The 15 most intriguing managerial appointments of the summer

August 11, 2010

Domenico di Carlo

It’s been a summer of few big-name signings, but plenty of interesting managerial moves across Europe. Here’s the most exciting 15…

15. Domenico di Carlo, Sampdoria

The first of many Serie A managers on the move this summer. Di Carlo had two solid seasons at Chievo, a club more than happy to finish in midtable. This challenge is something completely different – Sampdoria have Champions League football (as long as they progress past the qualification round), big expectations and some excellent players – aside from a complete overhaul of goalkeepers, the squad has remained almost identical to last season. Di Carlo’s major decision is whether to keep the attacking 4-4-2 system favoured by Luigi Delneri, or sacrifice a winger for another central midfielder, perhaps Fernando Tissone. Whatever happens behind the front two, it is the lethal combination of Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini that Samp are basing their side around.

14. Michael Preud’homme, Twente

After success at Standard Liege and a couple of decent years at Gent, Preud’homme has crossed the border to replace Steve McClaren at Twente. McClaren has not been the only departure from last season’s successful formula – captain and star striker Blaise N’Kufo, main creator Kenenth Perez, right-back Ronnie Stam and winger Miroslav Stoch are no longer at the club, and Twente looked out-of-sorts in their opening league game against Roda JC. Preud’homme has a small squad to work with, and the pressure of competing in the league and Champions League, McClaren might turn out to be a very difficult act to follow.

13. Paulo Sérgio, Sporting

Somewhat of a rebuilding job needed at Sporting – they may have only lost two players, but it’s been their two star names – Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho. It may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for both players and club – the two were stagnating at Sporting, and last season (28 points off the title in a 30 game season) was a complete disaster. Sérgio and Costinha, the club’s director of football, have concentrated on strengthening the squad at the back, signing three defenders, as well as veteran Maniche, who will probably play alongside Pedro Mendes in the centre of midfield. Further forward, a trio of Fernandez-Djalo-Liedson is deadly on paper – Sérgio needs to get it working on the pitch, but even if that happens, a title challenge is probably beyond Sporting this term.

Avram Grant

12. Avram Grant, West Ham

If a couple of penalties had not been missed, Grant’s reputation might be much more enhanced. Had John Terry converted his spot kick in Moscow in 2008, or had Kevin-Prince Boateng scored at Wembley in May, Grant would have recorded two astonishing victories. As it is, the West Ham job is a decent opportunity for him to further his career – they have a good squad that wasn’t utilized to anything like its full potential by Gianfranco Zola. In Thomas Hitzlsperger and Pablo Barrera he has signed two excellent technical players, and with the arrivals of Tal Ben Haim, Winston Reid and Frederic Piquionne the squad is stronger.

11. Bernd Schuster, Besiktas

A tremendously underrated manager who has experienced some level of success almost everywhere he has managed. This is his first appointment since leaving Real Madrid, where he won La Liga in 2008. He is in charge a side that stumbled to fourth place last season, but he has made two big signings – Guti from Real Madrid, and Ricardo Quaresma from Inter. He’s in the market for an experienced striker who will bring guaranteed goals – if that signing is completed, Besiktas could be a good bet for the title.

10. Andres Villas Boas, Porto

The new Mourinho? That’s the expected label for every promising new Portuguese manager, but Villas Boas is more likely to be Mourinho-esque than any other, as he worked with him at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. He’s distanced himself from the  comparisons, but it’s hard not to notice the similarities – Villas Boas was never a professional footballer, instead he started working as a low level coach at Porto under Bobby Robson, eventually becoming one of Mourinho’s most important members of staff. He dresses sharply, is still only 33, and like Mourinho, struggled in his first assignment as a manager, leading Academica to 11th out of the 16 teams in the Liga Sagres last season. He takes over an extremely talented Porto squad that has lost previous captain Bruno Alves, but gained Sporting’s captain, Joao Moutinho.

Jean Tigana

9. Jean Tigana, Bordeaux

Tigana’s managerial career has been something of a disappointment. After his Ligue 1 win with Monaco in 1997 he seemed set to become one of the game’s leading coaches, but since then has only achieved mild success at Fulham and Besiktas – where he won two Turkish Cups but failed to win the title. Now he takes charge of Bordeaux, following the departure of Laurent Blanc to become the national team manager. After brilliantly winning the title in 2008/09, Bordeaux struggled to juggle league and Champions League commitments last season, and slumped to sixth in the league. Transfer activity has been quiet – largely a good thing, since Tigana’s main concern was keeping Yoann Gourcuff. He has started with a 1-0 defeat to Montpellier, where Bordeaux lined up with a fluid 4-4-2 diamond shape.

8. Max Allegri, Milan

A tremendously difficult job. Milan have the same old problems – literally. An ageing squad has still not been refreshed, and the summer transfer window has consisted of signing two defenders from midtable sides – Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Genoa, and 34-year-old Mario Yepes from Chievo. Allegri is in a strange position – surprisingly sacked by midtable Cagliari towards the end of last season, and suddenly finding himself in charge of a Champions League side. He had been widely praised until his departure from Cagliari for doing a decent job with unspectacular players and limited resources, but it’s difficult to see how he’ll be able to transform this Milan squad into genuine title challengers unless there is significant investment in the side.

