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Quarter 1 Report Card: New Club Managers

By | 5th October 2009

carlo ancelottiWith the first quarter of football almost over in most leagues around Europe, now is a good time to measure the current progress of some of the giant clubs on the continent. Actually, analyzing the success or failure of clubs in general won’t be nearly as exciting as identifying a more specific object of analysis. How about debating the performance of managers? In fact, let’s narrow that down to managers that are in their first season at different household clubs in Europe.

As the forthcoming report card suggests, the performance of new managers has continued to vary incredibly from one end of the spectrum to the other. While two of the five managers discussed in this report card have clearly tasted success at their new clubs in the initial stages, two have faltered miserably. Although some will certainly challenge my controversial views in questioning the fifth manager’s success, there is nothing I can do about my reluctance to view this person’s first quarter in charge as a successful beginning.

Without a further adieu, let’s go ahead and begin handing out the report cards, shall we?

Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea FC)

A Having led his former club AC Milan to two UEFA Champions League titles during his eight dynamic years in charge at the San Siro, Ancelotti was brought in by Chelsea as the ideal recruit to deliver the club’s first ever Champions League title. Following a high-profile conference at the time of his unveiling, Ancelotti was instantly – and constantly – reminded of the huge responsibility that rested on his shoulders.

Despite Chelsea’s consistency in winning domestic titles in recent years, Roman Abramovich has remained furious over the Blues’ failure to bring European glory to Stamford Bridge. Therefore, it was rumored that Ancelotti’s appointment was Abramovich’s last hope for Champions League success before the drastic move of selling the club that holds so much of his investments. So far, despite the mounting pressures, as well as setbacks such as the infamous 18-month transfer ban, Ancelotti has excelled almost effortlessly.

While his perfect record with the Blues in the Champions League so far is a vital indicator of how well he’s fulfilling his primary duty of pursuing European glory, the real strength of his character is demonstrated by the way he bounced back from the first domestic defeat. Losing 3-1 away to Wigan knocked his side down, but surely not out. A 2-0 domination of Liverpool at home brought Chelsea to the summit of England as they head into the International Break full of confidence, largely thanks to their manager’s tactical genius.

Tony Mowbray (Celtic FC)

A- Sticking with Britain, how about discussing the new gaffer for the famous green and whites known as Celtic? Entrusted with the responsibility of bringing the SPL title back to the Bhoys, Tony Mowbray was expected to be overwhelmed in the early stages of the season. After all, his West Bromwich Albion side had just been condemned to relegation back home in England and there was so much pressure on him to change all those doubtful minds at The Parkhead.

Mowbray, however, knew that things would be relatively more comfortable in Scotland. Not only was he about to begin managing in a significantly less competitive league, but he was also managing the nation’s most successful team in its mission to regain the domestic championship from its bitter city rivals. Therefore, it was no surprise to see his side cruise to a seven game unbeaten streak heading into this past weekend’s Old Firm Derby.

Although the Glasgow Rangers overcame Celtic’s desperate challenge in a thrilling 2-1 win, Mowbray’s men remain top of the table, which will obviously be the most important thing at the end of the season. That means as long as the Bhoys are in the driving seat, Mowbray’s ratings will remain at dizzying heights.

Louis van Gaal (FC Bayern Munchen)

C This man may have tasted huge success as a manager in the form of a Champions League title (Ajax), two La Liga titles (FC Barcelona), and most recently, a Dutch Eredevisie title with the modest AZ Alkmaar last season, but his finest hour seems to be well behind him. When Bayern replaced Jurgen Klinsmann with van Gaal at the beginning of the summer, something didn’t seem right. It felt as if Klinsi had been unjustly punished for some extremely deep flaws of the system at Allianz Arena.

As a well-wisher of FC Bayern, I have always wished that the Bavarian giants build a compact squad around one or two gems rather than spending lavishly on a continuous acquisition of star players from domestic rivals. They had ideally replaced a franchise name like Michael Ballack with a global superstar in Franck Ribery. Rather than allowing rising stars such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Hamit Altintop in his company, Bayern kept expanding their roster. This led to stars like Lukas Podolski and Tim Borowski to return to their former clubs, FC Cologne and SV Werder Bremen, respectively.

Under van Gaal, the trend of overspending continues with the signings of Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben. On the other hand, nothing has been accomplished on the tactical front, which has resulted in an extremely lazy start to Bayern’s domestic campaign. Since van Gaal’s side are eight points adrift of the league summit – and virtually out of the title race – he barely earns even the grade that is on display.

Leonardo (AC Milan)

C- While van Gaal’s failure continues the downfall of a previously flawed system, rookie manager Leonardo has led AC Milan to an unprecedented low. The Rossoneri are twelfth in the table, trailing joint leaders Internazionale and Sampdoria by seven points. While may not sound all that bad, it is important to keep in mind that the club’s recoverable position actually flatters its horrendous performances of late.

Following a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of their city rivals at the beginning of the campaign, Leonardo’s men have only managed one win in their last five domestic outings while also disastrously falling 1-0 at home to Champions League minnows FC Zurich. Kaka’s departure is yet to be compensated for as other reputable playmakers such as Andrea Pirlo and Ronadinho have struggled to even attract enough supporters to fill half the capacity of San Siro.

Crisis has officially struck Milan and everyone at the club is now looking forward to the highly probable return of David Beckham as a huge lease of life. But before the arrival of the much-needed ‘Beckham effect’, they have to compete with former hero Kaka’s new club – Real Madrid – in the UEFA Champions League both home and away. That means Leonardo needs to find the answers to Milan’s growing concerns very soon, even if he needs to discover solutions that are extremely challenging for a newcomer to implement.

Manuel Pellegrini (Real Madrid)

B Pellegrini had the enviable privilege of managing a Real Madrid side that got the opportunity to refill its draining tank with an all-star cast over the summer. Arrivals of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema have meant raining goals for the Bernabeu outfit. However, the signings of Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, and Xabi Alonso have not quite done the same for Los Blancos in other parts of the field. It has often been the case this season that one of Real’s dynamic forwards – mostly CR9 – gets on the score sheet with either an individual effort, or perhaps the assistance of another strike partner.

The midfield lacks creativity without the finesse of Wesley Sneijder, who was inexplicably sold to make way for Alonso. Similarly, the defense also plummets to a major low when compared to the extremely high-achieving attack. While Sergio Ramos continues to sizzle down the wing, he still shows the occasional complacency in coming back to help out the backline. The rest of the group in the back often goes into sleep mode as Iker Casillas has to constantly clear the danger until another goal from the strike force eases nerves. These are obviously signs of an extremely unbalanced team that was finally undone at Sevilla this weekend.

However, I won’t simply write Manuel Pellegrini off just yet as it is never easy to get such a big project under control right away. To his credit, he has kept the Madrid giants in touch with league leaders Barca while also holding a perfect record in Europe thus far.

Now I understand that it is way too early in the season to be judging the progress of a manager who just took over at a huge European club this season. Obviously, tables could turn completely by the end of the season. However, we should remember that in these extremely competitive times, many managers don’t even get an entire season to prove their credentials. Therefore, this report card should serve the purpose of keeping the successful ones focused while also motivating the strugglers to bounce back.

Agree with Zain? Disagree? Have your say below!

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