Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Championship- A hotbed of managerial talent

Last season’s second tier of English football gripped me as always. There was the usual mountain of goals, thrilling end to end games and many players who simply lit up the league.

However, one of the key elements of any Championship season is the quality of the managers and how they handle the uniqueness of the league. Neil Warnock with Queens Park Rangers, Paul Lambert with Norwich and Brendan Rogers with Swansea City, proved themselves as the best of a very good bunch by getting their sides promoted to the Premiership.

This season promises to be no different as 24 managers fight for glory. The standard of managers is just getting better every season, in my opinion.

West Ham should never have been relegated from the Premiership. The way Avram Grant failed to motivate a squad full of England internationals such as Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green along with other quality players such as Mark Noble, Robbie Keane and Demba Ba was disgraceful. However, Grant’s replacement has all the attributes to get West Ham promoted straight back up to the Premiership.

The style of football that Sam Allardyce has promoted throughout his managerial career isn’t pretty but it’s extremely effective and I fully expect the usual gritty performances at Upton Park in this upcoming Championship season. Allardyce has already shown his intentions by securing the signing of Kevin Nolan from his previous club Newcastle United, who ironically enough was his former captain at Bolton.

West Ham are still a big club, who can attract big names but the appointment of Allardyce was still a coup. Many managers seem unwilling to touch this club with a bargepole, but Allardyce was different. The two David’s Gold and Sullivan and Karren Brady have appointed a man who transformed Bolton from a Division One club (as it was known then), into a team who consistently finished in the top half of the Premiership and he also led the Wanderers into the Uefa Cup group stages and the Carling Cup Final in 2004, where they lost to Middlesbrough.

After the 2006 World Cup, Allardyce was heavily touted as the next English manager, before losing out to Steve McClaren.  I accept West Ham are probably not a Championship club, but to have a man who was regarded as one of the best English managers around from the period of 2003-2006,shows the power of the Championship.

However two clubs have gazumped West Ham in their managerial appointments. On Monday, sleeping giants Nottingham Forest appointed former England manager Steve McClaren as the man to guide them back to the big time.

Only days earlier McClaren was on his way for an interview with Aston Villa, who then decided they didn’t want him; I found Villa’s stance utterly baffling. Despite failing as England manager, this is a man who took Middlesbrough of all clubs to a Uefa Cup final, beating teams such as Basel and Steaua Bucharest along the way.

He also led them to the 2004 Carling Cup and also a seventh place finish in the league and attracted players such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Michael Reiziger to the North East.

After the England failure, McClaren took a brave step to reinvent himself and promptly won the Dutch league title with the unfashionable Fc Twente, whom he also led to the Dutch Cup Final.

And let’s not forget McClaren was the man who was by Sir Alex Ferguson’s side at Manchester United as the Old Trafford Club went and won their historic treble in 1999.

McClaren’s CV rivals just about any manager and despite another blip at Wolfsburg, I am delighted Forest has given him the chance to prove himself again in English football and the Championship is considerably stronger with his presence.

 McClaren won’t be the only former England manager to be managing in the Championship in the upcoming season. At Leicester Sven Goran Eriksson will also be looking to get back into the Premiership.

Despite agreeing with many football fans and other media commentators that Eriksson would now take a job anywhere, I do find it incredible that a man who has won trophies all around Europe, including league championships in Italy, Portugal and Sweden plus also leading Lazio to the Uefa Cup Winners Cup in 1999 and he also led them, plus Benfica and Goteborg to Uefa Cup Finals, winning with Goteborg in 1982.

He also led England in three major finals, where on every occasion he was knocked out in the quarter finals, although taking a closer look at each game, he was very unlucky. Against Brazil, David Seaman was inexplicably beaten by Ronaldinho and against Portugal in both Euro 2004 and the World Cup of 2006 England were beaten on penalties.

Sven also had short other spells as manager of both Mexico and Ivory Coast, showing how varied his career has been.

For someone who has been a manager at 3 world cups, plus won a Serie A title, to be managing in the second tier of English football is simply incredible.

Those three managers probably stand out, but some other impressive managers will also be in the hunt this season. How can I not mention the irreplaceable Ian Holloway at Blackpool, who despite all his brilliant sound-bites, also proved how good a manager he is by leading Blackpool to the Premiership and almost keeping them there.

Two sons will be looking to follow in their fathers’ giants shadows as they manage Derby County and Peterborough respectively. Whilst Nigel Clough at Derby and Darren Ferguson may never match their fathers incredible achievements, they serve as a timely reminder that great mangers including their fathers both started off small.

At Middlesbrough Tony Mowbray will be determined to build on last season’s strong finish. Despite failing at Celtic, he is still managed to find himself a big club and it was a bit of a coup to convince Mowbray to come back to the Riverside after he was sacked from Parkhead.

Right now, one of the main contenders for promotion Birmingham lie in limbo regards their manager, with Alex Mcleish having gone to bitter rivals Aston Villa on Friday. However, the quality of names being linked is nothing short of spectacular. Names such as Chris Hughton who got Newcastle promoted two seasons ago, Dave Jones who managed Cardiff to a FA Cup final and consecutive play-off appearances and Billy Davies, who got Derby, promoted and also led Nottingham Forest to consecutive play off appearances before being sacked two weeks ago have already been banded about.

The managerial talent in the Championship this season is simply mesmerising and once again, I am predicting another fierce battle, possibly involving former international managers and who have managed in the Premiership.

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