Martinez, Mancini and continental Chelsea: The EPL’s third wave of foreign managers
As Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years as Arsenal manager, here’s more on the look back at every foreign boss to grace top-class football in England
21. Luiz Felipe Scolari (Chelsea)
1 July, 2008 to 9 February, 2009
Champions League finalist or not, Avram Grant was never going to fill Jose Mourinho’s shoes. Chelsea needed the kind of guy whose nickname starts with Big; Sam Allardici not being quite to their taste, they went with Big Phil Scolari (who’s actually under six feet tall).
Chelsea was his 21st managerial position. He’d gone through the first 19 in 20 years, traipsing round Brazil (with trips to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Japan) collecting experience and a couple of Copas Libertadores until he was hired by the national team, leading them to a somewhat surprising triumph at the 2002 World Cup. He then led Portugal to the Euro 2004 final, World Cup 2006 semis and Euro 2008 quarters before the Blues managed to succeed where the FA had failed two years earlier in tempting him to England — the first non-European to manage a Premier League team since Ossie Ardiles 14 years earlier. (You’re permitted to quibble over the Israeli Avram Grant.)
It started well: adopting Scolari’s system of a defensive central midfielder covering for penetrative full-backs, Chelsea were unbeaten in their first 12 games, including two 5–0 wins and three 4–0s. But key losses to Liverpool, Roma, Arsenal and Manchester United helped turn an impatient fanbase and entitled squad against him, and he was gone within a quarter of his three-year contract. As a “shocked” John Terry put it, “He had my support, that’s for sure. Two or three other players will say exactly the same thing.”
Scolari had admitted that finance was “one of the reasons” to take the Chelsea job, saying ”You only get this kind of opportunity once.” He has since coached in Uzbekistan (allegedly as the world’s highest-paid gaffer, on £200,000 per week), Brazil (including the national team for their home World Cup, which didn’t end well) and now China.
22. Gianfranco Zola (West Ham)
15 September, 2008 to 11 May, 2010
When Alan Curbishley resigned over transfer policy — namely, selling or releasing several players — the Hammers were determined to go foreign: the shortlist was Slaven Bilic, Gerard Houllier, Roberto Donadoni, Roberto Mancini and Zola. The former Chelsea player was the outside candidate but got the job on the back of an impressive interview, and it’s perhaps a sign of his respect within the game that he was quickly backed by the West Ham fans despite those Blue links.
Zola’s first season included some savvy moves. Wisely appointing top coach Steve Clarke as his sidekick, he made lemonade out of the Hammers’ questionable finances by promoting youth, rarely unpopular at Upton Park. A notable emphasis on flair was also welcomed, and a ninth-place finish suggested that the good times were coming.
They weren’t. One win in their opening 10 left West Ham second-bottom, and January’s boardroom takeover by David Gold and David Sullivan didn’t help stability, especially when the latter labelled the team “pathetic” after a 3–1 loss to Wolves, then announced (without consulting Zola) that every player bar Scott Parker was for sale. The Hammers stayed up but Zola was replaced by Avram Grant; the following season they went down in last place.
23. Guus Hiddink (Chelsea)
16 February, 2009 to 31 May, 2009
& 19 December, 2015 to 16 May, 2016
Twice now Chelsea have turned in a crisis to the steady tiller-hand of Guus Hiddink. Not surprising, either, given his impact. Inheriting a disheartened dressing room in February 2009, he won 11 of his 13 games and took the club to within a late Andres Iniesta stunner of a second successive Champions League final, before bowing out with an FA Cup final victory over Everton which he clearly thoroughly enjoyed.
Hiddink guided Chelsea to the FA Cup during his first spell at Stamford Bridge
His record — World Cup semis in 1998 with Holland and 2002 with South Korea, Euro 2008 semis with Russia, six leagues and a European Cup with PSV — earned him respect, but so did his calm authority. No wonder fans and players clamoured (unsuccessfully) for him to extend his contract beyond the season.
Thereafter, his career dipped a little, failing to reach tournaments with Russia (2010), Turkey (2012) and the Netherlands (2016), but he was still the obvious choice to help Chelsea overcome the bitter end of Mourinho’s second coming. This time the results weren’t so startling, but he reliably steadied the ship and guided them up four league places into the top half. Given that he’s still only in his sixties, and that at Stamford Bridge “managerial stability” means being featured on two successive Christmas calendars, he may yet be back again.
24. Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea)
1 June, 2009 to 22 May, 2011
Roman Abramovich’s fourth overseas managerial hire in 21 months brought Chelsea a modicum of stability and the third-highest win percentage in Premier League history, but didn’t fulfil the top-line managerial expectation: win the Champions League.
Ancelotti had led Milan to three UCL finals in five years, winning two of them. He wasn’t a league specialist — Milan had only won one Scudetto in his eight-year spell — but his first Chelsea campaign ended with 103 Premier League goals scored (the first top-flight century since Tottenham in 1962/63) and the domestic double.
