Gaining recognition for the work that you have done is important in any job but none more so than in football management. For every managers getting acknowledgement for a job well done can sometimes be more rewarding than any salary increase or bonus given to them by their clubs. One of the biggest honours handed to managers in England is the League Managers Association (LMA) Manager of the Year award. The significance of the award is in how it’s voted for – by all LMA members which includes every manager from the top four professional leagues in English football. Since its formation in 1994, some of the world’s best managers have won the award including Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Roy Hodgson and even Joe Kinnear!
This years’ recipient was Brendan Rodgers, who has transformed Liverpool into title contenders once more. The Anfield club had a nail biting finish to this Premiership season but ended up falling at the last hurdle and being pipped to the title by Manchester City. There is no doubt that Rodgers has worked miracles with Liverpool this year, who appear to be more competitive than ever. But finishing the season empty handed suggests that it hasn’t necessarily been a successful campaign for the club. So should Rodgers be the recipient of such an award or should someone else have walked away with the prize?
Arguably Tony Pulis had more of an impact this season on his team than Rodgers did on Liverpool. Remember that when Pulis took charge of Crystal Palace in November of last year, they were rooted to the bottom of the league with only four points to their name from the first 11 games. Many had already condemned Palace to relegation before Pulis arrived so it appeared that he had been brought in as part of a damage limitation exercise. But under Pulis, Palace gradually started to improve and more importantly pick up points which eventually lead to Palace climbing out of the relegation zone and to an impressive 11th place finish with 45 points to their name. Pulis did receive the award for Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year but was overlooked in favour of Rodgers for the LMA award. Another potential candidate was Steve Bruce who has guided his unfancied Hull side to a 16th place finish and a FA cup final appearance against Arsenal. Hull would undoubtedly finished further up the league if it weren’t for a series of bad injuries and suspensions that crippled their campaign in the winter months but despite this, Hull under Bruce have proved that they have the mentality and the commitment needed to remain in the Premiership for a while to come.
Like Hull and Palace, Sunderland have proven that they are no pushovers with Gus Poyet at the helm who has turned around the club after a disastrous spell under former boss Paolo Di Canio. The Uruguayan coach arrived at the Stadium of Light in October and immediately set about changing the negative culture that had evolved under Di Canio. His leadership and strong work ethic started to show immediately and before long Sunderland were picking up much needed points against some impressive competition. Wins over Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton and Newcastle ensured that Sunderland would finish in 14th place, having been an almost permanent fixture in the bottom three for the first half of the season. A League Cup final appearance against Manchester City capped a fine transformational season for the club under Poyet and made him a candidate for Manager of the Year.
Many would have expected Manuel Pellegrini to pick up the award after he guided his Manchester City team to a famous double (the Premiership title and the League Cup trophy) in his first season in charge. But the Chilean coach was overlooked for both awards which will confuse many. What he needed to do to win is uncertain, but it’s likely the jealousy towards the wealth that City has will have played a key factor in the decision against him. There are other managers who deserve credit for the work they performed this season including Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino who has build a squad full of youthful exuberance and raw talent into the example model for all English clubs or Roberto Martinez who nurtured the likes of Seamus Coleman and Ross Barkley at Everton before turning them into two of the stand out players of the year. And what about Alan Pardew, who despite having several problems including a lengthy ban for headbutting, still managed to make Newcastle into the highest climbing team year over year (16th to 10th).Traditionally the managers in the lower divisions have been ignored during the choosing of the LMA award winner but there were a few candidates this season who could have easily walked away with it. What about Leicester’s Nigel Pearson, who steered his team to the top of the Championship and promotion back to the Premiership, finishing with an impressive 102 points? Or Kenny Jackett who did the same thing in League One with Wolves scoring 89 goals along the way. And spare a thought for Russ Wilcox who after only taking on the challenge midway through the season helped Scunthorpe United to promotion by breaking the record for the most games unbeaten in the football league (28 games).
All of these managers deserve praise as do several others but it is Rodgers who walked away with the top award. Rightly or wrongly the Liverpool manager’s name will be on the award and in the history books for this season. The challenge next year is to do one better – win the award by winning the league. Rodgers, like Liverpool will be up for that challenge.