Hello everyone and welcome to the annual The18 Premier League Manager of the Season Awards. Yes, it’s that time of the year again where all the great and good, the movers and shakers, the winners and losers gather in a large auditorium dressed in their finery and mutter swear words at competitors through fake smiles. On the red carpet earlier, some managers showed off their designer monologed tracksuits, some wore formal suits, some wore those large, padded coats that look like the insulation you’d put around a hot water tank in the attic and Pep looked resplendent in a snazzy coatigan by Stone Island.
Luckily for you we’ve already handed out all the technical and nerdy awards like Best Editing (VAR official Lee Mason allowing Ivan Toney’s offside goal against Arsenal), best sound (the in-stadium Public Address system at Tottenham) and Best Original Score (Liverpool 9-0 Bournemouth).
The stage is set, the trophy is getting a final spit-polish (don’t worry that’s Wolves’ Daniel Podence’s job so no spit will be used), but, before we can get onto the nominees for the Manager of the Season award, we have to pause and take a step back. Cue the slow, melancholic orchestral-strings rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, everyone look up to the big screen at a haunting photo-montage of headshots dissolving slowly into each other as we take a moment to remember those managers who, sadly, are no longer with us….
- Scott Parker
- Thomas Tuchel
- Graham Potter
- Bruno Lage
- Steven Gerrard
- Ralph Hasenhuttl
- Frank Lampard
- Jesse Marsch
- [Dramatic Key Change]
- Nathan Jones
- Patrick Vieira
- Antonio Conte
- Brendan Rodgers
- Graham Potter
- Javi Gracia
[Poignant long violin note, cut to image of someone drying their eyes with a tissue]
[Cut to Daniel Podence assisting that person by blowing on their contact lens]
And we’re back!
OK – What a season it has been and despite it appearing that more managers were fired than there are managers jobs in the league, some managers did manage to hold onto their jobs, and others managed to step into a ‘dead man’s shoes’ and wrangle a season out of a team that their unfortunate predecessor could only dream of – so, in no particular order – let’s look at the nominees for this season’s award.
What a job he has done, riding pillion to Arsenal for most of this season, whispering in their ear like that annoying voice in your head “you’re going to mess this up, you’re going to mess this up” until Arsenal ultimately messed it up and City overtook them in the final stretch.
Pep has managed to knit the Norse goal god Erling Haaland into his team seamlessly and added a direct, no-nonsense aspect to their play which has seen Haaland become record top goal scorer and sets Pep up for the treble with the Premier League title in the bag (the fifth in six years), and an FA Cup final and Champions League final still to play.
They’re going to mess it up, they’re going to mess it up… and they did… but that came after a season where they lead from the front – alphabetically, at first, then on merit, holding on to top spot for 248 days. No team has led the Premier League for so much of a season and not won it – another award! But seriously, Arteta can be proud of what he and his young team have achieved.
Arsenal Fan TV became a happy place for a while (probably), Arsenal showed how to score from all over the pitch and, but for the wobble at the end, they pushed City right to the wire. Having graduated from Pepuversity, it’s clear that Arteta can stand out of that shadow and has what it takes to win leagues and cups for years to come.
All the money in the world can’t buy you happiness, but a bit of it can buy you Alexander Isak who, along with a few others, has seen the Saudi-owned Northerners catapulted to the business end of the table. Howe hasn’t actually flashed the cash in the way that Chelsea, for example, have. He seems to have taken a steadier approach, which, if you compare the varying fortunes of both clubs this season, appears to have been the safer path. Evolution, not revolution – Howe evolves, he doesn’t revolve.
There are some clubs, including Newcastle amongst several others, whose fans often talk about the size of their fanbase to counter the fact that they are not that good at playing soccer at that point in time; much in the same way fans of ‘Mrs. Brown’s Boys’ in the UK or ‘The Big Bang Theory’ in the U.S. point out the show’s healthy viewing figures to any naysayer unfortunate enough to watch an episode and criticize it for not being any good. (Cue the online vitriol from the affectionately named ‘Big Bangers’).
