Category Archives: The Managers

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.