However, by then Chelsea had lost home and away to Jose Mourinho’s Inter in the first Champions League knockout round, and the following season — having squeezed past Copenhagen — they again lost home and away, this time to Manchester United.
When another Old Trafford loss in May signed the title over to Sir Alex Ferguson, Ancelotti’s fate was sealed and he was summarily fired in a Goodison corridor within two hours of the domestic final whistle. Of his six continental knockout games, the Italian had lost four and won just one. Time to roll the dice again.
25. Roberto Martinez (Wigan, Everton)
Wigan: 15 June, 2009 to 5 June, 2013
Everton: 5 June, 2013 to 12 May, 2016
Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz. They were the rest of the Three Amigos signed by basement club Wigan Athletic in 1995 — nothing more, some suggested, than a publicity stunt by new owner Dave Whelan. But Martinez flourished, spending six years with the club before moving into management with Swansea, guiding them up into the second tier before switching — not without controversy — back to Wigan.
His four seasons as Latics gaffer mixed attacking brio with defensive naivety. They collapsed 9–1 at Spurs, shipped eight and six against Chelsea, and thrice lost 5–0 to Manchester United, but he stuck to his attractive philosophy and for every nightmare run (such as eight straight losses) there would be a saving sprint (seven wins in the last nine). Averaging 1.03 points per game under Martinez, they succumbed to gravity in 2013… and immediately won the FA Cup.
Having spoken to Liverpool in summer 2012 (they went with his Swansea successor Brendan Rodgers instead) the Spaniard was kept in the Premier League by Everton, who wanted a change of style after David Moyes. It started well — a fifth-placed finish, a five-year contract — but Toffees fans were less forgiving of six-match winless runs, lower-half finishes and (as they saw it) baseless positivity. He was sacked before the end of the season to avoid protests at the club’s awards night.
26. Roberto Mancini (Manchester City)
19 December, 2009 to 13 May, 2013
Mancini at Manchester City wasn’t just the sort of nominative determinism that lured Arsene to Arsenal and Wolfgang Wolf to Wolfsburg. Always a manager in waiting — as a Sampdoria player he had frequently taken half-time team-talks, sat in on board meetings, helped choose managers and was fast-tracked into coaching by Sven-Goran Eriksson at Lazio — the Italian had a dominant four-year spell in charge at Inter, winning three successive titles and setting several records.
Leaving Inter in May 2008, he was immediately linked with Chelsea and West Ham but bided his time — not unconnected to a multimillion-Euro court case against the Nerazzurri — and replaced Mark Hughes at City in December 2009. The fans were quickly taken by ‘Bobby Manc’, loving his old-school blue-and-white scarf, impressive signings and, crucially, increasingly good results.
A fifth-placed finish in 2010 was followed in 2011 by third (meaning Champions League) and an FA Cup win (ending a 35-year trophy drought). As welcome as the FA Cup was, City had bigger prizes in mind, and Mancini led them to the 2011/12 league title in unforgettable style, Sergio Aguero’s injury-time winner against QPR squeezing out local rivals Manchester United.
Mancini was rewarded with a five-year deal but only served one, disappointing season of it. Amid increasing dressing-room rancour — much of it emanating from Mancini himself — City crashed out in the Champions League group stage (again), United reclaimed their league title, and relegated Wigan beat City in the FA Cup final. Returning City to the trophy-gathering elite, Mancini found his managerial methods unsuitable for maintaining the expectations he had been set — and had met.
27. Roberto Di Matteo (West Brom, Chelsea)
West Brom: 30 June, 2009 to 6 February, 2011
Chelsea: 4 March, 2012 to 21 November, 2012
Swiss-born Italy midfielder Di Matteo has spent most of his career in England: “The English culture has taught me to be open-minded about the world,” he once told FourFourTwo over an espresso in his back garden. A six-year playing spell at Chelsea was only ended by injury; after completing an MBA at the London School of Economics, he returned to the game as a gaffer, first at MK Dons, then at West Brom.
Inheriting a side freshly relegated from the top flight under Tony Mowbray, Di Matteo took the Baggies straight back up. Overcoming an opening 6–0 humiliation at Stamford Bridge, he led the team to victory over Arsenal and won a Manager of the Month award — but was sacked in February after taking four points from nine games.
That summer, he returned to the Bridge as Andre Villas-Boas’s assistant. When — spoiler alert! — the Portuguese was turfed out in March, caretaker Di Matteo calmly led his men to victory in a Champions League semi against Barcelona and the FA Cup final against Liverpool… then beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard to become champions of Europe. He was 41.
The club immediately and understandably appointed Di Matteo ‘permanently’, but this is Chelsea and that permanence lasted barely five months. Facing elimination in the Champions League, they sacked him and appointed Rafa Benitez on the same day. Even quenching Roman Abramovich’s thirst for European glory doesn’t buy you protection.
