With Christmas just around the corner (which I’ve only just remembered, due to the inclement Christmas weather here in New Zealand, i.e. constant sunshine; and a familial housing disaster quickly developing) we’ve doubtless all turned our thoughts to what we’d like Santa to leave under the tree (don’t ruin the magic!). The twenty managers of the Premier League will be no different, but from a footballing perspective what do they most want Santa to bring them for the second half of the season? And are they likely to get it?
Arsene Wenger: Arsenal
What’s on his wish list? Arsenal’s season thus far won’t have displeased Wenger too much. Aside from the odd slip up (i.e. yesterday at Burnley) they’ve generally played pretty well, even during losses to both Manchester clubs – games they arguably deserved to win – and arguably their only truly disappointing showing was a meek performance against Chelsea. But while they have seen Thomas Vermaelen revitalise the defence Wenger will surely wish he had a bit more brawn in midfield and, with Robin Van Persie now out injured, more options up front – again, probably a target man. If he can add a bit more depth in these positions Wenger’s men may finally end their now long wait for silverware.
Naughty or Nice? Wenger is a man who very much divides opinion in the football world. Personally, I like him and especially enjoyed his sending off at Old Trafford when he stood, arms aloft above the dugout. It’s an image that will go down in football history and if I was donning the suit and beard, Arsenal would have a good second half of the season.
Martin O’Neill: Aston Villa
What’s on his wish list? Of all the managers in the Premier League, I would say that Martin O’Neill will arguably be the most content as he tucks into his turkey on Christmas Day. His largely English side has really gelled this season and currently sit way up in third place at the moment, having beaten Chelsea, Man United and Liverpool already this season. However, O’Neill saw his men perform similarly well for the first half of last season before they faded rather spectacularly and so this year he’ll doubtless be asking Santa for a bit more stamina in their season.
Naughty or Nice? O’Neill is one of the less controversial managers in the Premier League, a reserved and quiet fella’ he is often a bit of fresh air in a post match interview, honest and up front, Santa will definitely be stopping at the O’Neill household next week.
Alex McLeish: Birmingham City
What’s on his wishlist? I said just above that Martin O’Neill will be the most contented manager on Christmas morning but Alex will doubtless enjoy his glass of port just as much after Birmingham’s recent run. Six wins on the bounce now for the Blues has seen them rise to the unprecedented heights of the Premier League’s top six, and while I thought that they had a solid squad and a decent chance of survival I didn’t think they’d do as well as they have. Trouble is though, that does give them the unfortunate tag of ‘this season’s Hull City’ so McLeish will be desperately hoping that his side have the staying power that Phil Brown’s men lacked last season.
Naughty or Nice? If we’re keeping up the Birmingham/Hull analogy (which we are, seeing as I’m writing this and I want to) then we can compare McLeish to Phil Brown. And his success so far this season has been achieved with far less trumpeting and self-congratulation that Brown managed last time around, so Alex is safely on Santa’s nice list.
Sam Allardyce: Blackburn Rovers
What’s on his wishlist? I must admit, I haven’t seen a great deal of Blackburn this season, but if I’m brutally honest I am counting myself lucky. No disrespect to Rovers fans but Sam’s team is not too pleasing on the eye and they’ve really lacked any sort of cohesion in front of goal this season. Kalinic has started scoring a few goals recently but Di Santo has so far failed to fulfill his obvious potential and I bet Big Sam wouldn’t mind some shooting boots for his side. More importantly though, I think Sam will wish he had one of his old gems like Jay Jay Okocha or Ivan Campo to give his side a bit more fizz.
Naughty or Nice? Sorry Sam, but after all these years of Premier League management you’ve never really branched out from the tried and tested ugly football tactic. It’s effective in a scrap but Santa (like Newcastle fans) appreciates some one touch passing occasionally so just a lump of coal for you. Could be a long season…
Gary Megson: Bolton Wanderers
What’s on his wish list? I bet the one thing that Megson will be desperate for this festive season is a bit of peace and quiet. Pretty much since he walked through the door at Bolton the fans have been against him and he’s never quite done enough to win them over. The strange thing is that their main trouble seems to have been a leaky defence, despite the recent acquisition and great form of Gary Cahill so Megson will doubtless want to sure things up a bit more back there and will therefore want a bit of money to splash in the January sales.
