So Ryan Giggs won the PFA Player of the Year awards in typically expected fashion, and now Steven Gerrard has won the Writers Player of the Year award, in an even less unexpected award. And disappointingly, the other award that is due to be given out as we approach this season’s climax won’t bring any surprises either, because when it comes to the Manager of the Year award, there’s only ever one winner; because only once has the title winning manager not won the award (George Burley, Ipswich, 2001).
If United hold their nerve and clinch a third successive Premier League title, Sir Alex Ferguson will win the award. If they slip up and Liverpool manage to sneak past them at the death, Rafa Benitez will win the award. Either way, as soon as the title race is decided, so will be the destination of the Manager of the Year award,, yet to me, neither of those managers deserves to win it.
Yes, sure, Ferguson is perhaps the best manager around, and if he wins the title, will have guided his team to yet another crown, a magnificent achievement indeed. But the thing is, winning has become a habit for Ferguson. He has done the hard work, he did it years ago, when he turned Man Utd from perennial underachievers to one of if not the most famous club in the world. He did it when he brought through that great class of youngsters and established the beginning of his empire.
And yes, to carry on that success does require a certain amount of skill and talent, but he has benefitted greatly from his initial foundation building. Since he started winning thins he’s had a fortune to play with each Summer, to go out and add impressive depth to his squad. He’s established an aura of invincibility around United that often does half the work for them. And all this is a great achievement, but this season, he hasn’t really done anything special. He’s simply sent out a better team than anyone else most weeks, because he could.
Rafa Benitez too, is undeserving of the Manager of the Year award. He hasn’t built the best team in England, and even if they won the title, I would argue that they’re still only the third of fourth best team in the country. The fact is, Benitez hasn’t even built a team, or a squad. He inherited Steven Gerrard, who was carrying Liverpool to consistent fourth place finishes before Benitez showed up, and he spent nearly thirty million quid on Torres, who has helped Gerrard elevate the Reds a bit higher than he could manage on his own.
But signing one player doesn’t make Benitez a managerial wonder. Torres was no secret, everyone with an ounce of footballing knowledge knew that there was a superb striker over at Atletico, and the only reason he hadn’t left beforehand was because no one could afford to pay what Atletico wanted for him. Benitez though, was given a huge wad of cash and so over he went. If someone had given me a huge wad of cash, I’d have done the same thing, but I don’t deserve the Manager of the Year award.
And the sad truth is that Liverpool wouldn’t even be close to the title were it not for Gerrard and Torres. Gerrard even admitted the other day that it is because he has been injured so frequently this season that they probably won’t win the title. So I think it would be a travesty if Benitez won the award, even if they win the league. Yes, Liverpool have some other pretty good players, but with the amount of money he’s spent, so they should. The fact that they don’t win the title despite the hundreds of millions Rafa has spent should ensure that he never wins this award.
So if the managers of the title challengers are out, who should win? Well for my mind, there are four main candidates. One is Martin O’Neill, who has led a bit of a revolution at Villa Park, turning Villa from perennial mid-tablers into a side that threatened to challenge the ‘big four’. Another is David Moyes, who has guided Everton to yet another top six finish despite the most catastrophic injury plagued season I’ve ever known. Third is Roy Hodgson, who transformed a Fulham side that survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last season into probable Europa League qualifiers, and fourth is Tony Pulis, who kept Stoke in the league against all the odds.
Each of these four managers has done what neither Ferguson or Benitez has – they’ve overacheived. Villa fans would never have dreamed they’d have such a season, Everton’s squad size and financial budget should see them consistently scrapping for their lives, Fulham fans were probably expecting to be relegated and Stoke fans probably felt the same, survival was the very highest of their ambitions at the start of the season, yet they’ve done it relatively comfortably in the end. So who should win the award?
Well, O’Neill has built a young, largely English side and got them playing with verve and skill. The defence needs some work now that Laursen seems unlikely to return, but their potent speed in attack made them a very difficult side to beat. They certainly rode their luck at teams, but some will claim that they made their own, and certainly there was much to admire in Villa’s attacking spirit.
However, I feel that O’Neill let himself down in January, when he bought Emile Heskey for no apparent reason and didn’t strengthen his squad in areas where he needed to. The fact that he’s not short of cash will also count against him, and the decision to buy a target man despite already having John Carew has backfired when Laursen’s injury left a gaping hole in their defence and eventually ended their top four challenge.
His strange decision to forfeit their UEFA Cup run was also a bit odd, he chose to focus on achieving a Champions League place and so rested players, which was questionable at the time and looks downright stupid in hindsight. Overall then, O’Neill can be commended for building a team with great promise, but let himself down with a couple of key decisions.
Stoke fans are in no doubt that Tony Pulis should be the man to get the award. He has achieved the seemingly impossible task of keeping little, unfashionable Stoke in the glitzy Premier League for another season, despite working with a small budget and a club that everyone loves to hate.