The problem is, popularity doesn’t make something good, being good makes something good.
(Hear me out disgruntled Newcastle fans).
Howe, spent most of his initial weeks as manager fielding questions about the owner’s human rights record and ‘sports-washing’, and those questions will, and should, continue, but on the field he has dealt with matters as well as he dealt with the pitch invader at Leeds; serenely and with purpose – he has made Newcastle good again, which, after the Mike Ashley era, is a more than welcome change and something for all Newcastle fans to actually celebrate instead of just attendance figures – add to that them getting into the Champions League next season and it’s a stellar report card for young Howe.
And on to Eddie Howe’s old stomping ground, Bournemouth, a team Howe had great success with before getting relegated with them several seasons ago when he must have been about 16. Gary O’Neil’s lot was a difficult one when he took over the reins at the Cherries. Scott Parker got Bournemouth promoted, but had called out the club’s ownership for the team lacking depth and being ‘way short of where we need to be’ before the season even started – in terms of ‘making friends and influencing people;’– he was fired by the board shortly after a 9-0 drubbing by Liverpool, and in stepped the OG, GO’N, less ‘caretaker’ manager, more ‘undertaker’ manager if the doom mongers were to be believed.
Parker went onto another catastrophic managerial run with Club Brugge, lasting only 12 games – one for each of the stripes on the sleeve of his suit.
While he did have 34 games to do it, O’Neil has managed to turn Bournemouth’s fortunes around, effectively with the same squad Parker wouldn’t touch with a Brugge-pole, averaging over a point a game. He even avenged that 9-0 clattering with a resounding 1-0 over Liverpool in the reverse fixture, a swing of 10 goals! Bournemouth will wave their fellow South coasters Southampton a ‘bon voyage’ as they sink into the Championship.
Roberto De Zerbi
And speaking of the South coast and all thing seaside, what a phenomenal job De Zerbi has done at Brighton. Stepping into the shoes of Graham Potter (shoes Potter left behind in favor of an ill-fitting Chelsea boot), De Zerbi has marched Brighton even further forward, pushing them to the top end of the table, rousing them again following an FA Cup semi-final loss despite a congested end to the season.
Except for a few instances where the warm Brighton sand felt a bit too comfortable between the toes of some of his players (see 5-1 loss against strugglers Everton) they have exceeded all expectations this season, playing a more expansive and exciting form of football than they did under Potter; this was particularly apparent in the game against long-time league leaders, Arsenal, who they hammered 3-0 recently. Add to all that the Seagulls qualifying for Europe for the first time in their history – a truly great season.
OK, I am declaring a Conflict of Interest here - Wolverhampton is where I am from, Wolves are the team I support and watch every week – but this will NOT skew the awards voting (envelopes stuffed full of cash will).
To say the beginning of this season was a ‘difficult’ one would be an understatement. The shitshow (another ‘Big Bang Theory’ reference there) that Lopetegui trod in when he arrived at Molineux cannot be underestimated. Bruno Lage’s famed ‘BrunoBall’ style of play never materialized, passing the ball around, not scoring and losing lots of games did. Wolves were in freefall, Lage got his marching orders and interim coach Steve Davis wasn’t working out. With only 10 points from 15 games and with Wolves bottom of the table at Christmas, Lopetegui stepped in and had an insurmountable challenge on his hands – but he managed to ‘surmount’ it.
Lage had moved some good players out and replaced them with some not so good players. He also had to coax out-of-contract Diego Costa off a Brazilian beach when his new striker Kalajdzic ruptured his ACL on his debut and the transfer window had closed shut.
Now, while Lopetegui did have the benefit of the World Cup break to restart Wolves’ season, and was backed to buy players in a bid to rectify some of Lage’s mistakes, the fact he was able to haul Wolves off the bottom and up to safety with games to spare is pretty amazing. Experienced quality signings like Dawson and Lemina were core to the resurgence as was the increasingly present Costa as his fitness, and trademarked shithousery, returned. Lopetegui said this was the ‘most difficult achievement of his career’ – nearly as difficult it must have been for João Moutinho to swap living in Monaco for living in Wolverhampton when he signed back in 2018.
