If deciding the Premier League’s player of the year is a difficult task, then singling out the top manager is an altogether more complex decision.
Wildly different expectations and a large gulf in available budgets are two of the factors that have to be taken into account. Other considerations relate to the level of pressure, the amount of injuries, and even dealing with any bad luck that has occurred; after all, how many times has a manager lost their job on the back of a series of good performances that simply lacked a bit of fortune when it came to securing the points?
The one obvious candidate each year is the manager of the champions. However, so comfortable has Chelsea’s title win been this season that Jose Mourinho’s outstanding qualities as a manager really haven’t been tested as much as they may have, had there been even one club challenging for top spot.
A strong start was enough to gain distance over the stuttering sides of Arsenal, Man City and Man United. Barring a dramatic collapse at Stamford Bridge, there was never a real threat that the sides below them were capable of performing consistently enough to overturn the deficit.
That’s no criticism of Mourinho, who has done a fine job this season with Chelsea, and it’s no fault of his that the West-Londoners haven’t been pushed by any of the teams expected to challenge.
Elsewhere in the top half, Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk have each done fantastic jobs with Southampton and Swansea respectively, and achieved more than what would have been expected – particularly having both lost important players.
And so to the clubs in the bottom half. Tony Pulis was voted as last year’s manager of the year for his efforts in steering Crystal Palace away from the relegation zone and ultimately achieving a mid-table finish. On that basis, it’s possible to argue the same case for Alan Pardew this year, with the former Newcastle boss having done a similar job.
Pardew’s success at Palace came shortly on the back of a fine run of form which took Newcastle into 5th place at the end of November, even amidst the backdrop of a fierce campaign from supporters who wanted him sacked.
Despite relegation, Sean Dyche has led Burnley well, and for most of the season ensured that the club were within touching distance of getting out of the bottom three.
For a side who were given no chance by many people after their promotion last season, it still represents a decent campaign, and should Burnley win promotion back into the Premier League next season, there’s every chance that a more experienced team would finish outside of the bottom three.
Despite the efforts of Dyche and his Burnley team, it wouldn’t be right to give the top award to a manager whose team had been relegated, and for that reason my choice would be the Leicester boss, Nigel Pearson.
In spite of an infamous press conference during the latter stages of the season when Pearson claimed that the team had received little credit, there have certainly been admirers of a team which, for the most part of the season, has done far better than people were expecting.
The reality did look grim for Leicester towards the end of March though, when the club sat bottom of the league, seven points behind Sunderland, and nine behind Hull City and Aston Villa with only nine games to play. But Leicester put together a remarkable run of 6 wins out of 7 (only failing to beat the champions, Chelsea), to move clear of danger.
Another point last weekend saw Leicester double their points tally for the season in just six weeks, and guarantee that they’ll be in the Premier League again next season.
The club’s survival in the top flight has some similarities to Wigan’s remarkable 2010-11 season when, after months of persisting with good football despite not being rewarded with the points it deserved, a dramatic change in fortune occurred at the most important time of the year, and Wigan put together a winning run that kept the club from relegation with a game to spare.
In both cases, the managers deserve enormous credit, but so too do their chairmen. In the cut-throat world of football management, many club bosses would have quickly moved to change the manager, thinking it was the only solution to a growing threat of relegation.
Even with so many examples of clubs plummeting into much deeper trouble after changing a manager at the first sign of a perceived crisis, it seems that in the modern game, persisting with a manager who has the support of the squad, though simply isn’t getting the results, is a much more difficult decision for a chairman to make.
That Leicester kept faith in Nigel Pearson and gave him the opportunity to keep the team up was good to see, and with the decision having paid off, should earn Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha a big shout for chairman of the year.
But the bulk of the credit for Leicester’s achievements rest with the players and the manager, and having missed out on the Premier League’s Manager of the Season award – which went to Mourinho earlier this week – Pearson’s contribution this season deserves to be recognised at the League Managers Association awards when they’re handed out next week.