Jack Holmes gives his opinion on the managerial situations at West Ham United, Arsenal, Watford and Everton, all of whom sacked their coaches before the turn of the year.
With each new season of Premier League football, we have the inevitable slew of unfortunate managers who find themselves being replaced by some fresh-faced Spaniard, or one of the old guard coming in to stave off another relegation.
This year has been no different, with West Ham United, Arsenal, Watford and Everton all disposing of their coaches before Christmas. Those four go under the microscope here as we take at look at the new men leading each club (for now), and consider who might have struck gold and who could live to regret their decision.
Nigel Pearson has taken a team that looked nailed-on for relegation and, in the space of less than two months, turned them into a well-drilled unit, capable of securing a comfortable mid-table finish. The combined efforts of Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez-Flores had seen Watford earn a paltry nine points – from a possible 48 – in their opening 16 games of 2019/20.
That’s a stark contrast to the job Pearson has done, the 56-year-old helping the Hornets add a respectable 14 points to their tally by the time the 22nd round of action came to a close. Their wins have come against teams in the top half, such as Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, but also, and perhaps more crucially, against fellow relegation rivals, like Bournemouth.
It’s clear to see how the Watford dressing room feel about him. One man in particular – club captain and talisman Troy Deeney – came out and emphatically supported his new boss by saying: “For the first time in eight years, I have been treated like a proper man”. Goalkeeper Ben Foster has also echoed these thoughts, highlighting the benefit of having a manager that isn’t afraid to give the team the ‘hairdryer’ treatment when necessary.
Before the season began, many predicted a run-of-the-mill, midtable finish for the side, yet they are currently in the midst of a relegation battle with at least seven other teams. Pearson looks to be the man to keep Premier League football in Hertfordshire, but if the Hornets want to see long-term success, a more progressive manager, plus a leap of faith from the trigger-happy board, is necessary.
The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as Everton’s permanent head coach is, by every definition, a statement signing. He is the Hollywood manager Toffees’ owner Farhad Moshiri has been after since his takeover in 2016. And yet, in my opinion, this is a decision that has been influenced more by the Italian’s name than his abilities.
Ancelotti has an unquestionably impressive CV, with three Champions Leagues, four first division titles, and countless domestic trophies under his belt. However, his bread and butter has always been taking short stints at already-established super clubs. The veteran is a master at getting the maximum out of superstars. Not since his first spell at Milan has Carlo stayed in charge of a team for 24 months – this Everton team need substantially longer than that.
Bitter disappointment awaits the Everton board
Add to this problem the relative failure of Ancelotti’s last position at Napoli, as well as his ousting from Munich, and ‘Carletto’ finds himself in the unfamiliar position of needing to prove his credentials.
On the plus side, he can expect serious financial backing from the mega-rick Toffees hierarchy, but in the best-managed league in the world, I can’t see the blue side of Liverpool making a serious top-four challenge within Ancelotti’s typical job cycle. Avoiding a bottom-half finish this season is a realistic target.
However, if the Everton board brought in Ancelotti with the hope of securing Champions League football and a place amongst England’s elite, bitter disappointment awaits.
A disaster in the league, capitulating to city rivals in a European final, and losing the fans within two years; it’s fair to say that Unai Emery’s tenure at Arsenal was nothing short of a disaster.
Up step Mikel Arteta, a former midfield maestro and no-nonsense captain at the Emirates Stadium. Questions have been asked about giving the reigns to a coach with no experience of senior management, though there is no better place to gain an apprenticeship in football management than under one of the game’s all-time greats, Pep Guardiola.
Along with winning everything there was to win in the English game with Pep, Arteta has been personally credited by players like Raheem Sterling for improving their game. We’re only eightgames into the Spaniard’s reign and it’s already clear to see the impact he’s having. The players look far more organised, the team is pressing with a purpose, and even the woeful defending that became a signature of the Emery era is starting to look better.
Furthermore, before Arteta’s arrival, Arsenal were conceding shots at the rate of a side fighting to stay afloat, but his tenure has seen the number of attempts from their opponents drop dramatically. Along with this, the supporters are back on side, and players like Granit Xhaka – who seemed destined to leave in disgrace – are back performing, and proving to be crucial for the boss’ vision.
Despite the positivity, the Gunners are still on track for another finish outside the Champions League places, so optimism must be balanced with caution. However, if the board properly back their man in the coming transfer windows, Arsenal could finally be on their way back to consistent top-four finishes, and maybe even the occasional title challenge.
West Ham United
This season has so far been one of serious disappointment for the Hammers faithful.
During the summer, West Ham seemed to have finally learned their lesson when it came to the transfer market. They were making smart, forward-thinking purchases. Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller were real coups for the Irons, and with a Premier League winning manager at the helm, people began suggesting they could push for Europa League qualification.
Despite all this, the team had been dragged into a relegation scrap by the middle of the campaign. It’s a scrap they really shouldn’t be in, given the calibre of their squad. Something had to give, so Manuel Pellegrini was replaced, not with some young, exciting, hungry manger, but probably the least inspiring choice the board could have made – David Moyes.
West Ham are undoing all the good work they’ve done on the recruitment front.
The results have seen a small improvement, but at the time of writing the Hammers are in 17th position, and only out of the relegation zone thanks to goal difference. Worse yet, they face two games against Liverpool, as well as meetings with Manchester City and Arsenal, in their next six Premier League fixtures. Suffice to say, it’s a run that could put a serious dent in their bid for top-flight survival.
Moyes has the managerial ability to keep these players in the division, and will probably achieve that aim, but a club of this stature and ambition should not be settling for a second stint under the Scotsman. By hiring a dinosaur of the game to coach such a quality group of players, West Ham look to be undoing all the good work they’ve done on the recruitment front.