It can be a terrible feeling when you see your ex happy with their new partner who is more attractive than you, fitter than you and more successful than you. Well, that’s what Steven Gerrard must feel when he looks at Aston Villa and the success they have had under Unai Emery. Villa had the ‘it’s not you it’s me’ conversation with Gerrard and ‘kicked him to the curb’ as they were flapping around in 17th place in the table and lined up for a relegation battle.
Much like Wolves did later with Lopetegui, Villa turned to an experienced Spanish manager to save their season, and from ‘día uno’, it was VAMOS! – scoring in 19 straight games, and winning a lot of them, Emery has taken Villa (or ‘Town’ as they are known in Spain according to Google Translate) from the quagmire of relegation to a dalliance with the European places. His impact on the team coupled with his experience in this league has made Villa the top West Midlands team this season, giving them the right to claim ownership of the M6 Motorway between junctions 6 and 10 and permitting them to parade Ozzy Osbourne and Cat Deeley around the pitch at half time… should they wish to, of course.
Thomas Frank’s Brentford can be summed up in one word, ‘hygge’.
a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture) with Ivan Toney up front banging in goals from everywhere.”
OK, I added that Ivan Toney part, but what Denmark’s Thomas Frank has done at Brentford is pretty incredible; he’s been able to consolidate their position as a solid Premier League side by crafting a team that is difficult to break down and can beat anyone in the league on their day. Frank joined as assistant manager back in 2016, became manager in 2018 and got them promoted to the topflight in 2021, so this has been a long-term project. Through the goals of Toney, Brentford are dangerous, but with Toney now banned for 8 months, it will be up to Frank to see if he can find ways to continue Brentford’s steady march upwards.
As the great actor Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man said, “Oh, no, not the Bees, not the Bees, Aaaargh!” – which is a sentiment echoed by many teams who faced them this season.
Erik Ten Hag
It’s said that the ‘Ten’ in ‘Ten Hag’ refers to the ten years since Manchester United last had a manager who wasn’t dreadful, unpopular or both. OK, so they haven’t been totally out of sorts for a decade, but surely, they’re on to a winner now they’ve finally found a manager the fans can get behind. Ironically, getting rid of the club legend Ronaldo and his uber-ego seems to have been the inflection point for this season’s success. Ten Hag has brought the swagger back to Manchester United; the Carabao Cup win, FA Cup final place and a probable top four finish for a place in next season’s Champions League feels like just the reward for a team than needed a stern hand at the helm.
What goes up must come down, and after being promoted to the Premier League for the third time in five years, the odds on Fulham staying up were short. However, under Silva, Fulham have shaken off their ‘yo-yo club’ moniker and managed to steer clear of the relegation vortex which sucked half the table into its clutches. Finally, they seem to have realized that parachute payments are for teams that keep falling out of the plane – and it’s much nicer to fly in business class.
Silva took over Fulham in 2021 from Scott Parker who left to join Bournemouth; with both teams finishing in the top-two of the Championship that season and gaining automatic promotion to the Premier League. It is clear that having a goal machine like Mitrovic (or Toney at Brentford) can really make you look good as a manager, but Silva’s also an old hand at this game despite being so relatively young. He’s managed Hull, Watford, Everton and now Fulham in the top flight and the teams he has left have all gone on to great success (that bit isn’t true).
The outdoorsman Bear Grylls says that when building a campfire, it’s important to not over-fuel it; making sure to give it sufficient space for the air to circulate through the tinder and wood so that…. (I’m, not actually sure whether he said this, I was trying to figure out a wood-based analogy for Forest buying too many players, but I bailed halfway through – Bear Grylls does eat an animal’s eyeball in one episode, and then it bursts then squirts all over the camera – which is pretty cool!... I digress).
