How England became the centre of the coaching world

The majority of Europe’s elite coaches are now plying their trade in the Premier League

When Ralf Rangnick had his interview with Manchester United, he wowed their selection team with his idea for the squad. It was such a distinctive vision that it basically persuaded John Murtough and his staff that it would be a mistake to go without the German. They’d be leaving a lot off the pitch. Rangnick has been close to jobs in England before, but this time he wanted to make absolutely sure he got it. No complications or issues. He didn’t want to go his whole career without ever working in the Premier League.

It is a widely shared sentiment. One current Premier League manager had a real itch in his last job and realised he needed to get to England as quickly as possible, out of concern that his reputation might suffer if he didn’t. Antonio Conte meanwhile conveyed similar sentiments in a recent interview in Italy.

“Only the allure of the Premier League could convince me to get back in the game so soon,” the Italian said.

This is where all the best managers now want to work. This is where most of the best managers now reside. That first became true in the summer of 2016, but it has gone to another level since then.

Part of the reason Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea are so far in front is that they employ the three coaches who are arguably the best in the world right now: Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Pep Guardiola.


They certainly form part of that elite top tier, which naturally includes the recently installed Conte. Of possible equals in that band, it is probably only Julian Nagelsmann and Diego Simeone who aren’t working in England at the moment.

There are still some questions about Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag, but the Argentine has already overachieved in the Premier League and both are widely seen as the top two candidates for the Manchester United job come the summer. One will surely be the next big name to arrive.

It goes even further and deeper than that, though. It is not just most of the top coaches who are in the Premier League. It is their mentors and main influences. Leeds United’s Marcelo Bielsa was a key figure for Guardiola and Conte, with Rangnick similar for Klopp and Tuchel as well as Ralph Hassenhuttl and Thomas Frank. That is quite a depth of coaching and tactical thinking, that creates all manner of manager trees, webs and networks.

Guardiola himself has superseded Bielsa as a football influence, with his appointment at Barcelona now generally accepted as a landmark moment in the tactical history of the game – similar to Arrigo Sacchi at Milan and Total Football at Ajax. Sacchi himself described it as a “before and after” in football. It can definitively be said that Guardiola has directly influenced Tuchel, Brendan Rodgers, Graham Potter, Bruno Lage and Eddie Howe. Most of them have spoken about it. The truth is that it was virtually unavoidable. They all developed as coaches in a football world that was being transformed by Guardiola’s philosophy. His principles were those they learned. As the most basic possible example, it is why everyone now looks to play it out from the back. It’s amazing to think something now so standard was still seen as relatively alien even a decade ago. That only scratches the surface of Guardiola’s influence on the game

Mikel Arteta has benefitted from learning under Pep Guardiola

The Catalan was of course in Germany throughout some of that time, and it led to him adapting some of the counter-pressing principles of Klopp and Rangnick, too. On the other side, Klopp has clearly introduced more Spanish possession to his game at Liverpool. There has been a cross-pollination from coming across each other in so many big matches.

Newly-appointed coaches like Steven Gerrard meanwhile came through the more ordered defences of the old guard in Rafa Benitez, before being introduced to modern principles under Klopp and Brendan Rodgers. It is similar with Patrick Vieira, who has so consciously looked to evolve Crystal Palace.

This has been the trend across the Premier League and even the Championship. The effect of more sophisticated managers naturally forces other clubs to look at similar options. If you don’t, you’ll get left behind. It can be seen in so many recent managerial appointments, and how many of that Premier League old guard of Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis have been fazed out of top jobs. Steve Parrish at Crystal Palace has openly said the club want to do something “different”. It is arguably only David Moyes, Claudio Ranieri, Benitez and Dean Smith who do not fit into these wider ideological groups, but all have naturally taken some of the principles of each to adapt. That can best be seen with Moyes at West Ham.

That evolution has already produced an exceedingly high level of football, and probably made Liverpool, City and Chelsea the best teams in Europe right now, along with Bayern Munich. But what of the wider effects?

Manchester United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick has influenced a host of Premier League coaches

There is a historical theory that so many scientific and philosophical developments took place in western Europe  – culminating in the Renaissance and Enlightenment – because the geographical area was small enough to create a network and exchange of ideas that naturally produced more ideas, more innovations.

Might we see a football version of this in the Premier League? Is this what Guardiola’s adoption of gegen-pressing and Klopp’s of greater possession indicate? Whatever about players, it is historically rare to see so many elite managers in one division in any period of time. It didn’t even get to that in Serie A in the 1990s, although that was partly because of Italy’s renowned culture of coaching through Coverciano. Their clubs generally appointed from within.

That persists, and there is a pride that the country has produced more Premier League winning managers – Conte, Roberto Mancini, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti – than any other country. True tactical innovation will continue to take place in Serie A and in Germany, but the key is where it will be taken after. The majority of their coaches are ultimately looking to England.

Amid all this excitable expectation, it is worth raising a more sober point. This probably isn’t good for the wider game. No concentration of resources or quality in one area is. Sport is supposed to be about competitive vitality, but the Premier League’s financial power is eroding that, making it a Super League in itself.


All of this is a consequence of the almost uncatchable financial strength of the competition, which appeared to reach another astounding height with the recent NBC deal. England is where the money is, so that is where the talent goes. It has created a brain drain for almost everywhere else, but has obviously been the Premier League’s huge benefit.

It is now where the game is pushed to the highest level, because of the quality of coaches thinking about how to outdo each other. That is likely to see better English coaches coming through, and better football in the division. It is unprecedented in football, but that perhaps fits, since so many of these men have produced tactics that were unprecedented too.

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