Five Most Efficient Managers of the Premier League Era
In football management there are two types of managers: those who shovel cash into their squads with little result and those who spend money and deliver the rewards.
There is also that rare breed; the manager who can spend next to nothing but achieve moderate—or in a rare cases, significant—success. They are the ones that every chairman hopes will one day walk into his office.
So, seeing as there isn’t much else to talk about other than dead-end transfer speculation and friendly games, we’ve put together a short list as a tribute to some of the smarter managers to have graced the Premier League scene.
Some get in based on what they have achieved while spending very little, and others are here because, although they have spent money, their trophy hauls are too important to ignore, and do a lot to justify the outlay.
And then there is the master of efficiency… but you’ll have to click on to see who it is.
5. Roberto Martinez: Wigan Athletic, 2009-2013
Although Roberto Martinez’s only “major” success came at the very end of his time with Wigan Athletic, winning the 2013 FA Cup, there is plenty of encouragement to be taken from the preceding years. While avoiding relegation in itself is still something of an achievement, it is not much to shout about; but to do it in the way that the Spaniard did, i.e. not spending very much at all, deserves applause.
Before Martinez came along, Wigan were spending more, and in fact, finishing in higher positions as a result. Net spends under Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce for each season between 2006 and 2009 were £10.3 million, £12 million and £5.4 million respectively, with outlay on players reaching £20.4 million, £22.2 million and £21.5 million. The club’s final placing for each of those seasons was 17th, 14th and 11th.
Enter Martinez in 2009. While league finishes during his tenure were not too impressive, being 16th, 16th, 15th and finally 18th (relegated), he took various measures to ensure that the club’s financial position was more stabilised, which also makes the lower league placing more understandable, in a sense of relativity.
Between his arrival and 2011, the net spend was a miniscule £1.4 million over two-and-a-half seasons, while he also reduced the wage bill by £2 million. So, while the fans might not have been too happy with the team’s progress—though Martinez was certainly held in reverence while at Wigan—at least owner Dave Whelan will have enjoyed reading his ledgers.
Between 2011 and 2013 this trend continued, with Martinez making almost £2 million profit on players for each season, while the wage bill hovered at under £38 million. Manager, players and fans alike also had something unusual to cheer about by the end of 2012/13 with the aforementioned FA Cup win, which will have numbed the pain of relegation to a certain degree.
These are the characteristics that convinced Everton chairman Bill Kenwright to offer Martinez the chance to replace David Moyes. Everton, being a club with very limited finances, will be hoping that Martinez can work some more of his frugal magic.
However, for all the good he has done, there is one blot on Roberto’s time at Wigan; while he may have won them the FA Cup, relegation is a costly process. And, when the huge disparity in TV rights, sponsorships and match revenue between the top-tier and the rest comes into play, it could undo all of that good work.
But that’s not his problem anymore.
4. David Moyes: Everton, 2002-2013
Having moved on to pastures new—Old Trafford, specifically—Moyes’ time at Everton will soon fade into obscurity as he wrestles with a more high profile job. This is all in spite of him having never won a major trophy, a fact that many football fans, particularly Manchester United’s, tend to look into far too deeply.
His shrewd sense of a quality buy at a budget price is one of the gifts that brought him to the attention of the United hierarchy—in 11 years under Moyes, Everton placed in the top eight nine times and had a net spend lower than any other club. If they had won the FA Cup in 2009, rather than losing to a team that cost about five times as much to put together, would that placate the dissenters? Probably not.
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright is well known for being a man who does not want to inject tons of money into the club, despite them being his boyhood team, so it must have felt like a dream when he realised what he had in Moyes. During his time at the club, Moyes gained a reputation for not only being a tactically astute manager and strict disciplinarian, but also—much to Kenwright’s delight—that he could buy low and sell high, all while regularly placing higher in the league than teams with much more generous budgets.
Throughout his tenure, Moyes was often able to buy a player and then sell him on a few years later for £2 million or £3 million profit, but one lucrative exception is Joleon Lescott, who was purchased for £5 million in 2006 and sold—against Moyes’ wishes—to Manchester City three years later for £22 million.
As for why Sir Alex Ferguson considered Moyes the man to replace him, we can only speculate.
There are several compelling theories, from his ability to buy low and sell high, to the less plausible “fellow Scot” connection. In the 11 years he was at Everton, his average league placing was seventh with a net spend of £5.6 million, a very impressive feat. But the most convincing reason stems from his adeptness at maintaining a healthy attitude in the dressing room and getting more out of his players than he rightfully should, at least as far as their price tags are concerned.
3. Jose Mourinho: Chelsea, 2004-2007, 2013-
There may be some outcry at José worming his way into this list, as the idea of him buying players on the cheap and developing them into world-beaters is nowadays a very foreign concept. But to see how good of manager he is, you have to look at his career pre-Chelsea and Abramovich.
While at Uniao de Leiria, a Portuguese club who currently reside in the third-tier, Mourinho punched well above the club’s regular weight, leading them a fifth-place finish in the Primera Divison—Uniao de Leiria’s highest ever—which is naturally what initially put him on the footballing radar. Needless to say, he didn’t have a lot of money to spend in those days.
At Porto, a bigger club than Uniao and therefore expecting bigger things, he duly stepped up and delivered the UEFA Cup in 2003 and the Champions League a year later, all without spending anything near what he has had available to him in his more recent posts.
