Impact Of Foreign Managers On The Premier League

In the wake of the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari at Chelsea, Graham Lister considers the history and impact of foreign managers in the English Premier League….
The influx of foreign players into England's Premier League is a frequent bone of contention, critics arguing that the imports not only deny promising home-grown talent the chance to make the breakthrough but also, ultimately, undermine the quality of the English national team.

Leaving aside the fact that the cream will always rise to the top, irrespective of nationality; and the even more uncomfortable fact that the England team was serially under-performing long before anyone heard an exotic accent in an English dressing-room, the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari as Chelsea manager has turned the spotlight on another aspect of the foreign invasion: the impact foreign coaches are having on the English game.

Looking exclusively at the 20 clubs who will be competing in the Premier League next season, it is perhaps a surprise to realise that only four of them have non-British/Irish  managers - Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea  and Tottenham. The men concerned are Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez, Scolari and Juande Ramos.

However, between them, the 20 clubs concerned have had 25 foreign managers altogether, six of whom were employed by the same club, Chelsea, who have not been managed by a Brit since Glenn Hoddle left to take charge of the England team in 1996. The club with the next biggest passion for foreign coaches are Tottenham, who have had five, though not all consecutively. Then come Liverpool, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Stoke City with two each.  

Arsenal, Aston Villa, Fulham, Hull City, Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion have all gone down the overseas route once. But Blackburn, Bolton, Everton, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Wigan and West Ham have only ever offered the managerial hot seat to candidates from the British Isles.

The first club to take the continental plunge were Aston Villa, who appointed the Czech Dr Jozef Venglos as manager in 1990. It was an inauspicious experiment: the good Doctor lasted just one season before chairman Doug Ellis was scurrying to replace him with the unmistakably English Ron Atkinson.

The foreign standard was then carried single-handedly by England's adopted Argentinian, Osvaldo Ardiles. He cut his managerial teeth with Swindon Town before spells with three of the clubs who will be in the top-flight next season: Newcastle United (1991-92), West Bromwich Albion (1992-93) and his beloved Spurs (1993-94). But apart from a promotion from the third tier to the second via the play-offs in 1992-93 with Albion, Ardiles did little to persuade club chairmen up and down the country that foreign was the way to go on the manager front.

Perhaps surprisingly, one chairman who was prepared to take a punt on a foreign manager in the mid-1990s was Ken Bates at Chelsea. When Hoddle got the call from the FA in 1996, Bates turned to Dutchman Ruud Gullit, whom Hoddle had brought to Stamford Bridge from Italian football the previous year as a sweeper/midfielder.

Still playing, Gullit made a successful start to his managerial career by guiding Chelsea to an FA Cup triumph in 1997, his first season at the helm. It was the Blues' first major trophy for 26 years, and Gullit became the first non-British manager to win the FA Cup. Yet in the following season, with Chelsea lying second in the Premiership and reaching the quarter-finals of two cup competitions, the quixotic Bates sacked Gullit, ostensibly over money, and replaced him with the Italian Gianluca Vialli, whom Gullit had himself brought to Stamford Bridge from Serie A.  Vialli finished what Gullit had started that season by leading Chelsea to the League Cup the European Cup Winners' Cup and, a few months later, the European Super Cup.

Gullit and Vialli had made a big impression at Chelsea, despite both still being players. But what really began to change perceptions about foreign managers was Arsenal's appointment of the studious, bespectacled Arsene Wenger in September 1996. Not only did he bring the Gunners success on the pitch - they won the Double in Wenger's first full season (1997-98) - but the Frenchman also instigated a revolution at Highbury in terms of players' dietary regimes, lifestyles, fitness programmes and training routines. In the process he transformed the team from one synonymous with functional, utilitarian football to one that expressed itself with attacking panache.

Wenger's impact at Arsenal - his ideas on how football should be played, and the players he signed and developed to carry out his vision - made foreign coaches suddenly fashionable in England's top flight. Gullit was appointed by Newcastle to succeed Kenny Dalglish, and Spurs took a gamble on the Swiss Christian Gross. It was a gamble that never paid off though, and Gross was quickly gone.  

