hard to get excited by any of the aforementioned, who prefer to dine out on their earlier successes. Yesterday’s men if you prefer.
That said, with the likes of Gareth Southgate, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and their ilk coming through now, there’s a small glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Steven Gerrard really was a gift from god wasn’t he pic.twitter.com/WOiPkRpIV7
— Midfield Jack (@MidfieldJack) March 23, 2021
Perhaps more than any other British manager at present, albeit on the international stage, Southgate is open and willing to listen, learn and develop in every aspect.
Man-management of the modern player as well as tactical concepts have changed the goalposts immeasurably, and that’s precisely why the generation gap between him and the likes of Pardew is a cavernous one.
The elder statesmen have become stuck in their ways and the game has passed them by.
Lampard had his fingers burned at Chelsea of course, but was excellent at Derby before having his head turned by the Blues.
Despite a topsy-turvy 2020/21 campaign, the atypical nature of the season has to be taken into account. He’ll be back, we can be assured of that.
Gerrard meanwhile has clearly had more success in his first managerial foray, and he too clearly understands that success will only continue as long as there remains a willingness to adapt.
Who knows… British managers might well be able to lead the charge again in due course.