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Steve Clarke and Andre Villas-Boas became the latest Premier League managers to leave their respective clubs as the season moves towards the hectic festive period. Whilst age-old euphemisms were used, with Clarke “relieved of his duties” and Villas-Boas coming to an agreement with Tottenham Hotspur regarding the “the termination of his services”, the reality of the situation was that both had been sacked.
Becoming the 4th and 5th managers to lose their jobs in the current campaign respectively, the sackings reflected the fact that football is a results driven business. Both managers were evidently deemed to not be meeting expectations and as such, their perilous positions became untenable following the weekend’s fixtures. The impetus is now on the boards of the individual sides to replace the departed and appoint managers who will be steer them in the right direction.
Clarke’s future at West Bromwich Albion seemed to be in danger following a run of 6 games without a win, 4 of which ended in defeat. The final match of the Scotsman’s tenure was a 1-0 away loss to newly-promoted Cardiff City, who must be considered amongst the weaker sides in the league, a fact which will no doubt have weighed heavily on the boards’ collective mind. Taking the club’s league form throughout 2013 in to account, the decision was made to remove Clarke from his role and as such, the search for his successor began.
Ex-Manchester United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjær has emerged as a leading contender for the role. The 40-year old Norwegian boasts an impressive record as a manager in his home country, having led Molde to the Tippeligaen title in each of his first two seasons at the club and was considered for the Aston Villa hot-seat following Alex McLeish’s departure. However, doubts remain over his capabilities considering his lack of experience managing in any of Europe’s top leagues.
Gianfranco Zola, who recently left Watford having led them to the Championship Play-Off Final in his first season in charge, has also been linked to the vacant West Bromwich Albion role. Despite this impressive feat, his last Premier League job was at West Ham United and ended with the side narrowly avoiding relegation.
Roberto Di Matteo is another Italian who has been linked to the position; however his prior links to the club could stymie any chance of a return. Whilst he has since won the Champions League and FA Cup with Chelsea, Di Matteo previously managed West Bromwich Albion between June 2009 and February 2011, when he was abruptly dismissed from his role by the club’s board. The potential for remaining hostilities is high and as such, the chances of the former midfielder being appointed seem remote.
Safer bets may be placed on the current manager of the side whose victory sealed Clarke’s fate. Cardiff City incumbent Malky Mackay led his side in to the Premier League after years of failed attempts by his predecessors, whilst their form this season suggests he may well keep them there. Furthermore, disarray between the Scotsman and the club’s meddlesome owner Vincent Tan threatens to push Mackay out of the club and so a West Bromwich Albion approach may be welcomed.
Other names in the frame include Martin Jol, who had a spell as a player with The Baggies in the 1980s and is well respected in the game, as well as Ralf Rangnick, the former Schalke 04 manager who has experience of leading a side in European competition. However, it remains to be seen who the club’s chairman, Jeremy Pearce, will appoint as Clarke’s successor.
As is the case at West Bromwich Albion, the Tottenham Hotspur board headed by Daniel Levy has given itself the task of replacing the manager it started the season with. Whilst the club is comfortably in the league’s top 10, Tottenham Hotspur have lagged well behind their adversaries for the Champions League places, most poignantly North London rivals Arsenal. Whilst Spurs have had moderate success in recent campaigns, during Arsène Wenger’s 17-year tenure the club have gone through a total of 9 permanent managers. This cycle is one that the Tottenham Hotspur board will be seeking to end and as such a long-term option will be sought, as well as one that will improve results in the immediate future.
The current favourite for the Spurs job is Ajax manager Frank de Boer, who has led the side to three successive Eredivisie titles since taking over in 2010. Whilst there can be no doubt that de Boer, a former Netherlands international capped 112 times, was an elite level player during his on –field career, his credentials as a manager are surely yet to be tested. The Tottenham Hotspur board will be demanding an instant improvement in terms of performances and results and if de Boer does not deliver, it could potentially hamper his burgeoning reputation as an up-and-coming manager. As such, the club may be better advised to opt for a more experienced manager.
Fellow Dutchmen Frank Rijkaard and Guus Hiddink are two more seasoned managers that the club may consider to be suitable as Villas-Boas’ replacement. Rijkaard has previous experience at club level as manager of Barcelona, as well as Sparta Rotterdam and Galatasaray, and thus would be able to cope with the pressure of having an extremely talented squad at his disposal. Likewise Hiddink, who was most recently manager of Anzi Makhachkala in Russia, has previously worked with elite level players. His spell as interim manager with Chelsea in 2009 ended with the club winning the FA Cup and there is a chance that he would be able to work to similar effect with the squad he would inherit at Spurs.
Aside from well-respected Dutchmen is Marcelo Bielsa, whom Pep Guardiola described as the “best manager in the world” in 2012. Such high acclaim from a man who is now at the head of the footballing juggernaut that is Bayern Munich suggests that the Tottenham Hotspur board may do well to tempt the Argentinean to North London. However, the prospect of working in the Premier League for the first time, as well as having another crack at the Europa League in which he took Athletic Bilbao to the final in 2012, may be too much to resist. Bielsa’s attacking style may well suit the multi-talented Spurs squad and as such, the man previously linked to the Chelsea post may well be an option that the club should seriously consider. Furthermore, the fact that he is currently out of work may well play in to his favour. Levy will have had his fingers burnt sacking Villas-Boas with time remaining on his contract and thus, not having to pay compensation to recruit Bielsa would likely be deemed positive.
Another South American option that the club may consider would be Mauricio Pochettino, the current manager of fellow Premier League side Southampton. The 41-year old was a surprise replacement for Nigel Adkins, who many felt was unfairly dismissed, though he has since, justified his appointment. The south-coast side improved markedly in Pochettino’s first season at the helm and have gone on to cement their place as a top-half club this campaign. The manager has coupled attacking flare with defensive guile, both of which have been lacking in recent weeks for Spurs. Furthermore, the manager’s presence may aid fellow Argentinian, and the club’s record signing, Erik Lamela as he struggles to adapt to life in England following his summer move from Roma.
Ex-England managers Fabio Capello and Glenn Hoddle have been linked to the Spurs job as well. Though it’s unlikely Capello will leave his post as Russia’s national team manager ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, there is some weight behind a return to White Harte Lane for Hoddle. Having previously managed the club between 2001 and 2003, the Englishman is amongst the domestic favourites for the job and is well respected by others involved in the game.
Tim Sherwood, a fellow former Tottenham Hotspur player, is the current caretaker manager of the side and there has been speculation that he may be given the position full time until the end of the season. Despite this though, the side’s League Cup defeat to London rivals West Ham United will have harmed his claims to be the right man for the job and it is likely that the club’s board will look elsewhere for Villas-Boas’ successor.
Clearly a vast plethora of options outside of those mentioned are open to the boards of the respective clubs, though it seems likely that two of those referred to will be appointed as Premier League managers in the not too distant future. Whilst West Bromwich Albion are looking for a manager to stabilise the side in the first instance, prior to pushing further up the league table, the Tottenham Hotspur board need to find a manager who can consistently get the best out of an extremely gifted group of players and move them up to the next level which Villas-Boas could not. Who will be chosen though remains to be seen.