Basically, Nottingham Forest bought so many players there was a worry there wouldn’t be enough players left for other teams to field a starting eleven. There’s a feeling that this strategy was driven more by the ownership than Cooper, and, I have to admit, I thought the strategy was flawed and that Forest would get ‘chopped down’ and end up back to the Championship - Cooper himself even survived the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ a few weeks back. Amazingly, Forest survived with time to spare, and it will be interesting to see if Cooper sticks around or capitalizes on this success and moves to a club with a less active talent acquisition department in future.
Spritely Roy Hodgson parachuted (metaphorically, thankfully) into the seat vacated by Patrick Viera after Crystal Palace made twelfth place their home for much of the season – they literally didn’t budge up or down for what felt like an eternity - they added some scatter cushions, a couple of house plants, some scented candles – the lot.
Performances on the pitch weren’t good enough, however, and goals were hard to come by - scoring just four goals in eleven games in the calendar year up to Viera’s departure. Palace, surprisingly, turned to the hand of 75-year-old Hodgson to guide them to safety, which he duly did. I thought they’d been a little premature getting rid of Viera as the latter half of the season’s games were a little easier on paper than the ones they’d made hard work of, but the difference in performance under Hodgson was marked. Hodgson found goals and consistency and quickly moved them out of the reaches of the relegation vortex with a series of wins. There is talk of Palace offering Hodgson another year as a Mr. Miyagi-style mentor to assistant Paddy McCarthy which would be great for Palace and McCarthy as well as the fence panels around Selhurst Park and wax finish on the cars in the player’s parking lot.
And there we have it! I am not sure what the collective noun is for a group of managers - a touchline? a dugout? a technical area? a payoff?... let’s go with ‘group’.. what a ‘group’ of managers that is. But there can only be one winner, and so, without further ado here is the winner of this year’s stunning The18 Premier League Manager of the Season trophy – (a trophy that looks different enough from other award trophies to as not infringe on any copyright).
I have the bejeweled envelope in my hand, here we go…
It gives me great pleasure to award this year’s Premier League Manager of the Season award…
[Cymbal crash - Guardiola accepts award, waves then scurries off back to his seat to prepare for upcoming games]
De Zerbi and Howe ran him close, but for several reasons the award goes to Pep. This is Pep’s fifth Premier League title in six years, he was able to stay in touch with Arsenal all season and then steam past them in the final straight, he bolted in Haaland into the team and got Jack Grealish to work adding a new dimension to City’s play, he did all of this while getting to the FA Cup final and Champions League final. The award has to go to Guardiola.
Now, it is easy to say ‘yeah but they have the biggest pockets and they can spend their way to success’ (I know, I just said it - really easily), and also “yeah, if you’re not following the Financial Fair Play regulations properly then of course you can win things."
The thing is money doesn’t always guarantee success. As Chelsea will attest to this season, just throwing quality players into a team and expecting them to perform well is like throwing caviar, foie gras and truffles into a mixing bowl at a McDonalds and hoping the spotty-faced teenager who flips the burgers can knock you up a cracking ‘Magrets de canard à l’orange et au gingembre’. Teams need a Chef to work all the ingredients (players) into a dish (team).. erm… in addition to the proper chef and catering staff they also have that actually cooks the team’s meals… but too many chefs is a bad thing, isn’t it? (I haven’t thought this metaphor out well either, have I?).
Either way, Pep is a great manager, despite the riches.
It is clear from the nominees that the Premier League has some great managerial talent, the likes of De Zerbi, Howe etc. all will be pushing Pep for this prestigious award in years to come (should he and they stick around in the Premier League). And, while this is a Premier League award, it remains to be seen if Pep can put his tactics board away for a bit and not overthink and over-tweak his team for the Champions League final and just play it straight and win it.
Well, everyone, that was this year’s awards, a four-hour award ceremony you can condense into 20 seconds by reading the results on your phone the following day. We look forward to seeing you all again next year where, statistics would tell us, most of the nominees we lauded and applauded today will have been fired and replaced, and we will be handing out the Premier League Manager of the Season award to someone like Frank Lampard or Bruno Lage for winning the League title with Burnley with 20 games to spare.