Grading 20 New Managers in European Football on Their Chances of Succeeding
While plenty of football clubs search for continuity and consistency as they look to improve and build the team year on year, a fact of life in most major European leagues is that managers who fail—or are perceived to have failed—get fired, with quite some regularity.
In turn, recently successful bosses are poached from rival clubs, who then in turn need to appoint a new boss of their own.
All told, every summer it gives us a number of teams throughout the continent who look forward with optimism to a brave new era under a new head coach. It works out for some, goes spectacularly wrong for others, but in every case we have plenty to analyse as they restructure their side to suit their will.
Here's how we grade 20 new bosses in Europe on their chances of success during the 2014-15 season, taking into account their reputation and recent form as managers, the quality available to them and the expected levels to reach, the club's last finishing league position and, of course, potential transfer activity.
Louis van Gaal
Manchester United were at this point a year ago too. Key difference: last time around it was David Moyes; this time it's Louis van Gaal.
While a name alone won't guarantee anything but big media conferences, Van Gaal does have a fairly good track record and an iron-clad belief in his methods and his own ability.
He hasn't been particularly successful since the turn of the century in terms of winning titles, claiming just two league championships and one domestic cup in that time, but he has an aura of success about him nonetheless, is tactically astute and will demand the utmost from his players.
During 14-15, we can expect to see United very much around the top four once again.
Rating: B+. He'll have the side challenging, might win a trophy and will sort out the underperformers one way or another—improve, or get out. There's no doubt that van Gaal has something to prove, though, despite his World Cup with the Netherlands.
Southampton impressed and improved so much under Mauricio Pochettino that Tottenham Hotspur have swooped to bring him to London this summer, where the Argentinian will try to better the efforts of Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood of last season, which left Spurs sixth.
Can Poch do that?
He can certainly bring a better fluidity to the side in attack, he can probably improve the defensive aspect of the team and, assuming Tottenham do start to purchase a couple of players soon, might be able to compete for a top-four place for most of the season.
But it's going to be tremendously tough to keep up that run all campaign long, with plenty of competition this year.
Rating: C. Poch might have the team playing better soon enough, and he might even improve the points tally for the season. But Spurs could easily finish lower than sixth, making it a technical regression.
Filling the void left by Pochettino is Ronald Koeman, managing in England for the first time having already been in the Netherlands and Spain.
Koeman has been hit-and-miss in his jobs to date: He performed well at Feyenoord and PSV, but he struggled to make an impact with Valencia and suffered similarly at AZ.
At Southampton, he inherits a club with increased expectations and a big transfer kitty—but at the expense of losing three of their best players, and with a fourth sidelined for the long term.
The rebuild has begun and Dusan Tadic is a fine signing, but Koeman almost has to hit the ground running and establish himself in mid-table quickly to avoid any panic setting in that the departures will overly hurt Saints.
Rating: D. It's not an impossible task, but Saints clearly won't bridge the almost a 10-point gap to the teams above them last term. If Koeman doesn't get things right from the off, they will drop into the bottom half. Saints could possibly be happy with 10th-14th in his first season.
West Bromwich Albion have fluctuated wildly in their past few appointments: established, old-school, veteran Roy Hodgson, followed up by first-time head coach Steve Clarke, then the experienced but foreign-based Pepe Mel who had never worked in England—and now Alan Irvine.
Irvine has managed in the lower divisions with Preston and Sheffield Wednesday, but his longest body of work is his recent tenure as Everton's academy manager.
A highly respected coach in the game, he nonetheless faces his biggest challenge now to revive the fortunes of WBA, who came close to the drop last season.
Rating: D+. It's a huge gamble for the Baggies and an opportunity for Irvine. In truth, success would be survival by a few places, say 15th or higher. Will he do that? Possibly so...but they need more quality, and for Irvine to ferociously drill his players defensively, compared to last season's performances.
Into Italy now and most of the football world were left surprised by Antonio Conte's departure from Juventus...and even more so by the team's choice of replacement.
