There is no surprise winner of our Manager of the Year award, but check out who made the top five shortlist…
5. Quique Sanchez Flores:
It seems strange to be including on this list a manager who has already been relieved of his duties, but that says more about Watford and the modern game rather than any reflection on the job done by Flores this season.
After being promoted from the Championship as runners-up, Flores arrived at roughly the same time as 16 new signings, with 22 different nationalities to mould into a cohesive unit.
He did just that, with the new boys never gracing the bottom three, instead spending Christmas in seventh place, thanks largely to the goals of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
The Hornets remained in the top half until March, when their slide began. In mitigation, Flores had guided Watford to an FA Cup semi-final so with safety assured, their Premier League focus may have slipped. But a poor display in the Wembley showpiece against Crystal Palace failed to justify Flores’s realigned priorities. A 13th-placed finish was still creditable and would surely have been snatched had it been offered to them last summer, but their late season slump saw to it that Flores is once again available for work this summer.
4. Slaven Bilic:
Bilic’s association with the Hammers as a player and the simple fact he wasn’t Sam Allardyce were factors that were always going to buy the Croatian manager a little patience at Upton Park. He didn’t need it, though.
With West Ham’s season starting on July 2 – before most clubs had reported back for pre-season – Bilic had his squad raring to go by the time the Premier League kick-off came around. The Hammers stunned Arsenal on the opening weekend, with another magnificent away win at Liverpool sandwiching home defeats to Bournemouth and Leicester.
Manchester City were also beaten on their own patch and champions Chelsea sent packing from Upton Park. When Bilic finally conjured up some consistency, the Irons not only threatened the European spots but also put themselves in the hunt for a Champions League place.
A seventh-placed finish was a disappointment in the context of their season as a whole but Bilic takes the Hammers to the Olympic Stadium in far better shape than perhaps even the club’s fans and owners might have hoped a year ago.
3. Eddie Howe:
The Premier League’s most exciting manager, according to Jurgen Klopp, had already worked miracles in bringing Bournemouth from League One and Howe matched those achievements this season by comfortably keeping the south coast side in the top flight.
Howe’s task was made all the more difficult by a desperately unfortunate run of injuries that deprived Bournemouth for much of the season of summer signings Max Gradel and Tyronne Mings, and Championship top scorer Callum Wilson. By November, the Cherries were in the bottom three after a run of four defeats and Howe was forced to make do with the squad he assembled for the Championship.
Instead of moan about Bournemouth’s injury misfortune, Howe focused on the players he had available and tweaked their methods. After losing at home to Newcastle (a game which they completely dominated), the Cherries drew three and won three of their next six, a run that included victories at Chelsea and over Manchester United.
Consistency always alluded Bournemouth but Howe inspired his troops to secure their safety with plenty to spare. Only after 38 points were collected and survival was achieved did results tail off, with six defeats coming in the last eight games.
2. Mauricio Pochettino:
Spurs failed in their title push and were ultimately pipped to second by Arsenal following a late collapse, but their season was a triumph with excitement and expectation around White Hart Lane the highest it has been for years. Decades, possibly.
Pochettino has moulded the youngest squad in the league into a tight but free-scoring unit, with some of the most exciting football of the season being played in north London, and for a change, not at the Emirates.
The Argentinean has developed the likes of Golden Boot winner Harry Kane and PFA Young Player of the Year Dele Alli while supplementing that young talent with solid recruitment, such as Toby Alderweireld and Kevin Wimmer.
Pochettino has already been put forward for some of the biggest jobs in the world game and speculation is only likely to increase next season if the former Southampton boss can help Spurs build on a fantastic year. Next season will demonstrate how he and his young players can cope with raised expectations but all the evidence suggests last term’s title challenge was no one-off.
1. Claudio Ranieri:
Back in August when the TEAMtalk writers made our predictions, I wrote that Ranieri would be gone by Christmas. In fairness, I wasn’t alone in questioning the wisdom of Leicester’s choice of new manager but few of the many of us who wrote off the Italian will mind having our words stuffed down our throats, given the fairytale nature of Leicester’s triumph.
The brilliance of Ranieri lies in his simplicity. Unlike so many of his counterparts in the Premier League, the experienced and well-travelled boss is not a micro-manager; he gives his team simple instructions and trusts his players to carry them out.
Ranieri’s side have destroyed so many of the modern game’s supposed truths. Prior to Leicester easing to the title, 4-4-2 was dead, possession was king and midfielders had to have a specialism – the idea of having two box-to-boxers was absurd.
Ranieri cannot take a great deal of credit for the recruitment of N’Golo Kante and Shinji Okazaki but he deserves all the praise for moulding his collection of journeyman with a point to prove into a team capable of doing just that. The 64-year-old got his tactics spot throughout the season, rarely deviating from his methodology, regardless of the opposition. He also shielded his players all the way through, taking until late April before admitting publicly that the title was within their sights, all the while charming the media with his polite honesty, which was effective in disarming journalists so used to dealing with surly and cliched subjects.
For inspiring possibly the greatest football story ever told, Claudio Ranieri is our Manager of the Year.