Guidolin, Garde, Guardiola and more: rounding off England’s Foreign 50

Guidolin, Garde, Guardiola and more: rounding off England’s Foreign 50

As Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years as Arsenal manager, here’s the most recent tracksuited tranche of overseas gaffers

41. Quique Sanchez Flores (Watford)

  • June 5, 2015 to June 16, 2016

Employing five managers in 12 months isn’t usually a formula for success, but you can’t argue with Watford’s results. A combination of Giuseppe Sannino, Oscar Garcia, Billy McKinlay and Slavisa Jokanovic got the ‘Orns promoted to the Premier League, and when Jokanovic couldn’t agree a contract the club-owning Pozzo family turned to Flores.

The genial Spaniard — son of a Real Madrid player and a flamenco star, godson of Alfredo Di Stefano — had a decent track record with middleweight Spanish clubs, including a Europa League triumph with Atletico Madrid in 2010. Although his first four Premier League games yielded just two goals and three points, his side suddenly hit form, winning eight of the next 14 games to be seventh at Christmas.

Were it not for the headline-hogging Leicester City, Watford’s would have been the story of the season. Devastating strike duo Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney also helped the Hornets to the FA Cup semi-finals, but they slumped down the table after Christmas, winning four and losing 12 of their last 21 league fixtures to finish a safe but disappointing 13th. Announcing a mutual split before the final game, Flores said “I love the Premier League, it has been an amazing experience, but in football you never know what is next”. In his case, it was Espanyol.

42. Slaven Bilic (West Ham)

  • June 9, 2015 to date

The only surprise about Slaven Bilic’s arrival as a Premier League manager was that it took so long. As elegantly watchable off the field as he was on it, the classy Croatian had long been tipped to return to the country in which he had represented West Ham and Everton; managing his national team at the age of 38, he outfoxed Steve McClaren to bar England from Euro 2008.

Immediately linked with West Ham (they went for Franco Zola instead), he stayed with his country until 2012, then took a couple of surprising turns to Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas before replacing Sam Allardyce at Upton Park. Warmed up by a Europa League pre-qualification campaign starting on July 2, the Hammers hit the Premier League ground running with a 2–0 win at Arsenal, one of six victories in their opening 10 league games.

Despite a lull before Christmas, Bilic’s brand of expansive and tactically astute attacking won seven out of 11 games in an excellent post-festive run which raised hopes of Champions League qualification in the final season at the Boleyn Ground. In the end, despite their best Premier-era points total and highest finish since 1999, two defeats in the final three games condemned the tired team to seventh place and another early Europa start — but with a savvy gaffer and a huge new Olympic Stadium, the sun may be rising over east London.

43. Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)

After spending five years under three successive UK-born gaffers (Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers) Liverpool returned to the foreign model that they’d used for most of the century’s first decade. One of Europe’s most sought-after coaches following his eye-catching renovation of Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Norbert Klopp had previously been linked with Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City among others, but Liverpool were the right club at the right time when they fired Rodgers five months after Klopp left BVB.

The new man had the CV Liverpool needed: under his aegis, Dortmund had gone from domestic underachievement and subsequent European isolation to consecutive Bundesliga title winners and Champions League finalists. He also had the kind of sparky personality that often plays well at Anfield, especially after the somewhat unloveable Rodgers.

Although far from perfect, his first season showed easily enough promise to put him on the right side of the line that separates the lovable joker from the tragic clown. Liverpool reached the finals of the League Cup and Europa League, the latter via a fairy tale three-goal comeback at Anfield against (of course) Dortmund. And although the Reds finished eighth in the Premier League, their record over Klopp’s 30 league games was only three points shy of the Champions League pace, while the absence of European distraction should assist a concentrated domestic push to reach the top four.


44. Remi Garde (Aston Villa)

  • November 2, 2015 to March 29, 2016

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Remi Garde. An Arsene Wenger protege earmarked for coaching long before hanging up his boots, Garde had nevertheless underwhelmed at Lyon, barely managing a 50 per cent win rate and winning just the French Cup before being drummed out overseeing l’OL’s two lowest finishing positions since 1998.