7. Roy Hodgson, Liverpool

Having been a manager for 40 years, Hodgson has finally found himself taking charge of a big club in his home country, after his success in taking Fulham to the Europa League final last season. Opinion remains divided on how difficult his task is – on one hand Liverpool are coming off the back of a disastrous season, on the other they retain a very good first XI – assuming everyone stays at the club, which is looking increasingly likely. What Liverpool need is a more solid squad, and the pursuit of unspectacular players like Luke Young and Brad Jones signals that someone at the club understands this – it remains to be seen how much control Hodgson has over transfers, but we can be sure that Liverpool will be well-organised and positionally disciplined.

Gigi Delneri

6. Gigi Delneri, Juventus

Another crack at managing a ‘big’ club for a manager who has been tremendously successful at clubs with slightly lower ambitions. Delneri (not Del Neri) made his name with Chievo, guiding them to promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history, and fifth place in their debut season in 2001/02. More recently, he took Sampdoria to fourth place last season. Between that, however, he had two unhappy spells when given the responsbility of managing clubs with title ambitions. In 2004 he replaced Jose Mourinho at Porto, but was sacked before the season had even started. He then took the Roma job, but only lasted six months. Delneri has a distinctive way of playing – generally favouring a 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2 system, with a focus on attacking, pacey wingers – so taking over a club distinctly lacking in that area last season will be a big challenge. He’s sounded ambitious so far, saying, “We want to reinforce our Italian brand through serious politics on youth players, and as well as this the team wants to win instantly.”

5. Michael Laudrup, Mallorca

One of the most exciting players of his generation, and potentially a wonderful coach too. Laudrup’s most impressive time as manager was in Spain, where he took unfashionable Getafe to the Copa del Rey final and the the last eight of the UEFA Cup, so it’s no surprise he has returned to La Liga after a disappointing period in charge of Spartak Moscow. He’s already promised to play attacking football, and has a good base to work from – Mallorca finished in fifth last season, just one point off Champions League football. With 3rd-placed Valencia having lost their best two players, and 4th-placed Sevilla giving a chance to the inexperienced Antonio Alvarez, Mallorca are in a prime position to push on.

4. Sinisa Mihajlovic, Fiorentina

Mihajlovic as a manager? His reputation as a player hardly makes him the most obvious candidate to become a successful coach, but perhaps, as Jonathan Wilson believes, he is a more complex and interesting character than often portrayed. He endured an unhappy period as manager of Bologna where he allegedly fell out with senior players, but impressed last season at Catania, taking charge in December when they were 20th out of 20th in the table, and guiding them to a comfortable 13th place finish. He inherits a Fiorentina squad with relatively few changes from last season, where they faded after their Champions League exit to Bayern. Unfortunately, he’ll have to do without Stevan Jovetic for most of the season after the Montenegrin’s serious knee injury, and Mihajlovic might therefore have to turn to Adrian Mutu oncer the Romanian’s drug ban expires in two months time. This would be a fiery relationship anyway, but factor in a previous altercation between the two, and we might see Mihajlovic’s on-pitch behaviour come back to haunt him.

3. Steve McClaren, Wolfsburg

It’s difficult to judge McClaren’s managerial career so far – a decent job with Middlesbrough, an embarrassing failure at England, incredible success at Twente. His decision to leave the Dutch Champions signals his ambition, and in Wolfsburg he is in charge of a tremendously talented bunch of players, who slumped to a disappointing 8th place finish last season. Free of European commitments, it’s not unrealistic to expect a title challenge. Wolfsburg had no problems with goalscoring last season, but had one of the worst defensive records in the league. McClaren has sought to solve this problem by signing the superb Simon Kjaer from Palermo, but his main concern will be preventing Edin Dzeko from leaving. Keeping the Bosnian might be the difference between a decent title push, and a season of consolidation.

Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho

2. Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid

What more can be said about Mourinho? An astonishing run of success since 2003 has made him by far the world’s most talked-about manager, and has seen him mentioned amongst the greatest coaches in history. That will divide opinion, but his track record cannot be disputed. A title win in Madrid, and he will become the first manager in history to win the league title in England, Spain and Italy, not to mention his initial success in Portugal. He has played down expectations, notably saying “I am successful at clubs, generally in the second year”, a more modest introduction than his opening pronouncements when arriving in London and Milan. The short-term question is what style of football he’ll play – the attacking game Real fans want, or the defensive style Mourinho has (slightly unfairly) become associated with. The long-term question is whether Mourinho can stay at a club long enough to build a true legacy, or whether he’ll become a modern day Bela Guttmann, always in demand, but never staying at one club for longer than three seasons.

1. Rafael Benitez, Inter

More intriguing than Mourinho in Madrid? Quite possibly. With Mourinho, only failure will change our opinion of him – he’s been successful wherever he’s gone, so further success in Madrid is expected. Benitez’ reputation remains in the balance, however – he followed a tremendous run of trophies at Valencia with an ultimately disappointing spell in charge of Liverpool, despite a European Cup in his first seson. Failure or success in Milan? It will be fascinating either way, but the suspicion is that his mentality will suit Serie A well. He’s in the difficult position of taking charge after the most successful season in Inter’s history, and since they have won the past five Serie A titles, anything but a sixth will see Benitez ridiculed. His probable gameplan? To change as little as possible. There have been few key transfers involving the club this summer, and Benitez will most likely stick to the 4-2-3-1 that Mourinho favoured towards the end of last season.

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