5 Managers Under Most Pressure Ahead of 2014/15 Premier League Season
With the World Cup almost over and the managerial merry-go-round yet to whir into motion, there’s already pressure on every manager in the Premier League. With so much dependent on a successful summer transfer window and with so much to lose with relegation, chairmen are more trigger-happy than ever.
Four clubs—West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton—all have new managers who will have some added leeway, and the promoted clubs traditionally give the managers who guided them into the division the benefit of the doubt regardless of how the season begins.
However, some managers are under considerably more pressure than others. These are the five head coaches with the Sword of Damocles closest to their heads.
Arsenal: Arsene Wenger
Were it not for a heroic comeback in the FA Cup final, Arsenal may already be searching for a new manager. Last season was a familiar tale of a bright start—the Gunners were top at the start of 2014—followed by a bitterly disappointing end. Arsenal ended up well adrift of Manchester City, and for a club that hasn’t won the league since 2004, the frustration was palpable.
Arsene Wenger's favoured transfer policy is blooding players from the youth system rather than buying in talent. Last season, the pressure told and he broke from the norm, making Mesut Ozil the club's record signing.
He has not wasted any time in this window, signing Alexis Sanchez for £35 million. With several other areas of the pitch needing reinforcements, it's unlikely that the Frenchman is not finished for the summer.
Inevitably, this will increase the pressure on Wenger. Many Arsenal fans gave him the benefit of the doubt during the club's nine-year barren spell, as the team was consistently turning a healthy profit in the market.
Now that he is dipping into the club's war chest, however, Wenger is opening himself up to the levels of expectation—and scrutiny—befitting the manager of a major club.
It's unlikely that the Arsenal board would sack the Premier League's longest-serving manager mid-season, but there's still the nagging sense that every season could be Wenger's last.
Aston Villa: Paul Lambert
Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has provided a blueprint on how to run a Premier League club, investing wisely and allowing pragmatism to rule in his choice of managers.
Paul Lambert may have not been the most glamorous option on the market when he was appointed in June 2012, but he had more than proved his managerial credentials by leading Norwich City to successive promotions before keeping them in the Premier League.
His time with Villa has been trying, as Lerner has tightened the purse strings. In both seasons since Lambert took over, the Birmingham club have only avoided the relegation zone by three places.
As long as Villa’s place in the league looks secure, it’s highly unlikely that Lerner would remove Lambert from his post. However, with the American looking to sell the club, per Sky Sports, Lambert’s long-term position looks much more shaky.
The stagnation in the last two seasons has aptly demonstrated the desperate need for investment in the squad. With the need to spend comes with it a likelihood of a new owner wanting a manager they trust to invest the funds wisely. Lambert hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory in the transfer market, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sacked should Lerner find a buyer.
Manchester United: Louis Van Gaal
David Moyes’ doomed tenure has done much to temper the level of expectation around Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Even so, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal still steps into a maelstrom of pressure.
The Manchester United job remains arguably the biggest in the world, and Van Gaal is the man charged with revitalising the club’s fortunes.
The lack of Champions League football for the first time in 19 years may ostensibly seem like a good thing, as it will allow Van Gaal to focus on the league. On the other hand, any blips in the club’s domestic form will be magnified. Given Van Gaal’s experience in international football, he may need European competition to truly demonstrate his worth.
The Dutchman is facing a different kind of pressure to the others on the list—with the arguable exception of Arsene Wenger—in that barring a truly disastrous start, he’s unlikely to find his job at risk until the end of the season.
The ultimate goal for chairmen Joel and Avram Glazer is to find a manager capable of emulating Ferguson’s lengthy tenure. That being said, the spectre of David Moyes and his unexpectedly short reign will no doubt serve as a constant reminder to Van Gaal that they’re not afraid to act should the on-field situation necessitate it.
Newcastle United: Alan Pardew
Newcastle United fans have seen just about everything over the last few years; relegation, promotion, star players sold, and the return of old favourites. One thing they hadn’t seen, however, until March this year was manager Alan Pardew being sent to the stands after headbutting Hull player David Meyler.
It was a bizarre incident that neatly encapsulated the second half of the Magpies’ season. United had started the calendar year in eighth, just six points adrift of the Champions League qualification positions, but ultimately finished 30 points behind fourth-placed Arsenal.
Remarkably, the Meyler incident wasn’t Newcastle’s lowest point last season. That ignominy belongs either to the January sale of star midfielder Yohan Cabaye or the 3-0 humbling by fierce rivals Sunderland at St James Park.
As with Allardyce and Lambert, it’s hard to imagine Pardew being cut loose unless relegation appears imminent. Indeed, Mike Ashley has actually voiced his objection to the club winning the FA Cup, due to the recent history of winners being relegated, per the Newcastle Chronicle. It could be the case that Pardew’s shortcomings may actually stand him in good stead.
Nethertheless, if Newcastle’s form continues—even after big money signings like Siem de Jong for £7.6m—then Ashley certainly wouldn’t let sentimentality get in the way of retaining the club’s Premier League status.
West Ham United: Sam Allardyce
While West Ham United’s 13th place finish last term was respectable given their budget and injury troubles, boss Sam Allardyce was repeatedly questioned by the Hammers faithful. Had it not been for a fantastic run in February then things could have been much worse.
The main sources of friction between Allardyce and the fans are his favoured style of play and transfer policy. West Ham have a proud tradition of producing talent from their academy and playing attractive football, while Allardyce is known for using long-ball tactics and preferring physicality over finesse.
It was hard not to sympathise with the ex-Bolton and Newcastle manager, as long-term injury to club record signing Andy Carroll scuppered his system and left West Ham with limited attacking options.
Allardyce is working to make sure that the same doesn’t happen this season, having tabled a substantial bid for Dnipro winger Yevhen Konoplyanka, per Sky Sports, as well as signing midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate for £7m. Such extravagant spending could prove to be his undoing.
Chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan are staunch supporters of Allardyce and showed no signs of giving into pressure and sacking him last season. However, if the Hammers begin this season in the same form as they finished the last—five losses in their final six matches—then he certainly can’t count on popular opinion working in his favour.