Category Archives: The Managers

The Managers: Gary Megson

Premier League Clubs Managed: Norwich City (1995), West Bromwich Albion (2002-2003, 2004), Bolton Wanderers (2007-2009)

Abrasive is one of the best words to sum up Gary Megson’s management career. If he liked you, you’d play pretty well and frequently too. If you fell out with him, Megson could be a nightmare for your career. He was never the fans’ popular choice at any of the clubs he managed which probably explains why his best finish in top-flight management is 13th with Bolton Wanderers in 2008-2009.

In his playing days, Megson was a tough-tackling, committed defensive midfielder who would play for nine different clubs. The best time of his career was during two spells with Sheffield Wednesday in the mid-1980s, scoring 25 goals in 233 appearances. His worst spell was a five-month period at Nottingham Forest where he didn’t make a single appearance and the late Brian Clough described him as “he couldn’t trap a bag of cement!” Ouch!

Brief fling at Norwich

Megson featured in the first three seasons of the Premier League as a player at Norwich City and when Mike Walker abruptly quit for Everton in January 1994, Megson combined his playing role with a coaching position, working as assistant manager to John Deehan. Towards the end of the 1994-1995 season, Deehan walked away from the job and under-fire owner Robert Chase elected to promote Megson into the hottest of hotseats.

He had five games to try and save the club’s Premier League status but collected just a single point from those matches. Norwich’s relegation to Division One was confirmed on the final Saturday of the season at Elland Road. They collected just 11 points after Christmas which saw them plummet from seventh at the midway point to relegation.

Megson did leave Carrow Road that summer to resume his playing career at Lincoln City and Shrewsbury Town but was back at Norwich before 1995 was out. Martin O’Neill had left for Leicester City but there was to be no magic spark for Megson. The Canaries’ finished a dreary 15th in Division One and he left that summer (this time for good), to seek further opportunities in management.

Beating the odds with the Baggies

Management spells followed at Blackpool, Stockport County and Stoke City. There were good sequences with all these sides but Megson just missed out on possible playoff positions. In March 2000, he was hired by West Bromwich Albion. He preserved their second-tier status against all odds and then spearheaded the Baggies’ to first a playoff finish in 2001, before promotion to the top-flight for the first time in 16 years in 2001-2002. In the closing weeks, Albion had obliterated an 11-point disadvantage on their Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers to finish runners-up to Manchester City. An unexpected Premier League chance was there for the supporters to savour.

There were no surprises though that relegation followed a year later. Just six wins from 38 matches were achieved and there were to be no wins on home soil from the end of November onwards. In many games, Albion competed well enough but they simply didn’t have the ultimate quality to stay up. Megson mounted a successful promotion campaign the following season but by the summer of 2004, the relationship between the manager and his owner Jeremy Peace had become strained.

It became known that some players weren’t keen on playing for Megson. In 2004, ex-Coventry City forward Darren Huckerby had a choice of joining either Norwich City or West Brom. He chose the former and didn’t hold back either on criticising Megson’s coaching style when asked why he signed for Norwich. He said: “I told him I didn’t like the way he coached, I didn’t like the way he shouted at his players and didn’t like the way he treated seasoned professionals like 15-year-olds. I was just being honest with him. I said: “I’ve seen you on the sidelines and you look like a crazed animal.”

In September 2004, Megson’s job appeared to be under threat after a poor start to Albion’s Premier League return. A month later, he confirmed he would leave at the end of the season and the board decided this was a good reason to wield the axe. Three days after a 3-0 loss to relegation rivals Crystal Palace, Megson left the Hawthorns. He wouldn’t return to the Premier League until October 2007.

Never popular at Bolton

When appointed, the fans at the Reebok Stadium were not impressed with the choice. Megson had been hired despite having only been in charge for nine games and 41 days at Leicester City. He took over with Bolton in the bottom three, having amassed just five points from 10 matches under Sammy Lee’s difficult stint. There was early progress though, including a first home win in 30 years over champions Manchester United.

League form was still ropey in 2008 though. Star striker Nicolas Anelka was sold to Chelsea and no obvious replacement came in. In early April, Bolton slipped back into the bottom three but they rallied to take 11 points from their last five matches and therefore stayed up. It was Megson’s first survival as a Premier League manager.

2008-2009 was a progressive season. He spent £13.2 million on Johan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba in the summer transfer window and guided the club to eighth in the table by November 2008. That was good enough for Megson to claim his one and only Manager of the Month award. Although they dropped to 13th by the season’s end, relegation talk was never considered all season for the Trotters.

It was a different story in 2009-2010. Bolton led several matches but couldn’t close games out and by Christmas, they were in the dreaded drop zone. After throwing away a two-goal lead at home to Hull City to draw 2-2 with their rivals in distress, the board elected to sack Megson two days before 2009 drew to a close. His last management job was at Sheffield Wednesday which ended in February 2012 after a derby loss to Sheffield United.

After a lengthy spell out of the game, Megson returned to West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2017, becoming Tony Pulis’ assistant manager at The Hawthorns. It is a new role and a new challenge for him after being the no.1 for such a long time.

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The Managers: Kenny Dalglish

Premier League Clubs Managed: Blackburn Rovers (1992-1995), Newcastle United (1997-1998), Liverpool FC (2011-2012)

As a player, Kenny Dalglish’s achievements are second-to-none. As a manager, his achievements are almost unprecedented. He was a born winner and experienced the ultimate highs and tragic lows as a manager.

In a playing career that spanned over 20 years, he won numerous honours with both Celtic and Liverpool FC, scored a hatful of goals and produced moments of sheer brilliance that the fans on the terraces at Parkhead and Anfield never forget.

Kenny won the European Cup three times as a player and scored the winning goal in the 1978 final against Club Brugge. In terms of league honours, he won 10 league titles, along with 10 domestic cups and the UEFA Super Cup in 1977. His career is a glittering one and he is often considered the greatest player to have ever played for both Celtic and Liverpool FC.

His management breakthrough came as a surprise and in tumultuous circumstances.

Picking up after Heysel

In 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster before the European Cup final had sent shockwaves around the world. English clubs were immediately banned from participating in European competition for the rest of the decade. Joe Fagan decided to step down as Liverpool FC’s first-team manager. Dalglish took the reins as player-manager.

