The British Premier League managers are actually a diverse cast of characters

Words By Richard Jolly Illustration by Philippe Fenner
December 14, 2017

They became football’s infamous five, a supposedly interchangeable quintet of management’s version of bed-blockers, forever getting jobs that might otherwise have gone to younger British coaches or more progressive foreign appointments.

To judge by some of the coverage of management’s oldest and least glamorous boyband, Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis, David Moyes and Alan Pardew are soulmates, dinosaurs roaming the Premier League world, and an indictment of the chairmen and chief executives who employ them. Between them, they have had 24 top-flight jobs and won no trophies which, some say, is a reward for failure.

And yes, most have managed West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and West Ham. Sometimes one has replaced another. Yet there is a laziness in lumping them together. They are divided by more than unites them.

For starters, they are not even from the same generation. When Moyes was four months old, Hodgson was old enough to get married. Hodgson was born two years after World War II ended, Moyes seven months before John F Kennedy was killed. The Scot is 54, the Englishman 70.

Nor are their records remotely identical. The argument is that they are appointed as the safe options by clubs with an aversion to risk. Yet Moyes and Pardew have both been relegated from the Premier League, while Hodgson was in charge for the start of the 1998-99 season that ended with Blackburn’s demotion.

So while he, in particular, has won relegation battles, the notion that they are a guarantee against the drop only really applies to Allardyce and Pulis. The Welshman, whose nine Premier League finishes have all been between 10th and 14th, is a great promise of consistency. Yet Moyes has come 4th and 20th, Pardew 5th and 19th; none of those seasons were exactly Pulis-esque.

Until his ill-fated spell at Sunderland, Moyes offered an entirely different brand of consistency to Pulis to suggest he is simply a far superior manager: he has nine top-eight finishes. Even Allardyce, the man with most in common with Pulis, has four top-eight finishes. There is evidence that his football, while scarcely purist, and his results, albeit with a higher class ceiling, can improve with better players.

Pulis’ have remained resolutely reliable. Albion replaced him with Pardew, the king of boom and bust. The Englishman marked his appointment by talking about his fondness for attacking football and, while none of the five Brits will ever be confused for Pep Guardiola, they do not all and always conform to the Pulis-and-Allardyce blueprint of six-footers and set-pieces. Pardew has built teams around a playmaker, in Yohan Cabaye.

Moyes’ best Everton side, the class of 2009, had a playmaker, in Mikel Arteta, where others would have used a defensive midfielder. Speak to West Brom fans and many will say Hodgson played good football at the Hawthorns. Few would make the same claim about Pulis. Even Allardyce had Jay-Jay Okocha and Fernando Hierro at Bolton. Only Pulis really won’t pick flair players. Deep down, Allardyce probably prefers 4-3-3, Hodgson 4-4-2 and Moyes 4-4-1-1, the formations of their best teams. They do not all use the same tactical template.

They are not a five-headed beast, unavoidable as they roam the Premier League landscape together

If their ideas are different, so are their CVs. Moyes and Hodgson were granted perhaps the two biggest jobs in English club football, in gruesome stints at Manchester United and Liverpool. Pardew and Allardyce have both managed Newcastle and West Ham, arguably bigger clubs than any that has ever employed Pulis. Hodgson has extensive, and successful, experience abroad, Moyes an underwhelming year at Real Sociedad and Allardyce a League of Ireland title to his name. In contrast, Pardew and Pulis have never left England.

Indeed, whereas Pulis’ Premier League record gets him jobs, Hodgson’s defining achievement in English football came in Europe, taking Fulham to the 2010 Uefa Cup final. A rare common denominator between he and Pulis is that they were long ignored by Premier League clubs; neither managed in the division before he was 49. Moyes, appointed Everton manager at 38, was fast-tracked in a way neither were. Nor have all remained constants: given the supposed favouritism exhibited towards them, it is worth noting that Hodgson spent a further nine years in exile after leaving Blackburn and Pardew had to drop down to League One after failing at Charlton.

It is true that none has won major silverware in England. But then, with the exceptions of Moyes’ miserable time at Old Trafford and Hodgson’s harrowing few months at Anfield, they have spent their time at clubs that no longer win trophies: Blackburn (none since 2002), Everton (1995), West Ham (1980), Sunderland (1973), Stoke (1972), Newcastle (1969), West Brom (1968), Bolton (1958), Charlton (1947), Fulham and Palace (both none ever).

So, rather than being unique to these five managers, it is something that unites everyone who has managed their clubs for, in most cases, decades. They have outperformed many of those others while reflecting modern football in the reality that the honours are won by a select few.

But it is easy to see five ageing British managers, starved of silverware, seemingly short of original ideas and grey of hair and ignore individual identities in favour of sweeping generalisations. They are not a five-headed beast, unavoidable as they roam the Premier League landscape together. They deserve to be scrutinised and criticised, but on the basis of records and results, signings and sales, style of play and substitutions, rhetoric and legacy, but their own, not anyone else’s. Lumping five managers with some considerable differences together is a false equivalence.

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