Massimiliano Allegri was dismissed as boss of AC Milan during the 2013-14 season after a dreadful run of form left his club in mid-table. He's now been appointed to continue the run of Juventus, who won the league last season with just two defeats to their name, and over 100 points.
Not only will he have to continue that run, but he'll also have to oversee an improvement in European form as Juventus look to get out the group stage this time around.
Rating: C. Allegri did well initially at Milan and in his first season at Cagliari, so he clearly knows how to win. He will retain Serie A if he doesn't make sweeping changes throughout—but Europe will be several steps too far to conquer. Par for the course.
When Allegri exited Milan, Clarence Seedorf oversaw the rest of the season, but Filippo Inzaghi has now been promoted from the youth ranks to take charge of the first team. The former striker is a Milan legend as a player and will hope to take that respect and reputation to the bench.
In truth, we're in the land of guesswork here to an extent: How does a coach, even with a famous face, fare in his first days and months on the job? Especially in such a high-pressure, high-expectancy environment?
Milan are a mess. That's the overriding factor here. They need improvements to the squad, an end to the poor recruitment of previous seasons and for Inzaghi to get a little lucky too, in addition to having the tactical and technical qualities they clearly believe he possesses.
Rating: C+. If Inzaghi can sort out the playing style and system early on, it could help push Milan further up the table. Anywhere around 5th or 6th would be a success in truth, given the players at his disposal. But it bears no indication on long-term progression.
Lazio appointed Stefano Pioli as head coach this summer after he left Bologna midway through last term.
Piolo's new team ended last year in ninth place, but only two points off sixth, such was the tight nature of the top half, where six points separated mid-table Verona from Europa League spot side Inter Milan.
It's a little surprising that Piolo is the choice to lead the team this year; his slightly-longer-than-two-year spell at Bologna was generally perceived as poor, and that was comfortably his longest spell at a club to date.
A year or less with the likes of Salernitana, Parma, Piacenza, Chievo and Palermo have rarely seen him viewed as a major success.
Rating: D. Pioli has no major track record to suggest he will considerably improve Lazio from last season and certainly not over the longer term.
Barcelona is a big job, no two ways about it.
After two managers in two years following Pep Guardiola's departure, former midfield star Luis Enrique is the latest choice to guide the side, in the hope that his knowledge of the club and the players within will reap benefits for all.
At Celta Vigo last season, Luis Enrique put a fine side together, playing good football and proving capable of breaking down teams to score plenty of goals, considering their modest ambitions and relegation struggles a year previous.
At Barca, of course, the assets available to him are infinitesimally bigger and more capable, and so are the expectations of success. Being a former player might grant him more goodwill and time, but he'll be expected to deliver.
Rating: B+. Key for Luis Enrique will be finding the balance in midfield to allow the attack to shine (and work together, once the trinity are all available). He'll face a major test in besting the huge strength of Real Madrid over the course of the season, but a return to faster football and more relentless pressing will be key to his success.
A relative rarity: a former goalkeeper as a manager.
Nuno has been appointed the new boss of Valencia for the coming season, the former Osasuna and Porto stopper.
Valencia might have finished 13-14 in eighth place but the reality is that in points terms, they were exactly as close to being relegated—10 points above 18th—as they were to Real Sociedad, who finished one place above them.
Los Che were hugely unconvincing defensively, erratic and unpredictable in their overall form and generally look miles away from competing near the top again.
Nuno has had one job as head coach to his name prior to this appointment: He took Rio Ave to 11th in the Portuguese Liga Sagres last season and the two domestic cup finals, both of which were lost to Benfica.
Rating: D+. Valencia lurch from one mistake to another, the team is poor and they are asking a lot of an inexperienced boss to improve them anywhere past mid-table.
Luis Enrique's departure meant a spot as head coach opened up for Eduardo Berizzo to take his first job in Europe.