In his first season in the dugout, Liverpool FC won the double. It was Dalglish who scored the winning goal on the final day of the season at Stamford Bridge to win the 1986 First Division title for the Reds.’ A week later, they beat Merseyside rivals Everton in the FA Cup final. This was during the height of dominance on Merseyside in the British game. He had come straight in and achieved a unique feat as a rookie. More was to come.

He signed the likes of Peter Beardsley, John Barnes and John Aldridge as Liverpool continued their supreme grip on the English game. Further titles followed in 1988 and 1990, with runners-up spots in 87 and 89. The Double would elude them twice. In 1988, underdogs Wimbledon beat Dalglish’s Reds’ in the FA Cup final. In 1989, it was a last-gasp strike from Michael Thomas that snatched the league title for Arsenal at Anfield with moments remaining of the campaign. Liverpool won the FA Cup that season on a highly-charged afternoon.

Hillsborough

Saturday, 15 April 1989 will remain the blackest day in English football history. It was a sunny afternoon as Liverpool FC fans flocked to Sheffield to see their team play Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final. 96 supporters would not come home; crushed on the terraces of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.

In the aftermath, Dalglish attended many funerals of the victims and his presence on the club, the grieving families and the city has been described as immense. The tragedy affected him deeply and Liverpool’s victory in the cup final that season against Everton was a victory that was much more than just a football match.

In February 1991, the two Merseyside teams played out a belting FA Cup fifth round tie which finished 4-4 at Goodison Park. Two days later, Dalglish shocked everyone by resigning as manager. This was despite Liverpool still being three points clear at the top of the First Division table. All the trauma and strain had caught up with him but he would be back – both in management and later on in his career with the club who he has always seen as home.

Changing the face of Blackburn

After seven months out of the game, Kenny Dalglish returned to management with Blackburn Rovers in October 1991. He led Rovers back to the top-flight of English football for the first time since 1966 with victory over Leicester City in the Second Division playoffs. It meant Blackburn would play in the inaugural FA Premier League season.

Backed by beloved Blackburn fan and steel magnet Jack Walker, Dalglish wasted little time in making the club one of the best in the early Premier League Years. He broke the British transfer record to sign Alan Shearer in 1992 from Southampton and repeated the feat two years later to snare Chris Sutton away from Norwich City.

Other notable buys included winger Stuart Ripley, midfielder Paul Warhurst and goalkeeper Tim Flowers. Blackburn were looking to go all the way and become champions of England. After finishing fourth and second in the first two seasons, 1994-1995 was the year that Walker’s dreams would come true.

Blackburn topped the table from late November onwards and barely surrendered top spot but they were pushed all the way by reigning champions Manchester United. A late wobble saw an eight-point lead diminish to just two by the final day of the season. In an ironic twist, Blackburn were at Anfield to play Dalglish’s former side, Liverpool FC whilst Manchester United travelled to Upton Park to face West Ham United.

Alex Ferguson had been playing his usual mind games tactic, hinting that Liverpool would roll over and allow Blackburn to win to ensure Manchester United wouldn’t win the championship. It didn’t go like that. Liverpool won 2-1 with a late free-kick from Jamie Redknapp. Seconds later, the full-time whistle went in London. Manchester United had failed to beat West Ham and that meant the result on Merseyside was inconsequential. Blackburn Rovers were champions of England for the first time in 81 years. The title meant that Dalglish was only the fourth football manager in history to lead two different clubs to top-flight league championships, after Tom Watson, Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough.

Replacing King Kev on Tyneside

After that title success of 1995, Dalglish retired as Blackburn manager and moved into a Director of Football role where he would be replaced by his assistant Ray Harford. He left the club for good a year later.

In January 1997, he took over at Newcastle United, replacing Kevin Keegan who had abruptly resigned. Dalglish’s impact at Newcastle was limited. He did guide them to a runners-up spot in the 1996-1997 league campaign and spearheaded a famous victory over Barcelona in the following season’s UEFA Champions League group stage. However, he sold the likes of David Ginola, Les Ferdinand and Lee Clark, replacing them with veterans Stuart Pearce, Ian Rush and John Barnes.

Two games into the 1998-1999 season, he left the club. It is still unknown whether he resigned or was sacked. Either way, it is the only managerial period of his career which didn’t bring any silverware or much positive impact.

He went back to his first club Celtic and had a brief spell as manager there after Barnes was fired following a shambolic home League Cup defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Leaving in the summer of 2000, it would be another decade before Kenny was back in the dugout.

The second coming

In April 2009, Dalglish returned to Liverpool FC, taking a role within the club’s youth academy. He also became a club ambassador. When Rafa Benitez quit in June 2010 after relations with the American owners deteriorated, Dalglish expressed a desire to return to the management post. However, it was Fulham boss Roy Hodgson who got the job.

As soon as the fans got wind of the news that Dalglish had shown interest in the role, Hodgson was toast. Liverpool’s form was terrible and they looked like being involved in a relegation scrap as 2011 began. Hodgson left after a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn which was the club’s ninth defeat of the Premier League season. 24 hours after returning from a holiday in Dubai, Dalglish returned as caretaker manager until the end of the season. After losing his first match back; an FA Cup tie at Manchester United, he admitted it was “a big challenge.”

In the early weeks of his second coming, Fernando Torres was sold for a British transfer record to Chelsea but in came Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. Performances started to improve and so did results. There were impressive wins over Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City and a 5-2 battering of Fulham at Craven Cottage. By the end of the season, Dalglish had signed a three-year deal to remain as manager and he guided the club to a respectable sixth in the final standings. A pretty good return considering he’d taken over with the club 13th and just four points clear of the drop zone.

In the summer of 2011, Charlie Adam, Craig Bellamy and Jordan Henderson were among the new recruits. Despite some frustrating draws at Anfield, the Reds’ strong away form meant they sat fifth at the turn of the year. However, they faded badly in the second half of the campaign and ended a distant eighth in the table, even below Merseyside rivals Everton. It was their worst Premier League points’ return in a 38-game season. Dalglish’s strong defence of Suarez after he was involved in a racism incident with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra was criticised and apologises only made after the owners insisted. He did win the League Cup on penalties in 2012 but three days after the season ended, Dalglish was sacked and replaced by Brendan Rodgers.

