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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Premier League manager rankings – look away now, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

This might be the best ever crop of Premier League managers. You will find few fans from each club calling for changes, mainly because Manchester United fans are weirdly loyal about their man.

But who is cream of the current managerial crop, the king of the tactics whiteboard jungle, the biggest horse on the merry-go-round?

There is a league table and Wikipedia’s list of honours if you want a basic way of doing this. Instead, this ranking attempts to order the Premier League managers by asking one question: How happy would you be if this manager was appointed tomorrow by your club? 

To attempt a somewhat objective answer we have given each manager a score out of 50 defined by six important factors.

  1. The level of excitement generated by their football, relying on a combination of aesthetic beauty and the general watchability of their games as a neutral.
  2. Inspiration — how likely it seems that each manager would get you running through brick walls, or towards Adama Traore with conviction.
  3. Current performance reflects only their recent form in the job, so new arrivals are stuck on a neutral 5/10 for now.
  4. Career achievements are the tiebreaker when overall scores are level, because ultimately a garlanded past across several years is the most reliable indicator of a manager’s true ability.
  5. Do they give good interview? (Less important, so marked out of five rather than 10)
  6. How much would you enjoy a pint with them? (Also marked out of five)

Ultimately it is about how happy they make their fans. There has to be a loser, though, and you may already have some idea who that loser is:

20. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It is starting to feel a little cruel to draw attention to the Manchester United manager’s shortcomings, but he comes out of this analysis poorly. No other Premier League club would be upgrading with Solskjaer and most in the Championship would also be concerned. When things are going awry for his team as they do with startling regularity, he has the unfortunate habit of looking on as if witnessing the Hindenburg Disaster. Still, somehow, seems to have maintained a broadly positive outlook at a club which made husks of Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho.

Football: 5/10
Inspiration: 4/10
Current performance: 4/10
Career achievements: 4/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 4/5

Overall rating: 24/50

19. Dean Smith

It must be said at this point that the next dozen or so managers have very little between them, which makes ranking them both tricky and guaranteed to annoy you, especially if you support Norwich, Newcastle, Palace or Steven Gerrard. Sorry. Smith is the victim of a sharp but possibly temporary stock fall after his time at Aston Villa ended with five successive defeats. Immediately back in the game at Norwich and may yet prove he is the genius he seemed at Brentford then, initially, Villa. It remains possible he is a superb manager who is about to pull off a miraculous escape. His position in the relegation places here speaks volumes about the current overall quality.

Football: 5/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 5/10
Career achievements: 6/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 28/50

18. Eddie Howe

Once the league’s brightest youngest thing, now a second prize Unai Emery. There was a pleasing quality to Howe’s football at Bournemouth although many of the most memorable moments took place in their first couple of seasons in the top flight. About the most interesting thing we learned about him in that time was that he is a massive fan of a-ha. Interview score will rocket if he starts wading in on human rights issues. Like Smith, he may well prove himself to be a fantastic manager at his new club. Like Smith he has some minor questions to answer first.

Football: 7/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 5/10
Career achievements: 6/10
Interviews: 2/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 29/50

17. Patrick Vieira

Yes, it is going wonderfully for Vieira and Palace at the moment but we’ll need to see a bit more than 11 league games and a decent job at New York City to believe he is the reincarnation of Herbert Chapman. Lost his job at Nice after five defeats in a row in all competitions, so it will be interesting to see how he rides out a more challenging spell for Palace. Still, early signs are he has a winning combination of clarity, steel and getting the best out of his most talented players. 

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 7/10
Current performance: 8/10
Career achievements: 4/10
Interviews: 2/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 30/50

16. Steven Gerrard

Level on points with Vieira but an impressive title at Rangers gives him the edge on the career achievements tiebreaking metric. May not change much at Villa but his mere presence should boost a squad in need of energy. The worry is that this is a mere stepping stone before he wins his birthright and inherits Jurgen Klopp’s baseball cap. Great players have made terrible foul-ups of managerial jobs like Rangers, so the future looks bright for Gerrard. But post-Grealish Villa is a different challenge to the two-team Scottish top flight, and one he will need to excel in.