Naughty or Nice? I feel sorry for Megson. He’s certainly not the most charismatic of gaffers and I probably wouldn’t want him at my club but if he was appointed I’d at least give him and chance and get behind him. For that reason, we’ll take pity and give him his Christmas wish.
Owen Coyle: Burnley
What’s on his wish list? Whatever he said in public Coyle must have been a bit nervous ahead of the club’s return to the top flight. They have the lowest wage bill in the league by a mile and a squad lacking in much proven Premier League quality and he will have been expecting a long hard season. However, their home form so far has been pretty stunning – wins against the likes of Man United, Everton and yesterdays draw with Arsenal have set them up with a great chance of survival. Top of his wish list then will doubtless be some away wins, if he can bring some points back from his travels then Burnley will really stand a good chance of defying the odds.
Naughty or Nice? Santa loves an underdog and Burnley are well and truly this season’s Premier League so he’ll doubtless have a jolly fat man slipping down his chimney on the 25th.
Carlo Ancelotti: Chelsea
What’s on his wishlist? Chelsea are the frontrunners at the moment. It’s highly likely they’ll be top at Christmas and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that he’ll have asked Santa for “more of the same”. However, recent slip ups have suggested that he could do with some defensive reinforcements and with Didier Drogba heading off to the African Cup of Nations he’ll probably want a swift exit for the Ivory Coast too. However, my main concern would be that their transfer ban is overturned at appeal, thus securing a more certain future for his time at the club.
Naughty or Nice? I like Carlo Ancelotti, he reminds me of a big happy teddy bear and his broken English is charming. However given that the Londoners have been a bit naughty poaching players and that Santa, like the rest of us, appreciates an open title race, I think he could bring poor Carlo a bumpy second half of the season.
David Moyes: Everton
What’s on his wishlist? As an Evertonian I think I can safely speak for David Moyes here when I say that the one thing that he will be hoping for ahead of all others when he peaks into his stocking on Christmas morning is some Magic Healing Powder. Everton have been absolutely hounded by injuries so far this season, at times missing up to 13 first team players and haven’t even seen such key men as Mikel Arteta and Phil Jagielka at all this season. The hunt for a European place seems to have passed us by now, but a relegation scrap could be avoided and a decent Cup run enjoyed if we can get a full squad fit before too long, and that will be Moyes’ main wish next week.
Naughty or Nice? I’m not sure if it matters whether or not Moyes has been naughty or nice. At times this season it looks as if he hasn’t been sleeping and so when Santa shuffles into his living room on Christmas Eve he’ll receive a trademark Moyes stare and promptly leave his whole sack of goodies.
Roy Hodgson: Fulham
What’s on his wishlist? Another manager who’ll be sitting back and putting his feet up to reflect on a good start to the season will be old Roy. They had a pretty rocky start to the season but he’s well and truly steadied the ship and got his entire squad playing to their full potential, allowing them to secure progress in the Europa League while simultaneously climbing the Premiership ladder. Crucial to this turnaround has been the unexpected form of Bobby Zamora which has caused quite a stir in the league lately with Hodgson even hinting that Capello could take a closer look at his striker, which has made up for Andy Johnson’s long standing injury trouble, so I bet Hodgson would love to see Johnson and Zamora teaming up and forming a great partnership in the new year.
Naughty or Nice? It was all going so well for Roy, he’s a genuine old fella’ who has breathed new life into Fulham and actually almost made me start to like Fulham (a club I’ve irrationally disliked for many years) but then he had to go and suggest Zamora for England. All respect out the window and Hodgson on the naughty list.
Phil Brown: Hull City
What’s on his wishlist? I’ve actually managed to secure a They Think It’s All Over… exclusive here and can legitimately reveal the exact content of the letter that Phil brown wrote to Father Christmas this year: ” Dear Santa, please please please can you bring me a fit Jimmy Bullard for Christmas this year! I’ve been really good and haven’t even bollocked my players on the pitch this season! Lots of love, Phil”. Brown is certainly clear about what his side needs to survive this season, the spark of Bullard revitalised them in recent games but he’s injured again and keeping him fit for long enough to save their season may be tough.
Naughty or Nice? Well, as you can see Phil did ask very nicely and so Santa may well look favourably on him but a fit Jimmy Bullard is a very rare commodity indeed and even Santa and his elves may not be able to keep the cheeky chappy up and playing. Hull could struggle in 2010 I feel.
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