The Argentinian boss played for Celta Vigo in the early 2000s, as well as the likes of Cadiz and French side Marseille, but has to date only coached in South America with Estudiantes and O'Higgins.
He certainly established himself a good reputation with the latter, winning the Apertura title last year, giving them a spot in this year's Copa Libertadores.
Rating: C+. Celta will hope he can establish the team somewhere in mid-table. If they are anywhere from 14th and upwards this season, Berizzo will have done a good job for his former club.
Javi Gracia led Almeria back to the top flight at the end of the 2012-13 season, but he didn't get to actually manage the club in La Liga as his contract expired last summer and the two parties opted not to renew. Instead, he soon took over at Osasuna in early September with the team bottom of the table, without a single point.
Despite a gradual improvement, leading to Osasuna sitting 13th in March, they won just twice in their last 13 games and eventually were relegated by a single point, despite a final-day win over Real Betis.
Malaga, meanwhile, opted to ditch Bernd Schuster this summer—and Gracia has taken over as a result, bouncing himself back into the top flight to help Malaga back into the top half.
Rating: C+. A great job for Gracia to land, but a surprising choice from Malaga in some ways. Can he lead them higher than 11th? It's possible. Malaga are still not spending, the team needs considerable strengthening and competition will be tough again, but Gracia has shown he can get a team to perform well. Both parties will hope the March-May run from Osasuna was a blip, not a trend.
The former Red Bull Salzburg head coach is the new man at Bayer Leverkusen, with the German-born boss expected to retain the club's regular top-four finishes and improve their European showing.
Leverkusen stated that Schmidt's appointment was fast and obvious, as per BBC Sport:
"We sounded out the market and very quickly made up our minds to opt for Roger Schmidt," said Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller. His approach to playing football fits perfectly with us."
After two seasons in Austria, it's a big chance for Schmidt to step up to a big club in his home nation.
Rating: C+. Unless Schmidt proves exceptionally shrewd with his in-game management, there isn't much more he can do other than rise from fourth to third. BVB and Bayern are too far ahead. A cup or a European run to the last eight would be impressive.
The last time Stuttgart won the Bundesliga, Armin Veh was the man in charge. He returns to the side now for a second spell as head coach, but in very different circumstances, with Stuttgart barely avoiding a relegation playoff last season.
Veh took Eintracht Frankfurt to 13th last season and sixth the year before, following on from promotion from 2.Bundesliga in his first campaign with the club.
VfB Stuttgart have had an up-and-down time of things since winning the title in 2007, but last year's fall to 15th was their lowest finish in more than a decade, and Veh has to quickly turn things around.
Rating: B. Veh might never again get the kind of success that almost saw him claim the double with Stuttgart, but he is a proven boss who can organise and structure his side, demands great focus from his players and will have Stuttgart back into the middle of the league at worst.
Leonardo Jardim's star has risen fast and high, culminating in his appointment as boss of AS Monaco this summer.
The Ligue 1 side finished second in their first season back in the top flight, but Claudio Ranieri opted to depart regardless, leading to this latest managerial change.
Jardim achieved success in lower leagues in Portugal before taking Braga to third, then moved to Olympiacos where he was sacked after six months—despite being top of the league by 10 points and unbeaten in the league. A return to Portugal saw him take Sporting Lisbon to second place last season, going toe-to-toe with Benfica almost throughout the entire campaign.
Although he has yet to therefore land a major title, the 39-year-old is considered one of the most promising young managers in Europe.
Rating: B. Bit of a leap of faith here; it's a B assuming Monaco reinvest the James Rodriguez money and bring in further impressive talent to aid domestic progression and make an impact in the Champions League. The Monaco squad isn't there yet.
Hubert Fournier is a former Lyon player who has now been appointed as head coach.
He takes over from Remi Garde, who left after three seasons at the club. Garde had Lyon in mid-table for much of last season after a slow start but eventually saw the side up to fifth place with a strong showing over the second half of the season.
