Yesterday saw me run through the likely Christmas wishes of the first ten Premier League managers (alphabetically, by club), assessing what they’ll be hoping for in the second half of the season and whether or not they’re likely to get it. It’s mostly a bit of light hearted Christmas fun, but there’s a fair bit of serious information in there anyway (at least, there’s supposed to be). For yesterday’s first part, click here; for the second part…
Rafa Benitez: Liverpool
What’s on his wishlist? Rafa’s Christmas wishlist will be arguably the longest of all the Premier League managers because quite simply, very little has gone right for him so far this season. A squad tipped by many to finally win the Premier League title has been shown to be well short of quality and spectacularly mismanaged. What will Rafa hope for? Well firstly he’ll want a fully fit Gerrard and Torres and I bet he’d also like some more funds to waste in yet another transfer window which will mean that he also needs the boardroom unrest sorted out. He’ll want Aquilani to miraculously acquire match fitness without playing and solve his midfield problems and he’ll also want some defensive reinforcements. He’s got a lot to ask for…
Naughty or Nice? There’s no way Rafa will be getting a visit from Santa Claus on my watch. He’s a spoilt kid who has recklessly broken all his old toys and is now crying for more. He’s wasted way too much money in the transfer market already, he’s thrown too many tantrums and he’s been far too arrogant for his own good, making guarantees that he can’t hold to. I suppose Santa may bring him a beach ball, but not much else…
Mark Hughes: Manchester City
What’s on his wishlist? What do you buy the man who has everything? Does Santa really need to bring Hughes anything when his all-powerful Arab owners can just go out and buy him whatever he so desires? Well, perhaps. If I were Hughes, I’d actually want Santa’s help in narrowing down my squad because before long things at City will start to go downhill. Tevez has already expressed his disappointment that he’s spent so much time on the bench and juggling him with Adebayor, Bellamy, Santa Cruz and Robinho is no walk in the park. So if I were Hughes, I’d let the owners see to the dodgy defence and hope that Robinho gets his Christmas wish of a move away from Eastlands.
Naughty or Nice? I’ll be very surprised if Santa stops by Eastlands this year, he knows where he’s not needed. Stopping by every house in the world is no small task and he would surely welcome a bit of a breather.
Alex Ferguson: Manchester United
What’s on his wishlist? Sir Alex is probably far too pragmatic to ask Santa for help, he’ll be quite prepared to help himself to what he needs. And what he needs is probably some more defensive cover or at least the return to form and fitness of Rio Ferdinand. More tellingly though, I think United need someone with some real quality up front. Berbatov will do it on his day, and Owen will do it occasionally off the bench but he’s got no real top class foil for Wayne Rooney. A player like Edin Dzeko, a bigger targetman player who is nonetheless technically gifted. He needs, essentially, to replace Ronaldo, because he hasn’t yet.
Naughty or Nice? It’s really hard to actually like Alex Ferguson unless you’re a Manchester United fan, he’s just so damned bullish and determined, it rather undermines his likeability. At the same time though, you have to admire him for those exact qualities and it wouldn’t surprise me if Santa popped by and shared a sherry with the grumpy old twat.
Avram Grant: Portsmouth
What’s on his wishlist? Grant is a good manager, he did a solid if unspectacular job at Chelsea and he’ll bring a bit of stability and organisation to Portsmouth, something they desperately need on the pitch. However, what is beyond his control is whatever is going on in the background of the club. I’ve lost track of how many takeovers they’ve had in recent years and it’s really not doing them any favours. They’re squad is full of mercenaries attracted only by the money and using the club as a stepping stone to what they hope are bigger and better things. Grant will want someone high up in the club to take charge, settle things down, and let him rebuild.
Naughty or Nice? Grant himself will probably get a visit from Santa but I’m not sure if Pompey will. That’s because I think they’d actually benefit from relegation, it would give them a chance to offload the high earners who are dragging the club down and rebuild from a solid and successful foundation. I wrote an article about this last season (and got some unfavourable replies) but I truly believe it would do them good, so maybe Santa will bring them relegation, a blessing in disguise.
Tony Pulis: Stoke City
What’s on his wishlist? Stoke are apparently the blueprint that Burnley have followed with their planned assault on the Premier League: relying on home results to keep them up. However, Burnley have managed to do it with a bit of style while Stoke continue to be rather abrasive to the eye with their direct style of play. Tony Pulis doubtless enjoys the effectiveness of his squad but I bet watching some of their football day in and day out in training must ware him down sometimes too, so he may wish for a bit of passing football from his side to turn up in his Christmas stocking.
Naughty or Nice? I don’t think Santa will be overly generous to Pulis this year. For a start, he doesn’t much like the ‘Delapidator’ tactics and he can’t stand Pulis’ insistence on wearing a tracksuit and baseball cap on matchdays – you’re an old man for chris’sakes! Mostly though, James Beattie is a good fella, and Pulis was a bit of a twat to him.