He is still an Anfield club hero and is now on the board at Liverpool as a non-executive director. Kenny Dalglish achieved so much in the game of football. His honours’ list means he will go down as one of British football’s most successful players and managers.

The Managers: Tony Pulis

Premier League Clubs Managed: Stoke City (2008-2013), Crystal Palace (2013-2014), West Bromwich Albion (2015-PRESENT)

In 2018, Tony Pulis will celebrate his 60th birthday. The Welshman has become a specialist in stabilising Premier League teams. He gets the absolute maximum out of all of his players and whilst his teams might lack the overall superstar who will wow supporters, he will ensure his sides are tough to break down and specialise in their strengths to win football matches.

Pulis has attracted criticism from some of the modern day fans. Some feel his tactics are dull and make games to watch uninspiring. Sometimes, it is a fair point but if you asked fans of his current club West Bromwich Albion, you would want to survive in the Premier League. Survival is more important than substance and Pulis does this brilliantly.

He now been managing for the best part of 25 years and it took a while to reach the promise land with Stoke City in 2008. Since then, Tony has been a regular fixture in the Premier League managerial dugout.

Playing attempts

Like many before him, Pulis went into management after the end of his playing career. He spent 17 years kicking footballs rather than coaching footballers and being a defender, you can see why he always builds his teams from the back.

During his playing days, Pulis played for five teams in his career. He even spent one season playing abroad in Hong Kong for Happy Valley – one of the most successful clubs in the country with six domestic championships.

He began his playing career at Bristol Rovers and also featured for local club Newport County AFC, Gillingham and AFC Bournemouth. He would go on to manage the latter two clubs in his career and his break came soon than expected at Dean Court.

Filling Harry’s shoes

Coaching was always in Tony’s mind, even in his early playing career. He obtained his FA coaching badge at just 19, followed by his UEFA ‘A’ licence aged 21 – making him one of the youngest professional players ever to have obtained the qualification.

He wound down his playing time with Bournemouth, eventually taking the management role in 1992 when Harry Redknapp quit, becoming Billy Bonds’ no.2 at West Ham United. A couple of 17th-place finishes weren’t anything to write home about but he was up and running and his next stop was a more successful spell at Gillingham.

He managed them for four campaigns and turned them from relegation strugglers to promotion contenders. In 1999, he took Gillingham to the Division Two playoff final and a meeting with Manchester City at Wembley. What followed next was one of the most sensational playoff finals of all-time. It looked like Pulis was going to take Gillingham up. They dominated the game and eventually took the lead through Carl Asaba, before Robert Taylor doubled the lead. Then, Manchester City produced an unbelievable turnaround to level the game at 2-2, before winning the penalty shootout 3-1. City would go onto achieve back-to-back promotions. Pulis would be out of work just weeks later. A falling out with owner Paul Scally led to his sacking for a claim of gross misconduct. He would sue Scally later for unpaid bonuses which were eventually settled out of court.

Brief spells at Bristol City and Portsmouth going into the millennium didn’t work out and it wasn’t until 2002 until he seemed to have found a home which was with Stoke City. However, that wouldn’t be without dramas of its’ own.

Reaching the promise land eventually at Stoke

Tony took over a team struggling in the First Division in November 2002 and managed to grind out enough victories and points to survive relegation on the final day of the season. The loan signings of Mark Crossley and Ade Akinbiyi played a pivotal part in the Potters’ escaping the drop. Even to this day, Pulis claims this is one of his finest achievements in management.

An 11th-place finish followed in 2003-2004 but soon, relations soured between Pulis and the Icelandic owner of the club, Gunnar Gislason. Rows broke out over the club’s transfer business. Pulis was furious that his main forward, Akinbiyi was sold to Championship rivals Burnley and no proven replacement came into the club. Gislason wanted the Welshman to spread his wings and use the foreign market. It was never going to end well and he was sacked in June 2005. The official reason given was “failing to exploit the foreign transfer market.”

He went to Plymouth Argyle, who were also flying high as a Championship club and a 14th-place finish was an overachievement considering the club’s own restrained budgets and expectations. Although he enjoyed his time with the Pilgrims’, Pulis had unfinished business at Stoke and when a board takeover happened, speculation intensified that he would return to the Britannia Stadium.

Less than a year after leaving Stoke, he returned to the club as manager with Peter Coates as the new owner. He backed Pulis in the transfer market and Tony started to bring in very solid Championship players including Danny Higginbotham, Ricardo Fuller and Rory Delap. They were in the playoff shake-up for much of the 2006-2007 season but a draw on the final day against Queens Park Rangers meant they eventually finished in eighth spot. A more serious push followed in 2007-2008. Again, Pulis used the loan market to great effect, which included the arrival of Ryan Shawcross. On the final day of the campaign, Stoke’s draw with Leicester City was good enough to take them up to the Premier League for their first top-flight season in 23 years.

His Premier League break had finally arrived.

Finals and Europe visit the Britannia

Stoke immediately made the Britannia Stadium a feared place to come for opponents. Aston Villa, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were among the early casualties to come a cropper in Staffordshire. A poor Christmas programme dropped the club into the bottom three but the January signings of James Beattie and Matthew Etherington were brilliant bits of business that allowed the club to push clear of danger.

Despite starting 2008-2009 as a favourite for relegation, Pulis took the club to an impressive 12th-place finish, securing safety three games from the end of the season. In 2009-2010, there was more progress with a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals and an 11th-place finish in the league, two points better than the previous campaign.

The achievements kept coming for Tony and the club. In 2011, Stoke thrashed Bolton Wanderers 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals to reach an FA Cup final for the first time in their history. Although they lost 1-0 to Manchester City in the showpiece event, City’s guaranteed Champions League participation ensured Stoke a place in the UEFA Europa League for the 2011-2012 campaign.

As Europe beckoned, a stronger squad was required. The club’s transfer record was broken to sign the likes of Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch. Crouch’s £10million arrival meant that record had been broken for a fourth successive season. They advanced to the knockout rounds of the Europa League and only narrowly went out 2-0 on aggregate in the last 32 to former Spanish superpower Valencia.