Fournier, meanwhile, was at Stade de Reims, who were conversely stronger in the first part of the campaign—just four defeats by the turn of the year—and eventually finished in 11th place.
Rating: C. The major question has to be what Lyon's expectations are. The top three look untouchable, and Lyon are not exactly spending to catch up. Fourth to eighth is a realistic consideration, depending on how much rivals Marseille, Bordeaux etc. improve.
Argentinian boss Marcelo Bielsa has been tempted to France with Marseille, following on from a year out of the game after his time with Athletic Bilbao ended.
Marseille finished sixth last year and will hope to improve on that under Bielsa having finished second place twice in the past three seasons, and with attacking signings Romain Alessandrini and Michy Batshuayi seeming geared to his arrival and preferred methods.
Bielsa has never played or managed in France, but the move was agreed several months ago, giving him time to no doubt familiarise himself with opponents.
Rating: B. It's exciting to see Bielsa back in action and with a club aspiring to reach continental football again, but he'll certainly have his work cut out to reach a top-three finish. Tactical insight and a few attacking signings will have to bridge more than a 10-point gap from last term.
Bordeaux finished last season in seventh place, but equidistant in points terms from sixth and from 13th.
A roll of the dice was perhaps required then to help bridge the gap to those above, and initially it was widely reported, per Enis Koylu on Goal.com, that they wanted Zinedine Zidane to return to the club and be head coach. When that fell through, they have turned to another former France international: Willy Sagnol.
The former full-back has been in charge of the national under-21 side, but this will be his first foray into club management.
Rating: D. Bordeaux will struggle to make up much ground on the sides above them technically or financially, so are relying on an impact from a rookie coach. That's not to suggest Sagnol isn't capable, but it is a big ask from him. Matching last season's finish could be an achievement in his first season.
Our second former goalkeeper on the list, Julen Lopetegui takes over as FC Porto coach this summer, his first major club appointment after time spent with Spanish national youth teams and Real Madrid Castilla.
Being accustomed to winning or at least fighting for the title, it would have been a shock last season for Porto to find themselves well off the pace of the front two for much of the season, eventually finishing 13 points behind Benfica.
A new boss and a clutch of new signings already made is their response, and judging by Lopetegui's success at youth level and Benfica's summer fire sale to date, it could be the right one.
Rating: B+. Again, it's tough to judge how successful at senior level a good youth coach can be, but Lopetegui has been tipped for some time to be a prominent club coach. Porto is a good proving ground for him, he has been backed with new signings and in a three-horse race, being in the top two won't be a bad start at all.
With Leonardo Jardim departing for France, Sporting CP have appointed another promising young boss in his place: former Estoril head coach Marco Silva.
Silva played for Estoril until 2011 and shortly into the following season was appointed manager, taking them up to the top flight as champions in his first season. The good times have kept rolling since then as Silva guided the club to fifth place in their debut campaign in the Liga Sagres, followed by an impressive fourth-place finish last year.
With the top three basically set in concrete in Portugal, that's as good as anybody might have managed from elsewhere over a three-year period, and Sporting have chosen Silva as a result
Rating: B. There will be more pressure and expectation on Marco Silva, but a capable squad is in place at present. He certainly seems to be a fine judge of what is needed in the league—and be able to get a team to perform consistently.
Murat Yakin has departed Swiss football, where he was with FC Basel for two seasons, to manage Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League.
Winning the league in both domestic campaigns was impressive, though relatively in line with expectation too, but Yakin further impressed with his Basel side in the Champions League and has earned his place in a bigger league, with a bigger club.
Having said that, Spartak finished fifth last season, the same as the previous two campaigns, and much work is required to make them a force once more.
Rating: C+. Yakin can certainly bring about improvement in Spartak's fortunes, but anything above third is likely out of reach in the first season unless he performs wonders. Over the longer term he could be one of the more sought-after European coaches, if his time at Basel is anything to judge by, but a domestic impact next season is the big challenge.