Still, a job’s a job, especially in the Premier League. And Villa were in a right state by early November, with four points in 10 games under Tim Sherwood. Surely it couldn’t get worse? Technically, it didn’t — Garde collected 12 points from 20 league games. But by the time the Frenchman was sent packing in late March, the club was in total disarray, clinging on to Premier League status only by the mathematics of improbable possibilities.

The summer signings had almost universally flopped, but because the owner wanted out, the club didn’t want to spend money in January. The manager criticised the board and the players, alienating the brightest young hope (Jack Grealish) for partying after a 4–0 loss. The Player of the Season award was cancelled, for lack of candidates and fear of protest. The fans were understandably horrified; even the manager’s inevitable sacking took days on end among contract negotiations. After 28 seasons, Villa left the top flight in record-breaking disarray. Garde’s points-per-game return was among the 10 lowest in Premier League history, and symbolised a season so poor that few clubs may ever have the misfortune to suffer a similar fate.

45. Francesco Guidolin (Swansea City)

  • January 18, 2016 to date

For an exciting few moments back there, it looked a lot like Swansea might replace Garry Monk with Marcelo Bielsa, which would be a bit like swapping Philip Hammond for Hugo Chavez. As it turned out, despite Swans chairman Huw Jenkins trekking to South America to get his man, Bielsa — who had quit Marseille after one game and would later leave Lazio after two days — proved elusive, and the Jacks turned to an experienced Italian instead.

After a quarter of a century coaching a dozen or so Italian teams (plus Monaco), Guidolin had stepped away from the touchline to become technical advisor to the Pozzo family’s chain of clubs, at the time including Watford, Udinese and Granada. Club captain Ashley Williams had to Google him, but the sexagenarian oversaw a 25-point haul from 16 games — more or less European-qualifying pace — as the Swans rose from the fringe of the relegation battle to the top half.

It wasn’t all great: most of the wins were by single-goal margins which the team rarely looked comfortable defending, while there were heavy defeats to Leicester and even Newcastle. He also seemed overly attached to a midfield diamond which rarely shone. But the results and his quiet dignity were enough for Jenkins to extend his contract for another two years despite rumours about Brendan Rodgers and that man Bielsa.

46. Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough)

  • November 13, 2013 to date

If you’re going to learn from someone, Jose Mourinho isn’t a bad choice. Upon arriving at the Bernabeu, the Portuguese appointed Karanka as his assistant; the Basque-born ex-Madrid defender had been coaching Spain’s under-16s. Adding Jose’s man-management style to the self-discipline of his former club manager Jupp Heynckes, Karanka almost hopped straight into the Premier League with Crystal Palace, who spoke to him but preferred Tony Pulis. A week later, he was at Middlesbrough.

Appointed in November 2013 with Boro perilously close to the Championship trapdoor, Karanka didn’t exactly hit the Teesside ground running with one win in five. But a pep talk from Roberto Martinez helped him find his feet; Middlesbrough stabilised in his first season, reached the play-off final in his second and achieved automatic promotion in his third.

Not everything went swimmingly. Karanka has fallen out with winger Albert Adomah and former assistant Craig Hignett; last season he was rumoured to have fallen out with Stewart Downing and disagreed with assistant Steve Agnew over whether to play Agnew’s nephew Jordan Rhodes. After an acrimonious squad meeting in March he was barred from travelling to the club’s next game. It’s to Boro’s credit that fences were mended and promotion sealed; they will hope to keep a happy ship as they seek to establish themselves in the Premier League.

47. Claude Puel (Southampton)

  • June 30, 2016 to date

A defensive midfielder — he’d have to be, he’s only 5ft 9in — who played 600+ games for Monaco, Puel worked his way up through the coaching staff to manage the Monegasques, whom he led to the 1999/2000 Ligue 1 title at the age of 38. He then helped establish Lille as a force in France, irking Alex Ferguson along the way for seeming to encourage his players to walk off the pitch after a disputed Ryan Giggs goal.