However, despite all of this success and a strong bond with the club’s owners, Tony couldn’t break Stoke into the Premier League’s top 10. 11th in 2009-2010 remained the highest finish and as progress stagnated, he parted company with the club at the end of the 2012-2013 campaign. He took a six-month hiatus from football but was soon back to try and rescue Crystal Palace.

Reviving Palace and rejuvenating Albion

Pulis succeeded Ian Holloway in November 2013 to take over a Crystal Palace side that had won just twice and were bottom of the Premier League. It was going to be a tough job but early victories in his reign at home to West Ham United and Cardiff City suggested he could turn things around.

He exploited the January transfer market again and did some great business. Joe Ledley from Celtic, defender Scott Dann from Blackburn Rovers and Wayne Hennessey were among the five acquisitions he made. A run of five successive victories in April 2014 saw him take the Manager of the Month award and eventually, survival was comfortably achieved. To put it into context, no Palace manager had previously steered the club clear of relegation in the Premier League era. They finished 11th with 45 points and Pulis’ work was recognised. He was given the title of Premier League Manager of the Year.

However, his time at Selhurst Park would be short. Feeling he wasn’t being backed in the summer transfer market by the Palace board, he left by mutual consent just two days before the start of the 2014-2015 campaign. For the second successive season, Tony would spend the opening weeks away from the dugout.

He returned on New Years’ Day 2015 though, taking over as Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion after they dispensed with the services of Alan Irvine. There was an immediate response to his appointment. Darren Fletcher arrived from Manchester United to take over the captaincy and victories included a 3-0 win over champions Chelsea. West Brom finished 13th having looked like a serious relegation contender until Pulis’ arrival through the door at the Hawthorns.

In 2015, he broke West Brom’s transfer record to sign the nomadic Venezuelan forward Salomon Rondon and also added Jonny Evans, James McClean and Rickie Lambert to the ranks. In 2015-2016, West Brom were in no relegation danger for much of the campaign but did finish a rather uninspiring 14th. The highlights of the campaign were home victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.

2016-2017 saw Pulis finally finish a season in the top 10 as a Premier League manager at the ninth attempt of asking. Matt Phillips, Hal Robson-Kanu and Nacer Chadli for a new club-record fee were among the new arrivals and West Brom started to become a more attractive side to watch. Their 2-1 victory in November 2016 at champions Leicester City was seen as a turning point in their season – a day when they outplayed and outclassed the champions.

There was an excellent 3-1 success over a dispirited Arsenal in March 2017 and for much of the campaign, West Brom were best of the rest, looking set for an eighth place finish. Unfortunately, form tailed off after a creditable point at Old Trafford and they slipped behind Southampton and AFC Bournemouth in the final week of the season. Nevertheless, it had been a very positive season for everyone connected with West Bromwich Albion.

Although club captain Fletcher departed for Stoke after talks broke down over a new contract, Pulis has had an outstanding summer transfer window. He brought in long-time target Jay Rodriguez from Southampton, young Scottish talent Oliver Burke from RB Leipzig and the loan signing of Grzegorz Krychowiak from Paris Saint-Germain. Two wins and a draw from the club’s first four matches of 2017-2018 hints that it could be another strong season at the Hawthorns.

Tony Pulis’ ability to keep struggling clubs away from the threats of relegation can’t be questioned. He might one of the rare breed of old-fashioned managers who prefers the long ball style of play. However, it has always worked for him and there is no need to change this, especially as he has a proud record of never being relegated as a player or manager. Having just extended his contract to stay at West Bromwich Albion until 2019, expect Tony Pulis to be around in the Premier League for some time to come.

The Managers: Dave Bassett

Premier League Clubs Managed: Sheffield United (1992-1994), Nottingham Forest (1998-1999), Leicester City (2001-2002)

Dave Bassett experienced the joys of management in the 1980s and the difficulties of top-flight pain in the 1990s. He was a specialist at getting clubs promoted but keeping them in the Premier League was often the tricky part. However, he is still credited for doing impressive work at Sheffield United and for putting the name of Wimbledon on the footballing map.

In his playing days, Bassett was a defensive midfielder at semi-professional level. He played for the likes of St Albans City, Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers and retired from playing in 1975.

Wimbledon was where he would start his coaching and management career and he would remain part of the ‘Crazy Gang’ for the next decade and their impressive rise up the English footballing pyramid.

Promotion after promotion

He started out as assistant manager at the London club in 1977 and took the reins on four years later after Dario Gradi left for Crystal Palace. In his first few months at the club, he took Wimbledon into the Third Division.

Relegation did follow immediately in 1982 but only on the dreaded goal difference separation. However, Bassett’s remarkable and see-saw time at Plough Lane would continue with back-to-back promotions. That meant for the first time in their history, Wimbledon supporters could look forward to Second Division football in 1984. That was where it looked like the journey might end.

Crystal Palace were on the lookout for a new manager and in June 1984, Dave accepted an offer to become their manager. 72 hours later, he changed his mind – luckily having not inked his signature onto the contract at Selhurst Park. He defended his decision to stick with his current employers, stating: “I gave it some serious thought, but in the end it just did not feel right. We have unfinished business, and I didn’t really want to leave here.”

By October 1985, Wimbledon were sitting third in the table and had a realistic chance of a third promotion in four seasons. Only Swansea City had achieved this previously. On the last day, a draw at Bradford City was enough for the Dons to seal the third automatic promotion spot and reach the promise land of the First Division. Incredibly, this arrived within nine years of joining the Football League.

New challenges

In 1987, Wimbledon put together an impressive FA Cup run and became a dangerous side in that competition on a regular basis for the next decade. League champions Everton were defeated 3-1 in the fifth round and only a mighty effort from Tottenham Hotspur in round six saw Wembley hopes put on hold. In the league, Wimbledon finished an impressive sixth in their first season at this level – even ahead of Manchester United. However, Bassett felt he had taken the club as far as he possibly could and left in June of that year to take charge of Watford.

