Jose Mourinho knows how it works. If Manchester United lose at Bournemouth on Saturday, his team could fall into the bottom half of the Premier League table over the weekend and his position at Old Trafford will come under scrutiny once again. But even if Bournemouth climb into the top four by defeating United, don’t expect the odds to shorten on Eddie Howe eventually replacing Mourinho as manager.
The 40-year-old is the highest-placed English manager in the Premier League, with Bournemouth sitting in sixth position. Howe is widely regarded as the most impressive young, English manager/coach in the country. But if Howe is English football’s “Special One,” will he ever be given the chance to prove it?
When it comes to being handed the opportunity to take on the biggest jobs at the biggest clubs in the Premier League, English managers such as Howe are rarely (if ever) in the conversation.
“If Mourinho left United tomorrow, Eddie Howe wouldn’t even get a mention,” Harry Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager, told ESPN FC. “I’ve watched Eddie in action at Bournemouth, seen his coaching sessions first-hand, and the intensity and quality of his work is absolutely top-class. But when a top job comes up, he never gets a look-in and it’s the same for a lot of good, young English managers.
“It’s different if you’ve managed in the Portuguese league and have a good agent. Club owners seem much happier going down that route.”
For an established, heavyweight football nation, England has a dismal record for producing top-class managers and the dearth of home-grown bosses at the Premier League’s leading clubs is becoming increasingly startling.
Tim Sherwood, who was appointed as Tottenham head coach in December 2013, is the last Englishman to manage one of the so-called “Big Six” and he was sacked within six months. Liverpool turned to Roy Hodgson — hardly young or up-and-coming — in 2010, and Manchester City appointed Stuart Pearce as manager in 2005 before Abu Dhabi ownership turned them into a “super-club” three years later.
Chelsea’s last English manager was Glenn Hoddle, appointed in 1993, while Arsenal have not named an Englishman as manager since Don Howe in 1983. As for Man United, largely thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign as manager, they haven’t given an Englishman the keys to the manager’s office since Ron Atkinson in 1981.
It’s different in the other big European leagues. In Spain, 15 of the 20 La Liga coaches are Spanish, including Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona. In Germany, 14 of the 18 coaches are German, although the top two jobs are in the hands of foreigners, with Croatian Niko Kovac at Bayern Munich and the Swiss, Lucien Favre, at Borussia Dortmund. Italy is dominated by Italian coaches in Serie A — 18 of the 20 employed — while in Ligue 1, 17 of the 20 jobs are filled by Frenchmen.
Unsurprisingly, there is not one English manager in any of those leagues, but there are only four — Howe, Roy Hodgson, Sean Dyche and Neil Warnock — in the Premier League.
English managers at the highest level have now become such an endangered species that the Football Association is working to reverse the trend. Individuals believed to possess the talent to manage and coach at the top level are given additional support and expertise, with bespoke UEFA A-licence courses designed for former England internationals to help them make the transition from playing to managing: Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes were early beneficiaries of the programme in 2016.
Mentoring is also provided within the FA programme and a more rigorous application process for the UEFA Pro-Licence has also been imposed by the FA to help identify those with the right leadership qualities. The FA became even more proactive in this area in 2012 when fewer than 6,000 Englishmen possessed the key UEFA qualification — far less than Germany (35,000), Italy (30,000) and Spain (25,000) at the time.
While La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga were all won by teams managed by home-grown coaches last season, no Englishman has managed a team to the Premier League title. Howard Wilkinson, who guided Leeds United to the old First Division championship in 1991-92, the season before the Premier League began, is the last Englishman to do it. No Englishman has won a major trophy of any sort since Redknapp’s Portsmouth won the FA Cup in 2008.
As for managing in the Champions League, Gary Neville took charge of Valencia for a brief spell in 2015-16, with Craig Shakespeare replacing the sacked Claudio Ranieri to guide Leicester to the quarterfinals 12 months later. But aside from Redknapp with Tottenham and Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle, no other Englishmen have managed in Europe’s premier competition this century.
Bournemouth were 91st in the Football League when Howe, then 31, first took charge on Dec. 31, 2008, but they now sit three points ahead of United in the Premier League going into Saturday’s home game against Mourinho’s team. Howe has guided the Cherries to three promotions and sustained top-flight football during his two spells as manager — he had a brief stint at Burnley before returning to Bournemouth — but will he ever be considered for a big-six job?
“Eddie would do a great job with a big club,” Redknapp said. “Sean Dyche at Burnley is another English manager who could do the same. The foreign coaches don’t have a magic wand.
“It’s pretty simple, really: if you manage a top-six club, you have great players and therefore you win games and trophies,” Redknapp added. “I had that at Tottenham. It’s not rocket science. If you take a top six job and then fail to keep them in the top six, you’ve got to be a mug.
“So many English coaches and managers do a fantastic job but they are just not getting the big opportunities.”
Last season, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew were hired mid-season by Everton and West Bromwich Albion, respectively, to help stave off relegation — Allardyce succeeded, Pardew failed. But their departures from their posts after a short period in charge could signal the end of the “old school” English boss being hired as a fire-fighter tasked merely with averting disaster instead of building for the future.
The new breed of English coaches, including Howe, Dyche and England manager Gareth Southgate, have helped changed perceptions but there is still a mountain to be climbed before they reach the top again.
But why are English managers so rare at the highest level?
If there was an obvious answer, finding a solution would not be so problematic, but there are myriad reasons and theories ranging from a lack of Englishmen with trophy-winning experience or a track record in the Champions League to the more stereotypical view that English coaches and managers lack the tactical range of their foreign counterparts.
The influence of foreign agents on largely foreign club owners, driving their clients, is also a factor, as is the trend of following the pack in terms of appointing foreign coaches. It creates a vicious circle.
One source who worked in recruitment at a top-six club told ESPN FC that the reality is that owners and chief executives are driven by fear when hiring a manager. “The big clubs want certainties,” the source said. “They want a guy who has won big trophies, managed big clubs and worked with big players and no English coach now, or in recent years, ticks those boxes.”
English football has also fought hard to rid itself of the image of being rooted in an old-school approach on and off the pitch, with Allardyce, while managing Bolton, claiming that he would have landed a top job he been an Italian by the name of Sam Allardici.
Michael Appleton, who managed four clubs in the lower leagues before moving to Leicester City as assistant manager in June 2017, believes that English coaches now have to change their mentality and approach to compete with foreign coaches in the jobs market.
“What the foreign coaches are really good at is selling themselves and their brand,” Appleton told ESPN. “They tell people what they’re doing, but us British coaches have a very British way of going about things. We just get on with it and don’t tell anyone about it, but maybe that needs to change because it seems to go against us.
“Certainly at the Premier League level, there is a lack of opportunity. You don’t really get the opportunity to manage at that level unless you have been promoted with a team from the Championship. In terms of management, with so many owners being foreign now, the easiest route for them to take is to appoint a foreign coach.”
Instead of adopting a defeatist outlook, Appleton admits it may now be a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
“Over the last few weeks, I have started the process of taking Spanish lessons because of the lack of opportunities in England,” he said. “Whether it is Europe or Asia or America, wherever it may be, there is a big world out there and I think one thing that British and English coaches have been guilty of is believing our world revolves around what happens in this country. Ultimately, there are lots of other opportunities out there.”
If Bournemouth continue to confound the odds, Howe could yet break the mould and take on one of the top jobs in English football. Few doubt he has the talent or personality, but in an age of glamorous foreign coaches, he may ultimately be judged on his birth certificate rather than his credentials.