In 2008 he moved to Lyon, who’d won seven titles on the bounce but sought Champions League progress. Puel managed that at the second attempt, reaching the 2010 semis, but l’OL lost their previously unshakeable grip on the domestic title and Puel was out on his ear. Having replaced former Portsmouth disappointment Alain Perrin, he was in turn succeeded by future Villa failure Remi Garde.

He restored his reputation with four years at Nice, whom he steered to a couple of fourth-placed finishes and the Europa League groups by developing a group of promising youngsters. It’s a trick Southampton will hope he repeats, and in doing so becoming their third consecutive successful imported manager.

48. Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

  • July 1, 2016 to date

It took a few years, but they got their man. Back in autumn 2012, with the confetti still falling from their first league title since the 60s, Manchester City hired Guardiola’s old buddy Tkixi Begiristain. Officially, he would head up player recruitment; the long-term plan was to snag his mate Pep, then starting a year’s sabbatical after his first managerial position at Barcelona.

At the Camp Nou, the Catalan coach won 14 trophies in four years and typified a high-intensity, stylish, goal-filled, winning way of football that impressed folk everywhere. The intensity of his approach at his boyhood team required a 12-month breather during which every major club bar Real Madrid seemed to make a play for his services. He plumped for Bayern Munich and won another seven trophies in three years, before finally succumbing to the overtures of a Mancunian club that had almost seemed custom-built to lure him.

By mid-September Guardiola had won all of his first eight games as City blitzed all-comers, including struggling crosstown rivals Manchester United under Pep’s beleaguered nemesis Jose Mourinho. That may or may not continue, but both manager and club know that they will be judged by their progress in the Champions League, which City have never threatened to win and Guardiola hasn’t lifted since 2011.

49. Walter Mazzarri (Watford)

  • July 1, 2016 to date

It seemed a curious move. If the Pozzo family were going to go Italian for their eighth Watford manager since the 2012 takeover, the favourite was Francesco Guidolin, who had led the family’s Udinese club and whose son was already coaching the Watford youths. But Guidolin stayed at Swansea, and Watford hired a bloke who’d never worked outside Italy and been jobless for nearly two years.

A deeper look revealed sound reasoning. Yes, Mazzarri had been sacked by Inter in November 2014, but before that the former journeyman midfielder had gradually worked his way up the Italian managerial rankings — starting with third- and fourth-tier outfits Acireale and Pistoiese, then taking Livorno into the top flight, then repeatedly keeping Reggina there. Next he qualified Sampdoria for the final season of the UEFA Cup before leading Napoli to second place and the Champions League. No wonder Inter took him on.

Having moved to England in June 2015, Mazzarri is no innocent abroad. His record of overachievement with smaller teams — usually employing well-drilled players in a counter-attacking formation utilising deadly strikers — makes him something of a perfect fit for his compatriots in the directors’ box. Maybe they’re not so daft after all.

50. Antonio Conte (Chelsea)

  • July 3, 2016 to date

English top-class football’s 50th foreign managerial arrival — slightly delayed due to Italy’s European Championship campaign — and the last one before Brexit, Antonio Conte became Chelsea’s 14th successive overseas managerial hire. Many have arrived; most have failed.

Conte will relish the challenge. A combative midfielder who spent 13 years patrolling the Juventus midfield, he served his managerial apprenticeship at Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena while making plain his desire to return to the bosom of the Old Lady. And when they were reunited in summer 2011, it was quickly beautiful: records tumbled as three successive Serie A titles were collected, before Conte’s country called. He led an unfancied Italy to within a shootout defeat of the Euro 2016 semi-finals.

By that time it had been announced that he would take over at Stamford Bridge, where he may need to do much better in Europe than his Juventus team managed. It would help his cause if he could be as domestically dominant as he was in Italy — Chelsea have only won one of the last six Premier League titles — but Conte’s continental prowess may well decide how he is remembered.

Originally published by FourFourTwo on September 23, 2016.

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