During his time at Wimbledon, he had developed the likes of Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise and Dave Beasant and when they beat Liverpool FC in the 1988 FA Cup final, new manager Bobby Gould was quick to acknowledge the contribution Bassett had made to the success.

Wimbledon was a wonderful time for Dave but Watford was a woeful time. He sold the likes of David Bardsley and Kevin Richardson on his arrival, dropped first-choice goalie Tony Coton and John Barnes transferred to Liverpool FC. Bottom of the league in January 1988, the blame for the Hornets’ sudden drop in performance was laid squarely at Bassett’s door. He was given the sack.

Sheffield United was his next stop just days after being sacked by Watford. 1987-1988 was a dreadful season for Dave Bassett. He became one of the few managers with the dubious honour of being involved with two relegated clubs in the same season. The Blades’ lost a relegation playoff to Bristol City and slipped into the Third Division.

However, they were soon on the rise again. With Bassett bringing in his own backroom team that summer, they went straight back up to Division Two and in 1990, made it consecutive promotions. First Division football would return to Bramall Lane for the first time in over 20 years.

13th and 9th place finishes were achieved in their first two seasons at this level and therefore, Sheffield United would play their part in the first Premier League season.

Stamford Bridge agony

The goals of Brian Deane helped the club survive in the 1992-1993 season as they finished 14th. Deane scored the very first Premier League goal and the Blades’ also had the honour of being the first club to inflict relegation on another side. Their 2-0 victory on the penultimate weekend at the City Ground spelt relegation for Nottingham Forest and an unhappy end to Brian Clough’s management career.

Deane was sold in the summer of 1993 to Yorkshire rivals Leeds United and without him; a relegation struggle would take place in 1993-1994. However, it looked like it was a battle Bassett would win but his luck would run out in an agonising final day at Stamford Bridge.

With five minutes remaining, the visitors’ were 2-1 ahead and looked set to finish as high as 15th in the final standings. Then, things twisted against them. Everton scored late to defeat Wimbledon, Ipswich held on for a draw at Blackburn and the Blades’ conceded two late goals to allow Chelsea to win 3-2. Unbelievably, Sheffield United were relegated and the players were left gutted. Bassett stayed on until December 1995 before resigning with a promotion challenge looking less likely.

Two months later, he was back in the dugout and at Crystal Palace – signing a contract this time. The club had been relegated from the Premier League a season earlier and had sold Chris Armstrong, Gareth Southgate, Chris Coleman and Iain Dowie. Palace were 16th in the table on his arrival but went on a remarkable run and they finished third in the final standings. Unfortunately, there would be more late heartache for Bassett. Steve Claridge scored an extra-time winner in the playoff final to take Leicester City back to the Premier League at Palace’s expense.

Onto Forest

In March 1997, Bassett left Crystal Palace to try and save Nottingham Forest from the Premier League drop. It was an almost impossible situation and relegation did follow but they were promoted back to the top-flight at the first time of asking. Forest won the Division One title with style and class in 1998, helped by the goals of Pierre van Hooijdonk.

However, the Dutchman walked out on the club in pre-season and when he had a U-turn and returned in October 1998, relegation again looked very probable. Forest had won just two Premier League games all season when Bassett was sacked in January 1999 following an FA Cup exit at home to lowly Portsmouth.

He returned to the Premier League in 2001 with Leicester City with the club rooted to the bottom of the table and just one win under their belt. After a six-year stint in the top-flight, it would be relegation once more on Bassett’s CV. A four-month winless run from mid-December sealed the Foxes’ fate in early April after defeat to Manchester United. Bassett moved upstairs to take a Director of Football role and handed management control to Micky Adams. Since then, he has had brief caretaker roles with Leicester again and Southampton before leaving the game on his departure from the south coast in December 2005.

Dave Bassett was often called upon to rescue a club from the depths of despair. His record in the lower levels is among the best. His Premier League track record wasn’t as strong but he still remains one of the original ‘Houdini’ acts of football management.

The Managers: Sean Dyche

Premier League Clubs Managed: Burnley (2014-2015, 2016-PRESENT)

October 2017 will mark Sean Dyche’s fifth year at the helm at Burnley Football Club. In that time, the former defender has transformed the club from one-season top-flight wonders into a team that is difficult to beat at Turf Moor. Burnley are looking forward to their first back-to-back Premier League campaign and a lot of that is down to the hard work and ethics in Dyche’s management skills.

For him, it is all about the team and not specific individuals and this was a factor throughout his playing career too. He made his professional debut in 1990 and played for six clubs before retiring at Northampton Town in 2007.

Dyche won promotion as a player during his time with both Bristol City and Millwall. In fact, he was part of the Lions’ squad that narrowly missed out on a Premier League place in 2002; losing in the playoff semi-finals to eventual winners Birmingham City.

However, the best spell of his career came at the club where he made his league debut – Chesterfield. He was the skipper of the side that surprised everyone to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1997. Dyche scored a spot-kick in that semi-final against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford that put the Spireites’ 2-0 infront and dreaming of a Wembley date with Chelsea. The match eventually ended 3-3 and Middlesbrough would win the replay at Hillsborough.

Learning the trade at Watford

After hanging up his boots at Sixfields, Dyche went straight into coaching at Watford, beginning to learn the trade by working with the Under-18s. He became assistant manager in 2009 to Malky Mackay and when the Scot left two seasons later to fill the post at Cardiff City, Dyche stepped up into the managerial vacancy.

Considering he was a rookie, the 2011-2012 season was an impressive debut season in management for Sean. Watford finished a solid 11th in the Championship, having been considered among the pre-season relegation favourites. It was their best finish at this level in four seasons. Unfortunately for Dyche, a change in ownership at the end of the campaign led to his dismissal at Vicarage Road. He would be succeeded by former Chelsea playing legend Gianfranco Zola.

After a summer on the sidelines, he was hired by Burnley in autumn 2012, replacing Eddie Howe who had just agreed to return to AFC Bournemouth for a second spell as manager. Four years after Burnley previously graced the Premier League, he guided them back to the top-flight of English football in 2014. Team spirit and getting the absolute maximum out of every single player were the keys to Burnley’s success. Having been tipped to struggle near the bottom-end of the table, the Clarets’ defied the expectations of many to finish runners-up in the Championship to Leicester City.

