After disappointing Premier League campaigns, three of the biggest clubs in England are in the market for a new manager; and they are wasting little time in identifying targets.
David Moyes may still be searching for his first piece of silverware since taking charge of Everton back in March 2002, but in many ways the Scot’s relationship with the Toffees can be described as a marriage made in heaven: the Goodison Park club are regularly fighting in the top-half of an increasingly competitive division, whilst he has undoubtedly made himself the figurehead of the club and has built a team which the fans can be proud of.
To find a similar appointment would be ideal for Aston Villa, who were onto a loser the moment they appointed Alex McLeish last summer. The Scot was a hugely unpopular choice with supporters due not only to his connection with Birmingham City, but two relegations in four years hardly inspired encouragement. And they were right to be fearful, as they saw their side avoid a first relegation since 1987 by just two points.
It is now being widely reported that the man Villa want to succeed McLeish is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the former Manchester United striker. Since hanging up his boots, the Norwegian impressed as reserve team coach at Old Trafford, before heading back to his homeland to take charge of the first team at Molde, the club he played for prior to his move to England. And despite a heavy defeat in his first game, he overcome this difficult start to lead the Aker Stadion club to their first ever title in their anniversary year.
Still only 39 and with his experience of the Premier League – he won six titles at United, as well as two FA Cups and, famously, the UEFA Champions League – it is easy to understand why he could be a shrewd choice for Villa, and one which would be well received by their fans. However, would it be a good move for Solskjaer?
It is inevitable that he will eventually return to England, but he is still learning the managerial ropes and will gain Champions League education with Molde next season. Villa are not a side which requires just a couple of tweaks; there is some major work needed to restore them to a team capable of enjoying the high finishes it did under Martin O’Neill. They may be one of England’s biggest clubs, and whoever gets it right there will be treated a hero, but it may not be the right challenge for Solskjaer at this stage of his career.
Another player who has tasted success in England during his playing career is Roberto Di Matteo, who won two FA Cups, the League Cup and the European Cup-Winners Cup during a six-year stint at Chelsea. After leading West Bromwich Albion to the Premier League as manager before being controversially sacked, he is now back at Stamford Bridge as interim boss following the departure of Andre Villas-Boas, and he has already secured the FA Cup for the Blues. And on Saturday, he could cement his legendary status by beating Bayern Munich and winning the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.
But it appears even that wouldn’t guarantee the 41-year-old the job on a permanent basis. Although being crowned the best team in Europe has been Roman Abramovich’s aim since buying the London club in 2003 and subsequently pumping millions into it, latest reports claim he is prepared to turn to Fabio Capello, who has been out of work since leaving England in February.
The Italian has won the title at every club he has managed – Milan (four times), Real Madrid (twice), Roma (once) and Juventus (twice) – so it should come as no surprise that he is much coveted, with clubs in Spain and Russia also said to be interested. However, Capello will be 66-years-old when the new season begins in August, so how long would it be before Abramovich is looking for yet another new coach?
Maybe the Russian believes he could offer Capello a 12-month contract, in the hope that Pep Guardiola will be back on the market after his self-imposed break from the game. But knowing the managerial turnaround at Stamford Bridge, would the former Barcelona coach even be tempted? If Bayern are defeated in their own back yard this weekend, then surely Di Matteo should be offered the opportunity to build a dynasty at the club?
If the Blues consider a sixth-place finish a disastrous Premier League campaign, then spare a thought for Liverpool: they finished two places and 12 points adrift of Di Matteo’s side, and a staggering 37 behind the two Manchester clubs. Even King Kenny and his Carling Cup couldn’t survive such a performance, and he was relieved of his duties earlier this week. Dalglish made a series of costly blunders last summer, paying over £50million in total on the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam, and the Fenway Sports Group were clearly not prepared to take the risk of handing him more of their cash.
The American owners now intend to speak to a number of candidates before identifying their man, but many reports would suggest Roberto Martinez, the Wigan Athletic coach, is their first choice. The Reds have already been granted permission to speak to the Spaniard, who has won many admirers during his time firstly at Swansea City, and now at Wigan, who he has led to survival against all the odds in both of the last two seasons.
The 38-year-old is regarded as one of the brightest young coaches in the game, and his chairman at the DW Stadium, Dave Whelan, has long tipped him to be lured to one of the biggest clubs in Europe. But is now the right time for Martinez? Like Solskjaer, he has plenty of time to develop his skills before taking on one of the biggest jobs, and should he leave Wigan, he may be better advised to perhaps enhance his knowledge by moving abroad before making such a giant step as the Anfield position would require.
Additionally, would Martinez be right for Liverpool? He performed a minor miracle in leading the Latics to seven wins in their last nine matches of the season, but before this he had collected maximum points in just four of their previous 29. Granted, he is working with a limited budget, but his win ratio at Wigan is just 26%; shouldn’t a club like Liverpool, with their 19 league titles and five European Cups, be setting their sights higher?
A more suitable option could be Villas-Boas. Forget his sacking at Chelsea – even Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have in the past been deemed not good enough for Abramovich. The 34-year-old has a proven record of winning both domestically and in Europe, and whilst many may point out this was only with Porto, that didn’t prevent Mourinho from going on to much bigger and better things.
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