The 12 Days of Football: Eight Managers Managing
On the eighth day of football, UEFA gave to me eight managers managing,
Welcome to the eighth verse in It's Round & It's White's 12 Days of Football, in which we list the managers, naughty and nice, who have stood out in 2017.
Nice: Pep Guardiola
When the best are questioned, and they always are, their measure is seen in how they respond. Pep came to Manchester City in 2016 with a reputation as "best manager in the world" following his success at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. However, in terms of trophies, his first season in the English Premier League only left him with (possibly) a commemorative coffee mug, bestowed on Father's Day. City finished third in the Premier League, 15 points behind league leaders Chelsea, and crashed out of all three cup competitions in which it featured.
This season is a completely different story. The Citizens are running away with the league, already 16 points up on the Blues, who are now in third. Tables turned.
Nineteen wins and a draw from 20 games played is the best football played in any English fan's lifetime, Premier League or otherwise, and 2018 could be even better. The Etihad group has already reached the semifinal in the EFL Cup and knockout round in the Champions League. United boss Jose Mourinho has been reduced to crying over the disparity between the two Mancunian sides' transfer budgets. The FA Cup is yet to come, and a few more wins will spark serious discussion about a new edition of Invincibles.
Naughty: Jose Mourinho
As always Mourinho has remained one of the most talked about managers of the year. In comparison to Guardiola, he won three pieces of silverware in his first season at United: the Community Shield, League Cup, and, most importantly, Europa League. The last secured a spot in this year’s Champions League. However, the fact United needed to win that competition to earn a place at Europe’s top table says a lot.
While the Portuguese has always been a man to split opinion, his view and interviews have taken an even more bizarre turn in 2017. Highlights from the Jose portfolio were his comeback to Antonio Conte for blaming injuries on his struggles, then claiming that £300 million was not enough for Manchester United to compete with its near rivals.
With the title race all but over, how surly will the Special One turn?
Bit of both: Antonio Conte...
You can’t comment on managers who have hit the headlines without including the Italian. In September 2016, Chelsea were beaten at the Emirates by Arsenal. The result led to the Italian changing formation to a 3-4-3. The rest, as they say, is history. The Blues particularly transformed in defence as they racked up 13 victories in a row. They walked to the title, seven points clear of Spurs.
Then, in the summer, Conte apparently went off his meds. He tweeted the temperamental but ever-reliable Diego Costa to let him know his services were no longer required. Perhaps even worse, he allowed Nemanja Matic to be sold to United, the club that had already beat his to Romelu Lukaku's signature. More recently, he has been warned for attempting to bully a fourth official. It's as though Mourinho never left Stamford Bridge.
...And Zinedine Zidane
After a fantastic 2016, the French legend took Real Madrid where no club had ever been. He led the Merengues to the Duodecima, a record 12th European Cup, while becoming the first in the Champions League era to defend the crown, and be Europe's best in his first two seasons in management. On domestic soil, his team happily broke Barcelona's record unbeaten run of 40 games, then brought the Primera Division title back to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first time in five years. He could do no wrong.
This season, it turns out he can. Madrid has struggled. They sit fourth, 14 points behind Barcelona. Worse, the Catalans gained revenge for losing their streak, winning the pre-Christmas Clasico at the Bernabeu in comprehensive fashion, 3-0. Topping their Champions League group also proved beyond Zizou. Suddenly the discussion has him fighting for his job.
Very nice: Hernan Gomez
The Colombian may be the least-known name on the list, but he is one we will certainly hear from next summer. Gomez became the first manager to lead Panama to the World Cup finals. He had already taken his own nation to Italy in 1998, then Ecuador to the Far East in 2002. Yet, his achievement with Panama is by far the most impressive. The Canal Men go to Russia next summer at the United States' expense. England had best not take them lightly.
Definitely naughty: Mark Sampson
The aforementioned gaffers have had long, storied careers, all with chapters yet to be written. Conversely, 2017 will be remembered as Mark Sampson's final year in football. The England Women's manager led his side to another fabulous result in the summer. Having achieved their best-ever finish in a World Cup, third place in 2015, the Lionesses reached the Euro semis before falling to host Netherlands.
However, Sampson's year ended in scandal. He was sacked in September, following an FA investigation into allegations of racist behaviour and remarks. The man who was touted for even bigger things in 2017 had seen his career end in tatters.
Very, very nice: Brendan Rodgers
The former Liverpool man took charge at Celtic in May 2016. His first campaign in charge of the Scottish giants saw the Bhoys achieve a phenomenal feat: an unprecedented domestic treble. Their 69-match unbeaten run finally came to an end in suitably spectacular fashion, away to Hearts. Still, the 4-0 pasting does not take away from the Hoops incredible year-plus.
As nice as it gets: Danny Cowley
Non-league football is my patch, so I'm a little biased. Regardless, as Lincoln City boss, Cowley accomplished two incredible feats in 2017. He guided the National Premier side to the FA Cup quarterfinals, which included a victory over Premier League side Burnley, before tasting defeat at Arsenal in the last eight. More importantly for the Imps, he guided them to the league title, delivering a return to the Football League for the first time in six years.
Like Pep Guardiola, further up the table, 2018 may turn out even better for the Havering native. Lincoln City currently sit third in League Two, on 40 points, placing them in the playoff picture for an opportunity at a second successive promotion.
Happy New Year, indeed!