Bouncing back at the first attempt

So for 2014-2015, Burnley were back in the Premier League. They showed plenty of dogged resistance and determination. It did take until November before they recorded their first win of the season but the Lancastrians’ improved as the season progressed. There was a surprise victory over champions Manchester City in March and a creditable draw at Chelsea.

However, they lacked the overall quality and experience required to mount a successful survival bid. Burnley were relegated two weeks’ before the season concluded but did go down with a fighting 1-0 victory at Hull. That was a result that would ultimately condemn the Tigers’ on a similar journey with Burnley – down to the Championship.

Dyche stuck with the club despite the disappointment of relegation. They added guile in Joey Barton and finishing prowess in Andre Gray to their ranks. Everything clicked perfectly and promotion was earned at the first time of asking. Victory over Queens Park Rangers ensured their return with an unbeaten run in the division from Boxing Day onwards. Also this time, Burnley went up as champions.

The club transfer record was broken twice in the summer of 2016 to snap up Steven Defour and Jeff Hendrick. Burnley have always been very prudent with their spending allowance and this was evident again on their Premier League return. They will not spend silly money but are prepared to make the investment if it will improve team morale and quality.

Home form at Turf Moor was fantastic in 2016-2017. The likes of Leicester City, Southampton, Everton and Liverpool FC were all beaten in Lancashire and many other sides had to work incredibly hard to take points home with them. There was just one away win all campaign but the 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace in April 2017 ensured that Burnley would be playing Premier League football again in 2017-2018.

Burnley have already managed to bring more experience into their ranks in summer 2017. Jon Walters from Stoke City and Swansea midfielder Jack Cork already look like fine buys ahead of the upcoming campaign.

Sean Dyche is currently one of the longest-serving managers at his current club. His work has been highly commended and it will be interesting to see his development and Burnley’s progress in the months to come.

The Managers: Ian Holloway

Nicknamed “Ollie,” Ian Holloway is a character who will take no prisoners and has enjoyed successful times as a player and manager. In November 2016, he left his position as chief Football League pundit with Sky Sports to have another go at managing Queens Park Rangers, the club he represented with great dignity in the Premier League.

Holloway began his playing career with Bristol Rovers, his hometown club in 1981 and finished his playing career in 1999 with the same team. During his playing days, he won promotion with both Rovers and also Wimbledon.

In August 1991, Gerry Francis paid Bristol Rovers £230,000 to take Holloway to Queens Park Rangers. He played more than 150 games for the club over five seasons and was one of the leaders in the dressing room. He left after the club’s relegation to the First Division in 1996.

Moving straight into management, his first spells were with the two clubs he spent the longest time with and he achieved five years with both Bristol Rovers and Queens Park Rangers in the dugout. Ian was producing good work with both teams. Having arrived too late to stop QPR slide into the third tier in 2001, Holloway rebuilt the side, got them promoted in 2004 and kept them as a stable mid-table club until his departure in 2006, just before Flavio Briatore came in and turned sacking managers at Loftus Road into a hobby.

Spells with Plymouth Argyle and Leicester City followed but it would be his role with Blackpool that attracted the most headlines and turned him into a national treasure.

Blackpool revival

When Holloway was appointed by Blackpool in 2009, he had been out of the game for almost a year. Relegation with Leicester City had damaged his reputation and this was a chance to restore his credentials.

He sensationally took the club into the top-six in the Championship, earning a playoff position. The Tangerines’ then saw off Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals and beat Cardiff City 3-2 in a topsy-turvy final to achieve promotion to the Premier League and all this in his first nine months in the job. Holloway would later say that this achievement was his greatest in football.

Blackpool arrived in the Premier League for 2010-2011 and were expected to be the whipping boys of the top-flight. Holloway galvanised an amazing team spirit though and the best out of players like Luke Varney, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and of course, skipper Charlie Adam. They sent ripples through the league with a stunning 4-0 opening day victory away at Wigan Athletic. Blackpool followed this up with a series of impressive victories away from home. They beat Newcastle United, Sunderland, Stoke City and recorded a memorable 2-1 success away at Liverpool FC.

There were heavy defeats to Arsenal (6-0) and Chelsea (4-0) but Blackpool were committed to playing football the right way. They scored lots of goals but also conceded far too many. Holloway loved Premier League life, despite threatening to resign after the club was fined £25,000 for fielding a weakened team in a November fixture away to Aston Villa.

Blackpool sat eighth in the table at the turn of the year and they would go onto defeat Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur in the early weeks of 2011. However, a transfer saga developed over Adam and although the club held onto his services, his performances dipped and with that, so did the team’s. They slipped into trouble and eventually into the bottom three by mid-April. Despite a gallant display on the final day of the season at Old Trafford, a 4-2 defeat to the new champions would see immediate relegation, exactly a year to the day of promotion to the elite. Nevertheless, they had won plenty of fans for their gung-ho approach to the season.

Palace come calling

Despite interest from other Premier League clubs, including Aston Villa, Holloway stayed at Blackpool for 2011-2012 and guided them back to the Championship playoff final. This time though, it would end in defeat to West Ham United.

In November 2012, he resigned from his post at Bloomfield Road to take over at Crystal Palace. His first match in charge with the Eagles’ was a 5-0 thumping of Ipswich Town and the playoffs were becoming a specialist subject for Ian. He was back at Wembley again and this time, it was promotion glory over Watford. Veteran Kevin Phillips scoring the only goal, courtesy of the penalty spot.

He led Crystal Palace into the Premier League but his enthusiasm wasn’t quite the same as it had been at Blackpool. The club lost seven of their first eight matches back in the top-flight and after a 4-1 home defeat to London rivals Fulham, he left by mutual consent after a rollercoaster year in south London.

He stayed in the capital with Millwall before returning to the management game with Queens Park Rangers for the second time in 2016-2017. Safety in the Championship was just about secured and he will be aiming to bring the good times back to Loftus Road next season.

The Premier League has not seen the last of Ian Holloway. He is a character and the game is a poorer place when he isn’t in the dugout.

