No more staring blankly at a blank TV screen every Saturday; the football is back, with the new English Premier League season starting on 8 August, giving our lives purpose. It’s going to be wildly entertaining; preposterous amounts of money have been spent already by all the big teams to strengthen, and more funds are going to be sunk in the weeks ahead. But the transfer window remains open for another month, so it seems futile to make predictions for the season just yet. Instead, we’re focusing on the soap opera-like media circus that surrounds Premier League managers each week; for some reason, the characters at the helm this year seem far more colourful than usual.
Feud of the year
Louis Van Gaal of Manchester United does not quite get along with former protégé Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) or former protégé Ronald Koeman (Southampton). To be fair, Louis Van Gaal doesn’t get along with anyone not called Louis Van Gaal. As for Mourinho, he doesn’t get along with former protégé Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool). But then, no one gets along with Rodgers (what with his delusional optimism, foot-in-mouth tendencies and middle management David Brent-isms), or with Mourinho for that matter. Chelsea’s top man is football’s ultimate windup merchant, and no one takes the bait quite like the increasingly cranky Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), self-anointed upholder of footballing and moral virtues. But for all his professorial pouting, Wenger does have a snarky side to him. His putdown of the much-missed Alex Ferguson — “Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home” — has gone down in folklore, and with the retirement of his old sparring partner and Mourinho’s return to Chelsea, Wenger’s unhealthy obsession with him has been rekindled. In the past, Mourinho has referred to Wenger as a “voyeur”, and last week saw him implore Wenger to “get a calculator” in retaliation to his constant moaning about clubs buying their way to success.
So we fully expect the most entertaining feud to be a very public, very prolonged three-way playground bully passive-aggressive face-off between Van Gaal, Mourinho and Wenger, with Rodgers trying really hard to be in with the cool kids, beseeching them to let him play too. (It’s a results game though, so expect Rodgers to be king of Merseyside if Liverpool can [magically] repeat their form from the 2013-2014 season). Alternately, we dream of a scenario where Van Gaal, swizzled on fine Dutch wine, attempts to attack a rival manager on the pitch, only to clunk himself on the nose, followed by manic laughter.
Thug of the year
Last year, Leicester City — tipped for certain relegation before a ball had been kicked — had Nigel Pearson running the show. They beat Man Utd 5-3 in a surreal game, then lost their bearings and went on a long losing run. Pearson told a Leicester fan to “f**k off and die” in a heated exchange; he grabbed an opposition player by the throat (“light-heartedly”) after an accidental collision; he called a journalist an “ostrich” (what?) for asking a tough question. Basically, Pearson cracked. And yet he somehow managed to keep Leicester City up against all odds. Then he duly got fired. So who, pray tell, can take over the mantle of being the biggest thug around?
We’re not a betting man (we so are), but our money would definitely be on Alan Pardew, who’s been known to enjoy a heated altercation or two. Now at Crystal Palace and much-loved by the fans after a disastrous run at Newcastle United, Pardew is experienced in the dark arts. He’s had plenty of shoving matches with fellow managers, and he was suspended for a bit after a headbutt Hull City player David Meyler. Yes, a middle-aged man headbutting another adult, that too a professional football player. And he hilariously called Manuel Pellegrini a “f**king old c**t” during a pitch side spat. Alan Pardew, aged 54, called Pellegrini, aged 61, old. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Aston Villa’s much-ridiculed manager, Tim Sherwood (or “Tactics Tim”), is a candidate, but we suspect Steve McLaren — aka Schteve Mclaren (after his swiftly-acquired accent in the Netherlands), aka the “Wally with a Brolly” — will, after years of being laughed at for not being all that exceptional as England national team manager, finally redeem himself at Newcastle United. It’s because we like his toothy grin and ginger head. Don’t count on it, though.
We fully expect the most entertaining feud to be a very public three-way playground bully passive-aggressive face-off between Van Gaal, Mourinho and Wenger, with Rodgers trying really hard to be in with the cool kids, beseeching them to let him play too.
Managing newly-promoted Norwich City is going to be a tall task for Alex Neil, and he’s probably a contender for the earliest sacking of the season anyway. But our reasons for predicting that Neil will be the first to go is because Alex Neil just does not sound like the name of a Premier League manager. We’ll reconsider if he changes his name to Alexis Nils. Or Neil Alexander. Victor Thompson. Jaidev Dasgupta. Anything, really.
Most likeable manager
Strangely, despite the supposedly axiomatic odiousness of any successful individual, there seem to be several likeable managers in the Premier League this year. There’s Pellegrini, at Man City, who seems to radiate humility and avuncular nice-guyness at all times, often in the face of a lot of criticism and pressure. Everton’s Roberto Martinez has an agreeable personality for the most part, while Tony Pulis and his magic hat have somehow managed to turn public opinion in their favour since their collective departure from the reviled Stoke City team of a few years ago. Mark Hughes has steadily built up goodwill again after very tragic falls from grace during stints at Man City and Aston Villa. Ronald Koeman and Garry Monk stole many hearts last year with their cheery disposition and surprising success, while new West Ham United coach Slaven Bili seems utterly mental and is sure to win some fans with his rambling, outspoken ways. But our pick is the new old kid on the block: Tinkerman himself, Claudio Ranieri. His endearingly broken English (we’re Indian so we’re allowed to make fun of fellow non-native speakers), his childlike enthusiasm for the game, his love for tinkering with team selections — and those tears — lived in our hearts long after his unfortunate sacking from the then newly nouveau riche Chelsea at the turn of the century, which preceded the arrival of the Mourinho, the self-proclaimed “Special One”. Ranieri was the eternal underdog, then and now. At Leicester, he could very well struggle (although he does remain a good, if not great, coach), but we know he’s going to take all adversity in his stride with a smile on his face. Or maybe he’ll snap, which should be fun too.