Louis van Gaal and Rafael Benitez have shown that big reputations count for little in the Premier League, as TEAMtalk columnist Derek Bilton talks up the achievements of those in which little was expected.
Monday mornings in our office are normally sombre affairs. But there was a lively debate last week concerning the difference between character and reputation. It got me thinking about John Wooden’s succinct quite that “Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are”.
And with this in mind has there been a more fascinating season in the Premier League when it comes to managers? The man of the moment is of course Claudio Ranieri. Eyebrows were raised when the ‘Tinker Man’ was given the Leicester gig in the summer, with bookmakers quick to make him among the favourites to be the first manager to lose his job and pundits such as Gary Lineker and Richard Keys even quicker to jump on Twitter and question the appointment. All this before a ball had been kicked.
Claudio Ranieri? Really?
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) 13 July 2015
The Foxes, with Ranieri in charge, are proving to be an immovable force at the top of the league and are on the cusp of doing something truly special. Nobody really expected it, especially given Ranieri lasted less than four months in his last job as manager of Greece, a stint that saw them lose at home to those bastions of the world game, the Faroe Islands.
But if this season has proved anything it’s that finding a boss to achieve success in the top flight is an inexact science.
When Louis van Gaal took over at Manchester United, given his glittering resume and the fact he had just overseen a 5-1 thumping of reigning champions Spain at the 2014 World Cup, Manchester United fans would have been forgiven for thinking the good times were about to roll. How wrong they were. United have been bang average under LVG while playing a brand of football that is anathema to their fans. If he walks this summer his reputation, at least in this country, will be forever tainted.
It’s no different down at the bottom. Rafa Benitez took over at Newcastle last month and the choice was considered an inspired one. The story went that Benitez, a Champions League winner, had the CV and the reputation to save the Toon Army. However at time of writing he’s yet to record a win as Newcastle boss and the club sit in a rather perilous position some six points from safety with six games to go. The big Iberian even admitted in the wake of another shambolic defeat as they went down 3-1 at Southampton that anxiety is “killing” his players. Poor things.
Down the road at Sunderland Sam Allardyce has for a long time had a reputation as the go to guy if you were in relegation trouble. A manager who uses ‘modern’ methods and who knows how to handle a dogfight at the foot of the table. However since his arrival at the Stadium of Light Sunderland are just one place in the table higher than they were when he took over and, like Newcastle, currently staring into the Championship abyss. His win ratio on Wearside is a rather pathetic 24% and yet the usual suspects on Match of the Day and Sky continue to laud ‘Big Sam’ despite growing evidence he is ordinary at best as a football manager.
Remi Garde rode into Aston Villa with a reputation as a forward-thinking European coach. He left with his tail between his legs several months later after one of the most ignominious top flight reigns of any Premier League boss. In stark contrast Slaven Bilic was considered a massive gamble when he took over at West Ham but he’s transformed the Hammers into a superb, easy-on-the-eye footballing side.
It would be the ultimate irony if the two coaches whose appointments were most criticised by the footballing cognoscenti in this country last summer – Ranieri and Bilic – walked off with a league title and FA Cup between them less than 12 months later. And if it does come to pass it will have precious little to do with the reputation of the aforementioned duo. For as Oscar Wilde once mused “Success is a science; If you have the conditions, you get the result.”