Coral’s Premier League awards 2014/15: Manager of the Season
It’s awards season, and we at Coral are holding our own as the Premier League campaign approaches the run-in.
We’ve seen superb signings shine and homegrown heroes hailed this term, and there will be several categories, though players can only be nominated in a maximum of two to ensure everyone a fair crack.
First up is our Manager of the Season Award. Coral’s football experts have put their heads together and nominated the following brilliant bosses for their fine work.
Those punters familiar with Sky Sports’ Super Sunday theme song “Written in the Stars” by Tinie Tempah will have heard the line ‘seasons come and go, but I will never change’ many times.
We all would have said those words typified Big Sam, whose lumping long-ball tactics took Bolton Wanderers into the top six and knockout phase of the old UEFA Cup about a decade ago now.
Because it had brought him that success with the Trotters, he continued to use this route one style at Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and to get West Ham United out of the Championship, often with onfield Allardyce acolyte Kevin Nolan in tow.
Hammers fans were prepared to tolerate whatever means necessary to earn promotion to the Premier League, but last term they turned on Big Sam during dark days of an Upton Park injury crisis. This prompted principal owners David Gold and David Sullivan to hand Allardyce an ultimatum; change your style and take us into the top half.
Big Sam has certainly done the former, and is on course to achieve the latter with West Ham this season (odds-on at 1/5), embracing the appointment of Teddy Sheringham as striker coach.
The clever conversion of Stewart Downing from winger to creative influence in the hole, plus rave reviews about the recruitment of Senegal striker Diafra Sakho and midfield compatriot Cheikhou Kouyate, as well as loan star Alex Song and left back Aaron Cresswell all have Allardyce’s hallmark on them.
Wherever he’s coaching next season (Big Sam is out of contract at Upton Park), he has shown a manager is never too set in his ways to change. That makes Allardyce well worthy of nomination for this gong.
Several pundits, Coral’s football experts included, characterised Southampton as a sinking ship looking destined for a dogfight when several star names, including the coach, left the south coast last summer. And how wrong we were.
Dutch boss Koeman came in with a great reputation as a player, but having struggled to make an impression in coaching outside of his native Netherlands. He has altered that perception entirely with some sterling work at St Mary’s.
Could Koeman be the next Barcelona boss in waiting? That’s what some dispatches said when Nou Camp incumbent Luis Enrique was under pressure this winter. Why? Because of brilliant buys, lauded loan signings and blooding the fabulous fruits of Saints’ awesome academy.
To have seen Southampton’s spine ripped out by the sales of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert before he even took the job only makes Koeman’s performance, and push for a European place (16/1 for Champions League, odds-on at 4/7 for Europa League), all the more remarkable.
At the time of writing, injured Saints stopper Fraser Forster has kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League goalie. Under Koeman, the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Graziano Pelle have established themselves as international players for England and Italy respectively, while club captain Jose Fonte has finally earned a long-awaited and deserved first cap for Portugal.
Making canny additions, especially in wide areas through Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic, it takes real courage to buy into an existing football philosophy like Southampton have. Koeman has not only replaced Lovren and Lambert, but perhaps improved on them in Toby Alderweireld and Pelle.
Emerging talent such as James Ward-Prowse have also been allowed to flourish, showing youngsters everywhere that the path to first-team football is not always blocked by foreign signings. All in all, Koeman thus makes more than a credible case to win this award.
So, this is the second season of the Special One’s second coming at Chelsea. And Mourinho is in pole position to cap it with a Premier League and Capital One Cup double.
It’s easy to measure a Manager of the Season by trophies won, or likely to win, but there’s no denying that other candidates for the honour have not had the financial resources of Blues owner Roman Abramovich behind them.
That notwithstanding, it takes a huge personality and magnificent man management to soothe the egos of top professional footballers. Mourinho could hardly have had that any harder in his previous job at Real Madrid.
Coaches are judged on their signings, and it’s fair to say Chelsea’s predominant pair Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have been hugely successful during their respective maiden Premier League campaign and return to English football.
Moreover, Mourinho has exercised excellent judgement when it comes to senior players, showing no sentiment for former number one Petr Cech in favour of a younger man in Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois, and making club captain John Terry earn another year in Blue.
Chelsea crave success and Mourinho being there again really is a marriage made in heaven. Is he too obvious a choice, though? We shall see.
Managerial stability is not Spurs’ strong suit. They have a trigger happy chairman at Tottenham, but Daniel Levy may have finally found a head coach who can close the gap on the top four and consistently challenge for Champions League football (16/1 shot).
Pochettino’s first season at Spurs has been difficult, but rewarding. They’ve reached a cup final under him and are set to be in Europe again next term (odds-on at 8/11 for a Europa League place). And all of this achieved in essence with one 21-year-old striker leading the line.
Tottenham’s Argentine boss has built on foundations left for him by predecessor Tim Sherwood, but also taken his own legacy from Southampton with him to White Hart Lane. Young, homegrown talent like Eric Dier, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason have all had their chance under him this term.
Spurs supporters have also seen the Pochettino effect transform Belgium winger Nacer Chadli and improve on Christian Eriksen’s previous contributions. Everything done in north London comes in spite of expensive forward flops Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado.
Just think what Pochettino could do if he had options. Tottenham is one goldfish bowl you cannot look away from while he’s in charge, and that compelling viewing, despite neighbours Arsenal on course to defend the FA Cup at Wembley across the capital, would make him a worthy winner of our award.