The Managers: Danny Wilson

Premier League Clubs Managed: Barnsley (1997-1998), Sheffield Wednesday (1998-2000)

Hailing from Lancashire, Danny Wilson has managed a host of different clubs in various guises. He had overseen promotion and relegation campaigns and has provided the supporters of clubs he’s managed with high and low points. 17 years have passed since his final management role in the top-flight. Although there were notable results during his time with both Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday, a 12th-place finish is the best he has to show for three Premier League seasons in management.

League Cup specialist

As a player, Wilson’s specialist subject was the League Cup. He was part of the Luton Town squad that won the competition in 1988 against Arsenal, scoring in the final. He repeated this trophy success at Wembley three years later as Sheffield Wednesday got the better of Manchester United.

He won 24 caps for Northern Ireland between 1987 and 1992 and played briefly in the inaugural Premier League season for the Owls. Wilson’s most successful statistics at playing level came at Brighton & Hove Albion. He scored 35 goals in 135 appearances between 1983 and 1987.

In 1993, Wilson took his first steps into coaching with Barnsley, leaving Sheffield Wednesday behind to become assistant manager to Viv Anderson. He would continue his playing career at the same time with the Tykes. When Anderson left in the summer of 1994 to link-up with Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough, Wilson made the step-up into management.

In 1996-1997, Danny took Barnsley into the top-flight of English football for the first time in the club’s history. A 2-0 home win over Bradford City secured Barnsley’s place in the Premier League as they came runners-up in Division One to Bolton Wanderers.

Impressing the Owls

Naturally, Barnsley’s sole Premier League campaign was a tough one and they had the worst defensive record in the division. Among the hefty losses were a 6-0 home defeat to Chelsea and a 7-0 demolition by Manchester United at Old Trafford. A strong home record though kept Wilson’s side in the mix to escape relegation until the penultimate weekend of the season.

A 1-0 defeat at Filbert Street to Leicester City ended Barnsley’s Premier League adventure but Wilson’s tactical approach and no-fear attitude impressed the hierarchy at his former club, Sheffield Wednesday. With Ron Atkinson stepping down, a vacancy opened up at Hillsborough and he decided to take it.

It was hoped he could revive the fortunes of the club. Sheffield Wednesday had finished season 1997-1998 down in 16th position and the early signs were promising. There were home wins over champions Arsenal and Manchester United and he also dealt well with the Paolo di Canio situation – suspending the player immediately after he had shoved referee Paul Alcock over during the victory over the Gunners’. The club finished 12th in his first full season and aims for 1999-2000 were to break back into the top half of the table. It didn’t quite pan out like that though.

Poor recruitment

Wilson signed Gerald Sibon and Giles de Bilde in the summer of 1999. Neither player was a qualified success. Also, some of his more established stars were beginning to show their age. They made the worst start in Premier League history, tallying just one point from their opening nine matches and taking an 8-0 pummelling from Newcastle United during that sequence.

At the turn of the New Year, four Sheffield MPs called for Wilson to be relieved of his duties. They included former Home Secretary David Blunkett. A brief rally followed and Danny would win the Manager of the Month award for January 2000. However, after just five victories in the league, he was sacked by the board in March, days after a damaging 1-0 away defeat to already doomed Watford. Sheffield Wednesday were ultimately relegated.

Since then, Wilson’s management career has been in the lower leagues of English football. He did guide Hartlepool United to promotion from League Two in 2007 and even had a second spell back at Barnsley – albeit not as successful as his first spell. His latest role came at Chesterfield which ended in January 2017 with the club losing their League One status by the end of the 2016-2017 campaign.

Danny Wilson was a manager who worked hard in the Premier League but never quite broke through into the top echelon of managers in the British game.

The Managers: Brian Little

Premier League Clubs Managed: Leicester City (1994), Aston Villa (1994-1998)

Brian Little spent his entire playing career at Aston Villa. He played 247 times for the Villans from 1970 to 1980, winning two League Cups and the Third Division in 1972.

Aston Villa has been a huge part of his life, both as a player and a manager. Today, he is back at the club for a third different role, acting as an advisor on the board.

His early management days began with a caretaker stint at Wolverhampton Wanderers in August 1986 but it was at Darlington where he began to make a name for himself. Brian achieved back-to-back promotions to the old Third Division.

Third time lucky

In June 1991, he got the role as boss of Leicester City and a story of near-misses would follow in the dreaded playoffs. At the end of his first full season, he took the Foxes’ to the Second Division final against cash-rich Blackburn Rovers. The winner from the Wembley showdown would be promoted into the first season of the FA Premier League.

Mike Newell’s spot-kick settled the match in Blackburn’s favour and they would end up playing in the inaugural campaign. If Leicester had won, who knows what would have happened but it is unlikely Blackburn would have achieved the success they did if they hadn’t been promoted from this match.

If 1992 hurt, 1993 would be even more painful. Having trailed 3-0 in the playoff final, Leicester levelled the match with Swindon Town, before eventually going down 4-3 to Glenn Hoddle’s men. This time, Leicester were seen as favourites pre-match so this was an even bigger disappointment.

Foxes’ supporters were getting used to the Wembley journey every May. They were back in 1994 for a final with East Midlands rivals Derby County. Finally, it was third time lucky. A 2-1 victory meant Little had guided Leicester into the Premier League.

Life was going to be tough and it became evident very quickly that the quality of the playing squad simply wasn’t Premier League material, despite impressive individual displays over the season from the likes of Mark Draper and Julian Joachim. There were just two wins from their first 10 matches and Leicester quickly became a regular fixture in the relegation zone.

In November 1994, Ron Atkinson was dismissed by Doug Ellis at Aston Villa. As a former player, Little was immediately linked to the Villa Park post despite being under contract to Leicester. On 22 November, three days after a 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City, he resigned his position as Leicester manager to manoeuvre a switch to the club he endeared the most. He was back at Filbert Street in the visiting dugout less than a fortnight later and it is fair to say it wasn’t a generous welcome back either.

Big reshape

Little inherited an Aston Villa squad that was beginning to show its age. The club was fighting a relegation battle and he quickly realised the predicament. He failed to win any of his first five games with Villa, with three goals only scored in this period. A more positive run of just one defeat in nine followed which guided the club into mid-table and won him the January 1995 Manager of the Month award. Then, a nightmare run saw no Villa player score in eight successive matches. A 2-0 victory over Liverpool FC on the penultimate weekend was ultimately enough to keep the club up.