But Liverpool embraced the revolution by taking on Wenger's compatriot Gerard Houllier, initially to work in tandem with incumbent Roy Evans. Within weeks Houllier was running the show alone, and  in 2000-01 he delivered a treble of League Cup, FA Cup and Uefa Cup to the Anfield trophy room.  The European Super Cup swiftly followed, plus another League Cup in 2003. But the closest Houllier came to ending Liverpool's League title famine was the runners-up spot in 2001-02.

Ahead of the Reds that season were Wenger's Arsenal, who claimed their second Double under the Frenchman after three consecutive second-place finishes and two losing cup finals - the 2000 Uefa Cup (to Galatasaray on penalties) and the 2001 FA Cup (to Houllier's Michael Owen-inspired Liverpool).  Wenger went on to retain the FA Cup in 2003 before claiming his third Premier League title in 2003-04, when the Gunners completed the first unbeaten top-flight campaign since 1888-89.  A further FA Cup success in 2005 was followed by losing finals in the Champions League (2006) and League Cup (2007).

However, by now Wenger had two heavyweight contenders for his crown of most successful overseas manager in English football. Houllier was replaced at Anfield in the summer of 2004 by Spaniard Rafael Benitez, fresh from a successful spell as Valencia boss. And Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea from Porto.

Vialli had been replaced at Stamford Bridge, a few months after winning the FA Cup in 2000, by a fellow-Italian, Claudio Ranieri, who became known as the Tinkerman in the English media but whose reign at Chelsea should not be under-estimated.  Ranieri led the Blues to the 2002 FA Cup final and, as the incumbent when Roman Abramovich bought the club off Bates a little over a year later, spent some of the Russian's cash in a title-bid that might have succeeded had Wenger's team not been invincible that season.

Ranieri took them to second-place, their highest finish since 1954-55, and proved that the Gunners were not invincible in cup competitions by beating them in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Unfortunately the Italian could not plot a way past Monaco in the semi-final and the impatiently ambitious Abramovich sacked him that summer in favour of the maverick Mourinho.

The Portuguese wasted no time in becoming the second foreign manager to lift the Premier League title. Chelsea were crowned champions in 2004-05, and won the League Cup for good measure, again reaching the last four of the Champions League. Mourinho then achieved what Wenger had not - he retained the Premier League title in 2005-06. The following season his side finished runners-up in the League, Champions League semi-finalists and winners of both the League Cup and FA Cup.

Their conquerors in the Champions League, as they'd been two years earlier, were Benitez's Liverpool.  The Spaniard had made the Reds champions of Europe again in his first season (2004-05), beating Milan in a dramatic shoot-out after a sensational come-back in open play. They won the Super Cup a few months later and added the FA Cup in 2006. In 2007 Benitez guided Liverpool to another Champions League final, where Milan turned the tables, and the following season they were ousted from the semi-finals of that competition by Chelsea.      

It was a Chelsea now managed by the Israeli, Avram Grant, who stepped up from his role as technical director when Abramovich lost patience with Mourinho - to the dismay of most Blues fans -  in September 2007.  Grant thus became Chelsea's fifth consecutive foreign manager. He guided the club to the runners-up spot in both the Premier League and Champions League, losing out in both competitions to Manchester United by two points and a missed spot-kick, respectively. He had also taken Chelsea to the League Cup final, where they were beaten in extra-time by London rivals Tottenham.

After Gross, Spurs had stuck with British bosses in George Graham (1998-2001), Hoddle (2001-03) and David Pleat (caretaker, 2003-04). They went continental again in 2004 by hiring France's team manager Jacques Santini, but he proved as big a disappointment as Gross, lasting a mere six months before announcing his resignation after just 13 games. Officially, Santini left North London because of personal problems, but it was widely reported that a series of fall-outs with Tottenham's then sporting director Frank Arnesen (the Dane now at Chelsea in a similar role) was the real reason.

Santini's exit saw another foreigner, Dutchman Martin Jol, promoted from within to manager. Jol went close to nudging Tottenham into the Premier League's top four, finishing fifth in two consecutive campaigns (2005-06 and 2006-07), but the wheels started to come off when high expectations were betrayed by woeful results in the first couple of months of last season, prompting Jol's dismissal and replacement by the Sevilla boss, Juande Ramos, whom they had been publicly courting with a distinct lack of discretion.