Of course, there will always be those people who believe that any manager with seemingly unlimited funds, like at Chelsea or Real Madrid, should automatically be able to win everything on offer. Clearly, this is not true in the slightest—just look at the early years of Sheikh Mansour’s time at Manchester City.
Mourinho may have had the biggest chequebook in the Premier League while at Chelsea, but to deliver consecutive league titles in the Premier League—a far cry from the slower-paced Portuguese league—in the manner that he did, is very impressive, even with the money he spent.
Said money will always be a bone of contention for the purists, with £47.2 million (net) being spent in 2004-05 and an obscene £91.1 million (net) the year after. However, Mourinho brought two Premier League titles to Stamford Bridge, which are worth a combined figure of around £32 million, plus sponsorships, TV deals and a growing fan base. Add this to him putting Chelsea in the Champions League, another avenue of increased revenue, and also the fact that the team he built has been crucial to Chelsea’s enduring success, and the sting of those figures is somewhat neutralised.
In short, his trophy haul and legacy more than makes up for the exorbitant amount of money he spent—and that is a tall order.
And now he is back, to take on both a Ferguson-less Premier League and Financial Fair Play, and so far in this transfer window he has spent a relatively paltry £25.2 million overall.
Who knows, perhaps this new, self-styled “mature” Mourinho may one day turn a profit.
2. Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United, 1992 (1986)-2013
“The Boss”, as he is known in managerial circles, Sir Alex Ferguson has stood the test of time like no other.
Arriving at Old Trafford in 1986, Fergie had a distinct advantage over many of his peers in that he endured three years before his first Manchester United trophy, the 1990 FA Cup. That kind of patience is almost inconceivable nowadays, but Ferguson certainly used it to his advantage.
His first priority was to install a long-term insurance policy by reinvigorating the youth system as well as placing an emphasis on developing players from local areas, which helped create a more tight-knit mentality among the trainees. By the time that United had won their first league title in 26 years, the legendary Class of 1991 containing David Beckham, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt were reaching maturity and, some more than others, were ready to break into the first team.
Ferguson’s faith in his young players paid off massively over the next couple of decades, particularly in the late '90s, winning a couple of domestic doubles in due course and coming to a head in 1999 with their defining Treble-winning season.
Some may question the Scot’s inclusion on this list, as he has broken a couple of English transfer records along the way, such as with the signings of Eric Cantona and Rio Ferdinand. But it is the bigger picture that overrules the mega-bucks purchases of players like Juan Sebastian Veron, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.
Players who arrived for relatively little have also made huge contributions to the success of United, including Denis Irwin, who arrived for £625,000 and was the first-choice left-back throughout the nineties. And, Ferguson’s self-professed “bargain of the century”, Peter Schmeichel, who was bought for £750,000 and came to be regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world. Over the past decade, United have won six EPL titles compared to Chelsea’s three and Manchester City’s one, despite having spent almost a third less than each of those clubs.
Put simply, Ferguson may have spent money on certain players, but—like Mourinho—when you compare his trophy cabinet to those of other managers who have spent similar figures, there is a clear difference in silverware.
That, and a decent proportion of players involved have been either academy players or were purchased as youngsters.
One more thing; can you name another manager who won league titles with four different teams at the same club?
1. Arsene Wenger: Arsenal, 1996-
When the studious Frenchman arrived in England in 1996 he stood out from the other, more contemporary managers, enough so that the British media soon dubbed him “Le Professeur”. It is a moniker that Wenger has certainly lived up to; back in 1996, his methods, which are now the stuff of legend, were seen by most as something of a fad that had drifted over from the continent, particularly the player diets.
However, the important part of what Wenger did was to introduce a policy of buying young, sometimes off-the-radar players for relatively small sums, and developing them quickly through trusting a large number of them with a first-team place. For the most part, the unknowns he has brought to Arsenal throughout his tenure have either gone on to be club legends with a decent rack of medals to their names, or were sold for a substantial profit.
In numbers, since Wenger arrived in north London, he has delivered three league titles, four FA Cups including two domestic doubles, and reached the Champions League final, all for a net spend of £10.8 million on player transfers.
This eye for a buy, with Arsenal being a club with somewhat limited funds at the time, was a major factor in the 1998 double-winning season, and many of the players also went on to be part of the 2003-4 “Invincibles” season.
Patrick Vieira, who was technically signed by Wenger’s predecessor Bruce Rioch, arrived for a fee of £3.5 million in 1996 and departed nine years and 279 appearances later for £13.75 million. Vieira attributed his arrival to knowing that Wenger would soon be managing at Arsenal.
Nicolas Anelka was signed at the tender age of 17 for £500,000 in 1997, and was sold on to Real Madrid two years later for £22.3 million, leaving Wenger with a domestic double, 28 goals to reflect upon and an impressive £21.8 million profit.
While his philosophy has been less successful on the pitch as of late—Arsenal’s last major trophy came in 2005, which could be in part attributed to the influx of rich investors bankrolling rival teams in recent years—it still yields good profits, and the finished products of Arsene’s work (the players) are usually highly sought after. Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and, at the time, Samir Nasri are a few recent examples.
Naturally, Wenger has faced criticism over the club’s perceived policy of maximising profits, but a slightly odd £40,000,001 bid for Luis Suarez this summer shows that, while the numbers don’t quite add up, at least there are signs of a willingness to spend where necessary.