A big reshape was needed in the summer of 1995. The likes of Ray Houghton, Garry Parker, Earl Barrett and Dean Saunders were moved on and in came Draper and Joachim from his former club Leicester, along with Gareth Southgate, Alan Wright and Savo Milosevic. 1995-1996 was the most successful season for many years at Villa Park. The club won their second League Cup in three years with a 3-0 triumph over Leeds United at Wembley. They also finished a fantastic fourth in the Premier League and still had a realistic outside title shot until a 3-0 loss at Anfield in early March to a rampant Liverpool FC and Robbie Fowler. Fowler would go on to crush the club’s FA Cup hopes too with a semi-final hat-trick at Old Trafford. However, huge strides had been made.

Unfortunately, Brian couldn’t quite take it onto the next level, even though he got the best out of Dwight Yorke who combined well with Milosevic and formed the central defensive partnership of Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu which would excel in the Premier League for the next decade. A fifth-place finish followed in 1996-1997 but 1997-1998 was a big disappointment. The £7million signing of Stan Collymore didn’t pay off and with the club in the bottom half by February 1998, Little decided to resign, feeling he couldn’t take the club further. His former assistant John Gregory returned to the club and turned results around. Villa finished eighth and qualified for the UEFA Cup for a third consecutive campaign.

After Villa, further management spells would follow outside the top-flight at Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Hull City, Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham and Gainsborough Trinity. Little’s last management position was back in 2011.

Now back for a third stint at Aston Villa, Little only has a watching brief but will be hoping Steve Bruce can get the club back into the top-flight following their wretched 2015-2016 season that ended with relegation to the Championship. A manager who did the job with the minimum of fuss, Brian Little’s time at Aston Villa is often undervalued but he did very well to stabilise the club into a top Premier League contender throughout the mid-90s.

The Managers: George Graham

Premier League Clubs Managed: Arsenal (1992-1995), Leeds United (1996-1998), Tottenham Hotspur (1998-2001)

George Graham enjoyed a successful managerial career, notably at Arsenal where he managed to guide the club to two league championships and multiple cup success in domestic competitions.

He had a distinguished playing career and was part of the famous Gunners’ squad that won the league and cup double in 1971. Graham spent six seasons at Highbury, playing over 220 games. He ultimately finished his playing time with a brief spell in America in 1978, figuring for California Surf.

After learning under the tutelage of Terry Venables on the coaching staff at Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers, Graham first became a manager in December 1982 at Millwall. He spent four years at the Den, steering them from the bottom of the old Third Division to promotion during his reign.

Former club Arsenal came calling following Don Howe’s resignation in 1986. Having not won a trophy in seven years, the Arsenal board were keen to get the club back into silverware contention during a time where the Merseyside teams were sweeping the majority of the trophies. He added a stricter discipline to the dressing room and Arsenal instantly became winners. They won the League Cup in his first season in charge.

Building a team around young skipper Tony Adams and a tight defence, the flair of Paul Merson, Alan Smith and Michael Thomas took Arsenal towards the league title in sensational circumstances in 1989. Thomas scored the vital second goal on the final evening of the season at Anfield to win the game against Liverpool FC. The 2-0 victory was enough to snatch the title away from the Reds’ grasp. Two seasons later, he led the North Londoners to another title, losing just one league match all season with the likes of Swedish winger Anders Limpar and future England no.1 goalkeeper David Seaman added to his valuable assets.

Premier League management

In 1992, Arsenal were considered among the title favourites for the first Premier League season but started badly with back-to-back defeats to surprise packages Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers. A victory at Anfield did follow a week later but league form was inconsistent and the team finished tenth – Graham’s lowest finish in the league. However, that disappointment was soothed by a domestic cup double, beating Sheffield Wednesday in both matches.

Graham’s side became very defence-minded and was almost fully reliant on goals from Ian Wright. They averaged just 48 league goals in each of the Premier League’s first three seasons and were the lowest scorers in the division during the inaugural season. His reign at Arsenal ultimately ended very controversially. In late 1994, it emerged Graham had accepted a £425,000 payment from a Norwegian agent, Rune Hauge following the signings two years earlier of Scandinavian pair, Pal Lydersen and John Jensen. Graham was sacked by the club in February 1995 and the FA later banned him for a year for his part in the transfer dealings.

After serving his ban, he returned to football management with Leeds United, replacing Howard Wilkinson in September 1996. As ever, he worked on getting the defence right and despite scoring a meagre 28 goals, Leeds finished comfortably in mid-table in 11th spot. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was signed a year later and the Yorkshire side became a more exciting side to watch. There were thrilling 4-3 victories over Blackburn Rovers and Derby County and a 5-0 trouncing of the Rams at Pride Park. Leeds finished a creditable fifth in the 1997/1998 table.

Tottenham courted his services following the departure of Christian Gross and there was an uncomfortable afternoon when Leeds visited White Hart Lane with Graham still employed by the club but almost about to take over at Spurs. The banners “Who are you supporting today George?” pretty much summed it up.  A 3-3 draw meant the entertainment value on-the-field matched the boardroom discussions between the two clubs.

Graham eventually took over at Tottenham at the start of October 1998. For the fans, an ex-Arsenal manager was not a popular choice but he did guide Tottenham to their first silverware in seven years, defeating Leicester City 1-0 in the 1999 League Cup final. However, Tottenham couldn’t finish higher than 10th in the table and he was sacked in March 2001, shortly after the club’s ownership changed hands. An alleged breach of contract was given as the reason for his sudden departure and it was fair to say, things ended rather acrimoniously between ENIC, who had purchased the club and the manager.

Graham has been out of management ever since, instead focusing on being the chief pundit for Sky Sports’ pay-per-view Premiership Plus coverage from 2001 to 2007. He has been linked with vacancies at Leicester City, West Ham United and Sunderland but opted to stay away from the dugout.

George Graham achieved plenty in his career and his 10 managerial honours in very impressive. However, his best days ultimately took place before the formation of the FA Premier League.