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How the old dogs continue to boss Premier League management

What about those young coaches.

COMBINED AGE 241. Years in the dugout: 86. Total trophies: 68.

Perhaps the Premier League’s top four managers prove there is no substitute for experience in the technical area. Maybe the sight of Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and Arsene Wenger filling the top three positions in the table shows it is good to be grey after all.

And maybe the young whippersnappers of an ever-changing profession have been put in their place by a quartet, including Louis van Gaal who, when you factor in their apprenticeships on others’ coaching staffs, boast a century of experience.

Brendan Rodgers, Roberto Martinez and Mauricio Pochettino may represent the next generation, but their elders are still their betters in the standings. Perhaps they ought to be: the four clubs with the biggest wage bills fill the top four spots. Only Mourinho can really call his season a major success although, if Wenger retains the FA Cup, he should emerge in credit, too, and Van Gaal is overseeing an upgrade from seventh to fourth.

Yet what they have illustrated is that managers have to be damage-limitation specialists. It may be damning them with faint praise but there were times when Wenger, Van Gaal and Pellegrini excelled simply by halting slides. Their teams did not go into freefall. Wizened figures were able to instigate a revival.

When Manchester City lost six times in eight fixtures by the middle of April, there were predictions they could tumble out of the top four altogether. Since then, they have won five in a row. Pellegrini may have cut a beleaguered figure but he plotted a way out of a difficult situation. So did Van Gaal when Manchester United only took 13 points from his first 10 games and had been embarrassed 4-0 by MK Dons in the League Cup. Since then, their subsequent 27 matches have yielded a healthy 56 points.

Arsenal dropped to eighth when United won at the Emirates Stadium in November. Wenger held his nerve, as he has done every time it has appeared his record of annual top-four finishes is endangered. Arsenal have won 17 of their subsequent 25 league games. Tellingly, too, while no English club can reflect with satisfaction on their efforts in this season’s Champions League, Mourinho, Wenger and Pellegrini at least steered their sides into the last 16. Rodgers did not.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur v Hull City - White Hart Lane Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The old-timers’ trophies may include the Community Shield, the Johan Cruyff Shield and Pellegrini’s often forgotten Ecuadorian league title but each is entitled to call himself a proven winner. Mourinho is the most relentless gatherer of silverware of all, and has added two more medals to his collection this year.

In contrast, Rodgers, Martinez and Pochettino, albeit often with a lesser chance, have a solitary trophy (the Spaniard’s FA Cup win at Wigan) and a lone top-four finish (achieved by the Liverpool manager 12 months ago) between them. The Argentine is entitled to argue his first season at Tottenham is a transitional year, but, rather than realising predictions of managerial greatness, the twin philosophers on Merseyside have overseen regression. Their reputations are lower in 2015 than they were in 2014.

Ever the idealist, Martinez made the fundamental mistake of underestimating how much damage the Europa League would do to his domestic campaign; it is no coincidence Everton only found form when they could concentrate on all matters English. Rodgers floundered without Luis Suarez. For three months, he found a system and a style of play that enabled Liverpool to get results. For the rest of the campaign, they were mediocre. Pochettino’s faith in young players may have fostered optimism for the future, but Tottenham have taken fewer points than last season when, in turn, they took fewer than the year before.

Each has progressive principles, based around passing and pressing, but each has had defensive difficulties during the season. Their transfer records in the last 12 months have been miserable. Rodgers has a solitary success, Emre Can, to show for his £117 million outlay. Pochettino’s strongest side may not include any of his signings. Martinez has fared best, thanks to Aaron Lennon’s impact on loan and Romelu Lukaku’s 20-goal haul, but a £28 million forward probably should be that potent. They are innovators, trumpeted talents whose willingness to gamble on untried players has earned them admirers but, as managers, each looks a work in progress, rather than the finished article. Each might benefit from the pragmatism experience tends to provide.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Aston Villa v Everton - Villa Park Source: Scott Heavey

Only one up-and-coming manager, Garry Monk, who has married defensive solidity with tactical nous and a fine big-game record, has dramatically enhanced his standing in the Premier League this season. He and Ronald Koeman have been the two revelations but the Dutchman, a 52-year-old in his eighth managerial job, is no bright young thing. Nor is Nigel Pearson, who is only five months Koeman’s junior.

Perhaps Tim Sherwood will win the FA Cup and effect the transition from promising newcomer to proven high-level performer. He has rescued Aston Villa from a battle at the bottom they should never have been in, but it is notable that the real relegation Red Adairs were a tried-and-trusted pair.

Alan Pardew and Tony Pulis have been there, done it before and, in the Welshman’s case, got the baseball cap to prove it. Mourinho, Van Gaal, Wenger and Pellegrini have the medals to show for their prowess. Ageism may prevail in other parts of society but management’s old guard have held off their supposed successors. As the table shows, there is quite a gap between those with an illustrious past and those who dream of a brighter future.

– Richard Jolly     

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