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 7/10
Current performance: 5/10
Career achievements: 6/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 30/50

15. Bruno Lage

A league title in Portugal is worth one point more than one in Scotland. Wolves had become a touch more exciting to watch this year after plateauing under Nuno which augurs well for their new manager. He is attentive bordering on obsessive on the coaching side but comes across as a well-adjusted sort in interviews, generally looking and sounding the part. Latest in a fine line of coaches with a middling playing career, so could go high in time. Alternatively does have the look of a future, then very quickly former, Watford manager.  

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 6/10
Career achievements: 7/10
Interviews: 2/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 30/50

14. Thomas Frank

Brentford looked like Leeds 2020 in their opening Premier League games, a difficult bunch who were offering something new and would punch massively above their weight. That initial flourish had faded a touch before the international break, but the most encouraging trait from Frank has been his pragmatism, adjusting his team when the situation dictates, because you’re not going to out-pass Liverpool. Best to channel Graham Taylor instead, and shout “Hit Ivan!” Slightly unhinged Kloppish energy when facing the cameras – no bad thing. 

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 7/10
Career achievements: 5/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 4/5

Overall rating: 31/50

13. Ralph Hasenhuttl

Do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving steadiness in the Premier League. Southampton are not the league’s most interesting team but have never been in a sustained relegation fight under Hasenhuttl. Given the speed things can go awry for mid-ranking sides in the top flight he deserves a touch more credit than he seems to get. An underrated character too, can come across a little monotone at times but there is a definite glint in his eye. More coaches should cry on the sidelines after big wins. 

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 7/10
Career achievements: 5/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 5/5

Overall rating: 32/50

12. Claudio Ranieri

A somewhat sentimental placement, because the Leicester fairytale was an aberration. Has also won Italian and Spanish cups, as well our hearts in 2015/16. Currently attempting a happy coda to his English career after an unmemorable time at Fulham. Too early to say how his allotted four months on the Watford hot seat/bucking bronco will be remembered, but remains the Premier League manager you’d be happiest to have at your wedding. 

Football: 5/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 6/10
Career achievements: 7/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 5/5

Overall rating: 32/50

11. Rafael Benitez

If it is too early to judge Ranieri at Watford it is tempting to write off Rafael Benitez at Everton already as an ill-fated experiment. They haven’t won since September and the return of a full Goodison Park reduces Benitez’s job expectancy by a factor of four. He might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling fans. Still, many other teams would be happy to have him. Sunderland next? 

Football: 6/10
Inspiration: 8/10
Current performance: 5/10
Career achievements: 8/10
Interviews: 2/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 32/50

10. Mikel Arteta

Is Mikel Arteta the inverse Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? The Manchester United manager seems to survive on brief glimpses of brilliance then long spells of underachievement. For Arteta the lows are short but bad (An aggregate score of 9-0 in three games at the start of the season) then there are serene periods of competence with a renewed and improving team. Yet he seems to be under heavy pressure every time his team lose, which is harsh on him and his outrageously thick hair.  

Football: 8/10
Inspiration: 7/10
Current performance: 7/10
Career achievements: 5/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 33/50

9. Graham Potter

Despite looking like he has enough reverence for Paul Weller to earnestly defend even late-period Style Council, Potter is widely admired for his work. Was so frequently bored by the coaching of his own playing career he decided to mix up his own methods. Players at Ostersunds sang and did ballet, now he uses words like “empathy” and “vulnerability” when discussing man-management at Brighton. Joe Kinnear he ain’t. A public persona of little nonsense, but a sense he can read a room and provide both sternness and fun when necessary, like a good teacher.

Football: 8/10
Inspiration: 6/10
Current performance: 8/10
Career achievements: 6/10
Interviews: 2/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 33/50

8. Sean Dyche

If Ralph Hasenhuttl deserves credit for steady stewardship of Southampton then Sean Dyche deserves… slightly more credit for similar at Burnley. Most teams offering a brand of football out of step with current Premier League trends get found out after a season or two. Burnley do not seem to have changed much in six Premier League seasons but are beginning to look like part of the top flight furniture. Did finish 17th last year, but were 11 points clear of relegation. Never in doubt and largely thanks to their manager, who would definitely do a disgusting dare if you went to the pub together.   