28. Andre Villas-Boas (Chelsea, Tottenham)
Chelsea: 22 June, 2011 to 4 March, 2012
Tottenham: 3 July, 2012 to 16 December, 2013
Tired of faffing about trying to find the right man to follow Mourinho, Chelsea went back to the source. Porto had provided one brilliant young manager, and their new guy had won the domestic treble plus the Europa League before turning 34. A release fee of £13.3m, slightly more than they’d paid for the hardly stellar right-back Paulo Ferreira seven years previously, seemed a price worth paying.
The rapidly-abbreviated AVB already spoke fluent English — his dad’s mum, Margaret Kendall, had moved from Manchester to Portugal to set up a wine business — and started well with four wins in the first five, but losses at Manchester United and QPR were followed by home defeats by Arsenal and Liverpool. A run of two wins in 10 league games saw Chelsea slip out of the top four, and more crucially prompted senior players to openly question the manager. His reaction was to wield the axe, which merely gave Roman Abramovich the same idea, and for the second time in four seasons a highly-rated new Chelsea manager was out before the daffodils.
Some said the Chelsea vacancy would be filled by Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp, but that summer it was the other way round as AVB replaced Redknapp at the Lane. His first season yielded more points than any Spurs campaign since 1985, but only a fifth-place finish a point behind pesky Arsenal. The lucrative sale of Gareth Bale allowed for seven sizeable signings but most flopped; so did Spurs, scoring just 15 in 16 league games, and AVB was sacked after a 5–0 home humiliation by Liverpool. He’s since led Zenit St Petersburg to the Russian league and cup double before returning to Portugal for family reasons. He’s still only 38.
29. Michael Laudrup (Swansea)
15 June, 2012 to 4 February, 2014
Quite the man, Michael Laudrup. A player described by Andres Iniesta as “the best in history” and by Raul as “the best I played with”, he led Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona to a 5–0 Clasico win, fell out with Cruyff, switched to Real Madrid and masterminded a 5–0 Clasico win for them. It tends to give a chap a bit of swagger.
He took that into management, leading Brondby to the Danish double before turning 40, then deciding to have a year off. He helped Madrid’s third club Getafe rattle some cages, flopped at Spartak Moscow, was offered the Atletico Madrid job but couldn’t agree terms, then kept Mallorca up but resigned over the firing of his assistant.
So it was something of a risk when Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins made him the first Danish manager in the English top flight, replacing Liverpool-bound Brendan Rodgers. It started brilliantly, though, with a 5–0 win at QPR spearheaded by newcomer Michu, who went on to rack up 22 goals and be regularly heralded as the signing of the season. It wasn’t all peaches, but the centenary season was marked with League Cup glory at Wembley — the club’s first major silverware. All good?
Not really. Suddenly in demand, Laudrup was already jockeying for a new contract and Jenkins was covering his bases. Although the Dane signed a two-year deal, the manager wasn’t getting on with his chairman — or, it seemed, many of his players, who complained of an almost total lack of discipline. After losing six out of eight league games, Laudrup rewarded himself with two days off in Paris and Jenkins rewarded him with the sack. The Dane subsequently spent a season in Qatar, doing the double then refusing to extend his contract.
30. Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton, Tottenham)
Southampton: 13 January, 2013 to 27 May, 2014
Tottenham: 27 May, 2014 to date
It had all gone a bit quiet on the foreign-coach front. Since Roberto Mancini’s arrival at Man City in late 2009, the only fresh top-flight recruits from abroad had been Andre Villas-Boas and Michael Laudrup. But that changed in January 2013, when Southampton sent journalists scurrying to the internet to research Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine was parachuted in to replace Nigel Adkins, in what was seen as a somewhat harsh move considering the popular Scouser had led Saints to consecutive promotions and 15th spot in the top flight. Pochettino had caught Southampton suit Les Reed’s eye during scouting missions for Philippe Coutinho — “the more we saw of Espanyol, the more we liked about the coach” — and the decision was vindicated in the Argentine’s first full season, as a rigorous Saints side, led by a manager now comfortable enough to ditch the interpreter, finished eighth.
That brought Spurs calling. After Andre Villas-Boas they had elevated Tim Sherwood, so they were crying out for a bit of calm-headed organisation. Pochettino’s high-energy pressing, attacking style and faith in youth suited Tottenham’s history and personnel: symbolically, Harry Kane replaced flop signing Roberto Soldado.
In his first season, Spurs finished fifth, once again just missing out on the Champions League — but in his second campaign they smashed that glass ceiling and maintained a dogged pursuit of leaders Leicester until early May. Pochettino’s promotion of suitable youth from the excellent academies at Southampton and Tottenham has also fed into the rejuvenation of the England team — 11 Three Lions debutants since 2013 have been coached by him — and if he can incorporate the Champions League demands into Spurs’ high-energy play, there may yet be bigger stories to come from the affable Argentine.
Originally published by FourFourTwo on September 21, 2016.