The wily Spaniard, with an unprecedented two consecutive Uefa Cup triumphs on his CV, immediately set about tightening things up at White Hart Lane, and although Spurs remained maddeningly inconsistent, he steered them to success over Grant's Chelsea at Wembley in the final of the Carling League Cup, Tottenham's first silverware since 1999.

Thus Ramos, who has since set about rebuilding the squad he inherited from Jol and looks determined to make Spurs credible challengers for the big prizes next season, joined Gullit, Wenger, Vialli, Mourinho, Houllier and Benitez as the foreign managers who have led their respective English clubs to one or more major trophies.

Now Scolari, with a track record that includes a World Cup triumph with Brazil in 2002 and second place at Euro 2004 with Portugal, plus a clutch of Brazilian domestic club honours, will attempt to make an early impression on English football at Stamford Bridge.

Although three of the Premier League's 'Big Four' have been managed by foreign coaches continuously since 1998, the case that foreigners are stifling opportunities for aspiring British managers is not proven at club level. However, the argument is stronger at national team level where the FA have opted for a foreigner for two of their last three appointments (Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson and Italian Fabio Capello), at the expense of English candidates.

There is little doubt either that the presence of foreign managers at English clubs has stimulated and thickened the flow of overseas players into the Premier League, not least because the managers concerned inevitably have an extensive first-hand knowledge of the talent available beyond England's shores.

English Premier League Clubs' Use Of Foreign Managers:

Arsenal - Arsene Wenger (French, 1996 -)
Aston Villa - Dr Jozef Venglos (Czech, 1990-91)
Blackburn Rovers - none
Bolton Wanderers - none
Chelsea - Ruud Gullit (Dutch, 1996-98); Gianluca Vialli (Italian, 1998-2000); Claudio Ranieri (Italian, 2000-04); Jose Mourinho (Portuguese, 2004-07); Avram Grant (Israeli, 2007-08); Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazilian, 2008 -)
Everton - none
Fulham - Jean Tigana (French, 2000-03)
Hull City - Jan Molby (Danish, 2002)
Liverpool - Gerard Houllier (French, 1998-2004); Rafael Benitez (Spanish, 2004 -)
Manchester City - Sven-Goran Eriksson (Swedish, 2007-08)
Manchester United - none
Middlesbrough - none
Newcastle United - Ossie Ardiles (Argentinian, 1991-92); Ruud Gullit (Dutch, 1998-99)
Portsmouth - Velimir Zajec (Croatian, 2004-05); Alain Perrin (French, 2005)
Stoke City - Gudjon Thordason (Icelandic, 1999-2002); Johan Boskamp (2005-06)
Sunderland - none
Tottenham Hotspur - Ossie Ardiles (Argentinian, 1993-94); Christian Gross (Swiss, 1997-98); Jacques Santini (French, 2004); Martin Jol (Dutch, 2004-07); Juande Ramos (Spanish, 2007 -)
West Bromwich Albion - Ossie Ardiles (Argentinian, 1992-93)
West Ham United - none
Wigan Athletic - none

Most Successful Foreign Managers In English Football

To compile the table below, 'points' were awarded as follows:
6 Champions League winner
4 Champions League runner-up
5 Premier League winner
4 Premier League runner-up
4 Uefa Cup winner
3 Uefa Cup runner-up
3 FA Cup winner
2 FA Cup runner-up
2 League Cup winner
1 League Cup runner-up
2 Lower League champion
1 Lower League promotion
3 Super Cup winner
1 Club World Championship runner-up

On that basis, here are the most successful foreign managers at the clubs who will be competing in the Premier League next season:

1    Arsene Wenger (57 points)
2    Jose Mourinho (21)
3=    Gerard Houllier & Rafael Benitez (18 each)
5    Gianluca Vialli (12)
6    Avram Grant (8)
7    Claudio Ranieri (6)
8    Ruud Gullit (5)
9    Jean Tigana (2)
10=    Ossie Ardiles & Gudjon Thordason (1 each)

Graham Lister