Steve Bruce: Sunderland
What’s on his wishlist? Steve’s had a funny old season so far. He’s a cracking manager and in a short time has built up a very strong side at the Stadium of Light. However, he’s seen his side struggle for motivation at times. They raise their game admirably when faced with the challenge of say, Man United or Liverpool, but they have stuttered badly when faced with less prestigious opponents and thus find themselves frustratingly in mid-table. He’d be keen for Santa to bring his players a bit of a kick up the ass when it comes to the daily business of Premier League football I think.
Naughty or Nice? I like Steve Bruce, he’s a good boss and a nice fella with it. He rarely moans and takes any slip ups squarely on the chin rather than bemoaning fixture lists, or other teams resting players or other irrelevant factors. In fact, he’s about the best young English manager we’ve got, so he gets a visit from Santa.
Harry Redknapp: Tottenham Hotspur
What’s on his wishlist? Of all the Christmas wishes I’ve speculated about so far, this is the first one for which an idea hasn’t sprung immediately to my mind, which says to me that Redknapp should be one of the more content managers in the league. He’s got a good chairman who’ll back him with cash, a squad with a great deal of depth in most positions and not too many injury worries. In fact, his only real problem is that he has a few too many right-backs and central midfielders so Santa could probably whistle David Bentley and Alan Hutton away and drop them on David Moyes’ doorstep, hint hint Santa.
Naughty or Nice? Regular readers will know that I am not a huge fan of Harry Redknapp. He lacks loyalty and commitment and his admission that he would jump the Spurs ship if they were relegated last season showed him to be incredibly selfish. Santa likes to help those who help others so no presents for Harry this yuletide.
West Ham United: Gianfranco Zola
What’s on his wishlist? It’s quite amazing really, how many teams rely largely on one or two players to get them playing their best. So, like Phil Brown and Rafa Benitez, Zola will be hoping to see Carlton Cole back fit and on form in the new year. Cole’s goals and general all round bustling performances up top have been one of the few glimmers of hope in what has otherwise been a miserable season so far for the Hammers who have failed to build on a promising campaign last year. He may also hope that the Italian players he’s brought in like Diamanti and Franco start to find some consistency: they can do it, but they haven’t done often enough.
Naughty or Nice? Do I actually have to answer this? Of course Santa will visit Gianfranco, who doesn’t love the little Italian wizard?!
Roberto Martinez: Wigan Athletic
What’s on his wishlist? I bet Martinez wouldn’t say no to a few more sixty yard goals from Maynor Figueroa in his stocking. What a cracking strike that was, who wouldn;t want one of them from Santa this year?! More seriously though, Martinez will be hoping Santa fills his sticking with a big bottle marked ‘Consistency’. Wigan have been genuinely impressive at times this season, winning some notable games against Villa and Chelsea. But at times they’ve been simply terrible, and I only have to say “9-1” to prove my point. Wigan have a solid squad and shouldn’t struggle. However, much better sides have ended up being relegated because they couldn’t perform consistently enough and Wigan may well find themselves in trouble if they don’t sort themselves out a bit.
Naughty or Nice? I like Martinez, he’s an optimistic sort of guy. Mainly though, I can think of few people in football management who would be more out-of-place in Wigan – that rugby-centric northern town, that a softly spoken Spaniard like Roberto. So Santa can stop by and bring him a taste of home.
Mick McCarthy: Wolverhampton Wanderers
What’s on his wishlist? I think that the main thing that Mick wants for Christmas is something of a transfer miracle. It doesn’t really matter who he buys, as long as they’ve got some quality, some creativity and a decent amount of Premier League experience, but that could be a bit difficult. Though Wolves are a ‘famous old club’ they’re not exactly a big name in modern era football and Mick will have a bit of trouble attracting top-notch players to the club unless he can keep them in the Premier League for a few seasons. Trouble is, I think if he’s to do that he’ll need to add in a bit of quality, creativity and experience, so it could be a bit of a viscous cycle.
Naughty or Nice? Mick McCarthy is one of the nice guys of football in my opinion, he’s honest and friendly and his post-match interviews because he has such an expressive sort of voice and a good way with words, admitting last weekend that they’d had a “good slapping” in their previous few games. For such honesty and entertainment value, Santa will certainly be filling his stocking.
Phew, that’s the end of that. That lot took a surprising amount of time and effort to write – I hope it was worthwhile and acts as a reasonable summary of the season so far and the various prospects of each club for the second half of the season alongside some (inevitably) terrible festive humour. If you disagree with any of my suggestions or have a few of your own, do feel free to leave a comment below. Tomorrow, something much more reliable: Premiership Predictions.