You have to hand it to him, he really knows how to create a great team atmosphere, and imbued his players with a great sense of purpose and fighting spirit. Some would suggest the on-pitch bust-up they had refutes this, but I think it showed how much passion his players have, and it was inevitable that it could bubble over.
He also showed he’s got a good eye for a player in the January window, making a couple of good signings, notably bringing James Beattie back to the Premier League in what proved to be a bargain. He knew too, that their home form would be key and geared the side towards making the most of an intimidating home stadium and a great, extremely vocal set of fans who truly are a 12th man.
Most effectively, he also developed the “Delapidator”, the ever threatening long throws from Rory Delap that caused so many Premier League defences to fall apart and provided Stoke’s main goal threat for much of the season. However, this will also count against him in the eyes of many (myself included) because at times Stoke’s tactics were a genuine blight on the beautiful game.
Ultimately, I don’t think Pulis deserves the award, partly because his team couldn’t, at times, be truly said to have played football and partly because although Stoke have survived relegation this season, a big reason for that is because the league overall has been so poor this season. The teams that are below them have been absolutely terrible, and in any other season, Stoke may have found it far more difficult to cope, and I guess the acid test for Pulis will be next season.
Roy Hodgson’s achievements this season haven’t been quite so spectacular or unexpected as O’Neill’s and Pulis’, but they are nonetheless very impressive. Fulham were as good as relegated until a miracle escape at the end of last season, but since he has come in they’ve seen a rapid improvement. He bought sensibly in the summer, bolstering a slim squad with quality in key arears, and he got them playing some nice football.
Their home form has been really excellent all season, and they’ve lost very few games at the Cottage as a result. He’s never quite been able to recreate that form away from home where they have struggled, but despite that, he’s led them to sit seventh in the table currently, ahead of the likes of Spurs and Man City, who spent lavishly with the aim of getting into the Europa League or even the Champions League spots.
In a way though, Hodgson too has benefited from the league’s overall poor standard. Had the likes of Spurs and City not been so poor this season, they would probably find themselves lower down in the table, and it is only because Everton have made it to the FA Cup final and finished in sixth that they have a chance of playing in Europe. Still, going from as good as down to as good as Europe is no mean feat, and if Hodgson can continue the upward trend next season, they should again be looking at European places.
Finally then, and my choice for the Manager of the Season, we have David Moyes. I’ll acknowledge now that some readers will think that this choice is biased by my support for the Toffees, but I genuinely believe that even if I supported another club I would feel the same way. Moyes has again guided Everton to a top six finish, and they might yet grab fifth spot, as well as leading them to a first FA Cup Final in fourteen years.
They had an appalling start to the season after a turbulent summer, and he was unable to add to the squad that did so well last season until the very last minute, and certainly didn’t get chance to add depth to the quality that he already had. The only money he spent was fifteen million on Fellaini, which sounds a lot, but compared with those above and around him, was pittance.
Despite that though, Everton came good. Fellaini has proved to be a good signing, with the Belgian pitching in with eight goals over the season, and showing his versatility by playing up front, despite his natural position being a defensive midfielder. It is this, Moyes’ ability to get the best of players no matter what he asks of them, that makes him such a top manager.
He has had to deal, this season, with a mountain of injuries. Yakubu (probably our best striker), Arteta (probably our best midfielder), Jagielka (probably our best defender), Anichebe and Vaughan (our other two strikers) have all had either season ending injuries or been long term absentees, while the likes of Cahill and Saha have been in and out of the side with injuries too. Given that we have such a threadbare squad, it is a miracle that we still sit in sixth place and even more surprising that we got a Cup run in too.
And what a Cup run. Everton have beaten Liverpool, Villa and Man Utd on the way to the final, and if they win it, will have beaten Chelsea too, in what will statistically be the most difficult Cup run of all time. Moyes has also overseen the emergence of great young talent like Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling, and shown that he is a great man-manager, turning Jo from a misfiring striker at City into a classy goalscorer at Everton.
The only real blip in his season came when we failed to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Cup, but given that it came at a time when we were so injury hampered and the fact that we were drawn against Standard Liege, a very good side, I think Moyes can be forgiven for falling short in that one category.
Overall, Moyes has shown again this season why he is one of the best managers in the land. With such a small squad and with so few resources, he consistently manages Everton to European finishes, and has proven time and again that he has a real eye for top signings. If he can add some silverware by winning the FA Cup on May 30th he will really cap off what has been a wonderful season, and give himself a good chance of being able to add more quality to such a well balanced side that has as good a team spirit as any in the land.
So David Moyes would be my pick for Manager of the Season. Like the other three I put forward, he has shown the ability to go above and beyond what is expected, and done so in circumstances that aren’t tailored for success. Yes, United and Liverpool have had great seasons, but their managers jobs are far easier than most, because their clubs have established a tradition of success. The managers that I think are worthy of recognition are those that show tha ability to break traditions, and I think Moyes has done that more than most.
What do you think? Who would be your manager of the year? Vote below:
PS. If you vote ‘Other’, please also leave the name of your Manager of the Year in a comment so that other readers can see it.