Ole’s at the wheel of a historically resurgent Manchester United. Florentino Perez has gone back cap in hand to Zinedine Zidane - a man who walked away from Real Madrid which you just don’t do. Even Roma have plumped for a man who played six games for them at the start of his career. It seems former talismanic players (admittedly a stretch in Claudio’s case) are back in vogue as managers. It’s all about bringing back “club culture” - and yes that does sound like they have bagels on Fridays - but we’re told it’s bigger than that, and the results do seem to speak for themselves.
United have got their man. But what about the rest of the top six - which former players would get a knock on their door if the current man left?
Mikel Arteta is the obvious candidate here. He’s done an apprenticeship under Pep Guardiola and seems serious about management at the highest level. He was captain. He was good-ish. The problem with Mikel is that the “club culture” he remembers wasn’t a very healthy one. Solskjaer has returned attacking football, winning ways and freedom to the Old Trafford pitch, what can Arteta bring back? Fourth place and long injury lists interspersed with the odd FA cup win? Mikel won’t do.
It’s just got to be an invincible. Whether or not the invincibles season is truly the “greatest Premier League achievement” (and no we’re not doing that now), it’s definitely a club culture you can get behind. You can easily catchphrase it, y’know, “not losing”. As opposed to, “performing adequately on limited resources in order to pay for a new stadium and safeguard the long-term future of the club”. So, who are the invincible men in the frame?
Patrick Vieira has walked around in a top with “cityzens” emblazoned across the back for over three years now. You cannot convince me he still has pizza throwing energy. No. The man is a shell of his former self.
Thierry Henry. Monaco. Ditto.
Martin Keown. Angry and embittered - not the sort of bloke who can connect with the modern footballer. Would be physically incapable of sharing a dressing room with Héctor Bellerín.
Tony Adams. The leader of the Tuesday Club is surely going to have similar problems to Keown in attempting to lead a side in the age of meal plans, ice baths and sports psychologists. Although, if his time at Grenada is anything to go by, he’s not completely closed to experimental training methods.
Which brings us to Lee Dixon. The man may have few to no coaching credentials, but as his words drift through the hungover mist via NBC’s coverage of the Premier League, you get the feeling that he “gets” it.
Chris Hughton is the “sensible” choice here. He is the nicest man in football and everyone would love to see him get a chance at a big club. But no one came here for sensible.
Jurgen Klinsmann is perhaps the highest profile former player with serious managerial experience who’d be available in a hurry. Then again, he’s been out of management for three years and ultimately he’s just a bit too anaemic, too bleached by the California sun, to really return anything approaching a “culture” to the club.
“I believe Sol Campbell wants a job?” No.
Gary Lineker would presumably be excellent but appears to have absolutely no interest in the role. And who can blame him? This is a man paid millions simply to gesture vaguely in the direction of “banter” as some goals are scored (Gary is great.)
Brad Friedel only played 50 league games for Spurs. But he’s perfect. Having started his Premier League career at Liverpool as an American outsider he became one of us after eighteen years in the league. He’s currently managing New England Revolution in the MLS but you can tell he’d sell his own mother to come back across the Atlantic – just see his latest rant. He has Premier League DNA flowing through his veins.
Perfect then, for Tottenham, who are the newest member of the big six – culturally at least, if not literally. Friedel can take Spurs from outsiders to fixtures, from bottlers to champions, from “soccer” to “football”.
Gianfranco Zola is already Sarri’s assistant and if the Italian was allowed to return to his sixty a day habit elsewhere, he seems like the man to slot into the dugout.
But he isn’t the only one. Down in the Championship another legend of the club is quietly building a reputation for… losing 4-0 to Aston Villa. It would be an interesting test of Chelsea’s global brand if Frank Lampard were to get the job. Steven-Gerrard’s-Rangers and Frank-Lampard’s-Derby-County are both well-established trademarks but you don’t hear much of Ole-Gunnar-Solskjaer’s-United or Zinedine-Zidane’s-Real-Madrid. United and Madrid’s global brands stand in their own right without the star-manager’s name appended to the front. Would Chelsea FC get the moniker? Who can say. It doesn’t matter. It’s too early for Frank Lampard given his up and down season at Frank-Lampard’s-Derby-County.
But there is a former-Chelsea man currently lurking in the football wilderness with a track record of bringing peace to a divided realm.
Didier Drogba has done incredible work for the peace process in the Ivory Coast and as a result was named on the list of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2010. He’s also the guy who scored that header. This is the man to bring Sarri’s faction fuelled dressing room together in common cause. Didier-Drogba’s-Chelsea. Yeah, that works.
No one can follow Pep. And unlike the other clubs in the top 6, City don’t necessarily have the calibre of recent former player to lean back on. Weirdly though, many of the more journeyman Premier League managers with serious playing credentials - Hughes, Pearce and Southgate - all played for City and have gone on to varyingly middling degrees of Premier League success (obviously Southgate’s England career is a different story and in-Gareth-we-trust.) But that’s not what we’re looking for here.
Although there’s only a four-year gap between Chelsea getting their hands on billions and City getting their hands on an even bigger pile of billions, it still feels like Chelsea have a much more established “rich club” culture. Maybe it’s a product of City’s turbulent pre-petrodollars history, or Chelsea’s more immediate and consistent success, but City’s “club culture” seems somehow caught between the two.
So, to truly encapsulate the City club culture you need someone who can span the eras. Step forward… Nedum Onuoha.
Nedum is still the co-national record holder for boys under 15 standing triple jump – a record he shares with a man who is now an international long jumper. Onuoha will gain instant respect in the dressing room. And, much more than the corporate, globally appealing addition of a “y” to a decades old nickname, represents City before and after Abu Dhabi - having played for the club from 2004-2010. His stint at QPR means he has also seen investment in a club go the other way. And on his 5 Live appearances he’s always been very decent chat.
As with Chelsea, there is a man clearly being eyed-up for this job in the long-term. Unfortunately, Alfredo Morelos seems determined to ensure he doesn’t get it. So who else could make a glorious return?
Well the good news for Liverpool is that their past is littered with greats who embody a culture of relentless winning. The problem is that many of them played quite a while back now. Another is that one of them is Mark Lawrenson.
Kenny Dalglish has already tried and failed (ish). But what about the generation after him, the Houllier and Benitez disciples. We’ll start with perhaps the highest profile in Jamie Carragher – seen last night on Monday Night Football wearing a VR headset in an attempt to get the ref’s perspective on things. Well, they do say modern coaches have to use every technological advantage available to them.
It’s testament to how effective Carragher’s been as a broadcaster that he was brought back into the fold so quickly after “the incident”. But having seen his equally excellent on-screen sparring partner, Gary Neville, struggle in the hot seat at Valencia you’d imagine he’d think twice.
If Klopp were to leave, a fellow countryman might help keep some continuity, so what about Didi Hamann, scorer of the winning penalty in 2005 (with a broken toe it should be added). Well-liked among the fans and respected by Klopp, he’d be a safe and solid choice. But that’s not what we’re here for.
A flash of blond-hair, and suddenly a slightly manic energy descends over the Anfield home dressing room. Sammi Hyppia is in charge, and anything could happen…