The New Generation of Football Managers
In recent years, there has been a recurring theme of young, in-experienced coaches being appointed as Premier League managers. This has come with mixed results. From Mikel Arteta to Frank Lampard to Scott Parker. Since 2019, Premier League clubs have started entrusting the day-to-day coaching of their teams to young ex-players.
With this trend becoming increasingly common and something we will be seeing more and more of, now is a good time to ask the questions: have these appointments been successful and what can we expect from this new generation of Premier League managers?
At the time of writing, the current average age of Premier League managers is 51. This statistic makes the first example even more surprising. Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta, was appointed on December 22nd 2019 and this was his first official senior management job after learning his trade for 3 years as an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
He was 37 years old at the time of his appointment, succeeding Unai Emery, who was 11 years his senior. A Premier League job at this early stage of a career would have been challenging for any manager and Arteta could not have picked a more difficult task than transforming an Arsenal side in complete disarray.
The Arsenal side that Mikel Arteta took over sat in 11th position, with 23 points from a possible 54. A side that under Emery (and interim manager, Freddie Ljungberg) was devoid of any real identity, playing style and severely lacking leaders. Under Emery, players were regularly being played out of position, bereft of tactics, and had just seen the public embarrassment of then club captain, Granit Xhaka, when he was infamously booed off the pitch while being substituted against Crystal Palace. As you can see, the club was in tatters when Arteta returned to London, doubling the difficulty of an already challenging task.
The size of the task in front of Arteta was substantial and the jury is still out on the young Spanish manager, with Arsenal fans now scratching their heads if Arteta was the right appointment. They did manage to impressively win the 2020 FA Cup (beating Manchester City in the semi-final and Chelsea in the final to do so) and have seen the continued development integration of young key players like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe.
However, despite bright sparks in the 2019/20 season, they did suffer a heart-breaking exit from the Europa League in February 2020 at the hands of Olympiacos, and finished 8th in the Premier League that season (their lowest Premier League finish in 25 years). In addition to this, their 2020/21 season has not gone to plan at all. Arteta’s first full season in charge was meant to build on his successful first half-season, but it has been anything but.
The Gunners experienced their worst start to a season since the 1974/75 season and are currently sat slap-bang in the middle of the Premier League table. Being unable to put together a real run of form all season other than a good run after the Christmas period. It can also be argued that Arteta is yet to fully stamp his style on the team, with Arsenal regularly putting in mediocre performances devoid of any real tactical plan. As well as the Spaniard consistently waiting too long to make obvious substitutions. Only time will tell with Mikel Arteta.
Moving onto another example in ex-Chelsea manager, Frank Lampard. Fresh off a single season in senior management and a successful spell as Derby County manager in 2018/19, Lampard was officially appointed Chelsea manager on 4th July 2019, signing a three-year deal at the age of 40. Lampard’s first season as Chelsea’s manager must be seen as a success after finishing in the top four of the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final, despite undergoing a transfer ban.
Despite losing Eden Hazard and being unable to make transfers, he successfully bedded in a long list of youngsters and cemented them into the first team. Some of these talented youngsters include Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Despite the lack of silverware, Frank Lampard’s debut season as Chelsea’s manager was without a doubt a positive and something to build on.
Nevertheless, build on it they did not. After spending around £200m in the 2019/20-summer transfer window, on players like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, the Englishman’s signings failed to settle into London successfully. After a run of three points from a possible 24 with Chelsea sitting 9th in the Premier League table, Lampard was shown the exit door by a reluctant Roman Abramovich on the 25th January 2021, just 570 days after the Blues legend returned to Stamford Bridge.
The Frank Lampard experiment can be looked at from several different angles. Did he over-achieve or under-achieve? Like Arteta, he walked into a very difficult environment equipped with minimal managerial experience. In his first season as Chelsea’s manager, he clearly exceeded expectations however after being backed financially in his following season, he hugely under-achieved and with the reputation that Abramovich and Chelsea have built over the years for not being hesitant to sack a manager, his downfall was to be expected, no matter how much of a surprise it was at the time.
Does Chelsea regret trusting the running of their club at such a crucial time to such an inexperienced manager? Or, were they wrong to not entrust him with a longer tenure, surely being aware that due to Lampard’s inexperience he would essentially be learning on the job and clearly needed more time than he was given.
New Generation, here to stay?
So, the new generation of young managers has well and truly arrived. With a 40-year-old Steven Gerrard at the helm at Rangers in Scotland, 35-year-old Wayne Rooney now full-time manager at Derby County, and 39-year-old Xabi Alonso on the verge of accepting his first managerial role as Borussia Monchengladbach manager this summer. Arteta, Lampard and Scott Parker will not be the last inexperienced managerial appointments we will see in the football world.
Have these appointments been a success? In some cases, yes, as Scott Parker’s promotion in the 2019/20 season with Fulham and Steven Gerrard’s historic SPL title win this season show. Their youthful, enthusiastic, and modern approaches to management have clearly paid dividends to their respective teams.
That being said, in the cases of Arteta and Lampard, their inexperience has been clear to see and ultimately played a major part in their respective struggles in management. We will see if this will be a trend that continues for the future and see what success it brings.
Nnamdi Onyeagwara | Twitter: @NnamdiOnye | Terzino Talk