Football: 5/10
Inspiration: 8/10
Current performance: 7/10
Career achievements: 6/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 5/5

Overall rating: 34/50

7. Marcelo Bielsa 

This is, remember, an attempt to gauge how happy each manager would make you as a fan of your team. Bielsa’s Leeds revolution has been stymied by injuries and a year of extra video footage to examine when preparing to play them, but he will never have to pay for a Yorkshire pudding again such is his standing in the city. Could be higher still – the lesson is don’t use a translator.

Football: 8/10
Inspiration: 8/10
Current performance: 6/10
Career achievements: 7/10
Interviews: 1/5
Pint? 4/5

Overall rating: 34/50

6. Brendan Rodgers

Shine coming off Leicester and Rodgers a touch currently, but do not let that unduly affect your impression of his skills. Turned a club in decline into one of the most dangerous in the league. And we’re not talking about Celtic. For all the impressive tactics and overall feeling of safe hands he does lack a little in the easy human charm stakes. Don’t, whatever you do, end up in his mystery envelope of disappointment.

Football: 7/10
Inspiration: 8/10
Current performance: 7/10
Career achievements: 7/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 3/5

Overall rating: 35/50

5. Antonio Conte

Sleeping at the training ground was a wonderfully intense opening salvo for a wonderfully intense manager. Not quite at the level of the true aesthetes within football, but by golly he’s going to get everyone working hard. Once gave himself a nosebleed at Euro 2016 when celebrating an Italy goal too enthusiastically. May yet solve Harry Kane. Too frightening to contemplate in a social context.

Football: 8/10
Inspiration: 9/10
Current performance: 6/10
Career achievements: 8/10
Interviews: 3/5
Pint? 2/5

Overall rating: 36/50

4. David Moyes

As a nation we love building people up only to knock them down. Some are lucky enough to ride that out and build themselves back up again, which we also enjoy. We must, of course, then knock them down at some point in the future. Can’t have anyone thinking too highly of themselves. Still, David Moyes is on an upswing, West Ham are tremendous fun and he increasingly seems like the sort of well-rounded and quietly funny person you’d want to spend time with. 

Football: 7/10
Inspiration: 7/10
Current performance: 9/10
Career achievements: 7/10
Interviews: 4/5
Pint? 4/5

Overall rating: 38/50

3. Thomas Tuchel

Thriving. All the signs are positive given how quickly he improved Chelsea after the Frank Lampard homecoming petered out. Impressive use of youth, clearly highly dedicated and has got his team operating like a well-oiled machine. The caveat is we are looking at a small sample size, if just examining his English career to date. Then again, has won a Champions League. Then again, so did Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea’s resources. Does seem a slightly odd fellow, tough to imagine any stands being named after him, or sharing a pack of pork scratchings with him. Loves Simply Red, apparently. See? Bit odd.

Football: 9/10
Inspiration: 8/10
Current performance: 9/10
Career achievements: 8/10
Interviews: 4/5
Pint? 2/5

Overall rating: 40/50

2. Pep Guardiola

Is it possible to be the best manager of all time and simultaneously only the second best in this league? There is an argument that in 50 years Guardiola will be seen as a soothsayer who changed the idea of how football could, should be played more than anyone since Rinus Michels. His honours list is absurd, even adjusting for the generous financial backing he has enjoyed. But he won’t be adding the coveted Telegraph Sport manager ranking trophy today.

Football: 9/10
Inspiration: 10/10
Current performance: 9/10
Career achievements: 10/10
Interviews: 4/5
Pint? 4/5

Overall rating: 46/50

1. Jurgen Klopp

Edges it by a nose because, ultimately, he inspires love. From his players, from his supporters and from a surprisingly high number of neutrals given at least a generation are predisposed to dislike Liverpool for being so dominant for so long. Will likely end his career with far fewer trophies than Pep Guardiola, but he is uniquely well-suited to working for his club and in this country. Does seem slightly less fun without the glasses, though.  

Football: 9/10
Inspiration: 10/10
Current performance: 9/10
Career achievements: 9/10
Interviews: 5/5
Pint? 5/5

Overall rating: 47/50

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