Winning the transfer window and national reputation

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Every team’s fan base needs the off-season to give them hope for next year, whether it’s the hope to maintain their position, or the hope to win it. Of course, fairly regularly, teams can be accused of “winning the transfer window” and not seeing that victory translate into success on the field. Notable in this respect in the EPL last year was Everton. Famous/infamous Sky Sports commentator, Richard Keys, in a now deleted tweet said this: “Loving Everton’s business this summer. Here’s an early call – they finish above Liverpool this season.” This was met with arched eyebrows from most fans, but outright derision from Reds followers, of course. It was only compounded when Everton’s season dwindled to its usual, middle-of-the-pack results and LFC continued in the top 4 and to the CL final. It’s tough to call yourself a contendah when Burnley is touring the Europa League this year and your team isn’t.

But the label of Transfer Window Champion is being applied to Liverpool this year because of the high amount of high priced talent they’ve gathered. With that label comes the requisite expectations from the fan base, who also look at the collection of high-powered newcomers and think “This will be our year.” Said expectations were most recently manifested when people began to panic after a 3-1 loss to Dortmund in a preseason friendly. Obviously, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Say it with me now: “Pre. Sea. Son.” and “Friend Ly.” Having a mix of literal academy kids (Rafael Camacho), backups (Dominic Solanke), and those new high-powered guys is not a recipe for success. It’s just a way for the boss to get a look at how people play and an opportunity for all of our favorite clubs to make an assload of money by shaking down us Americans who almost never get to see them live. (Editor’s note: I will be more than happy to be shaken this weekend in Ann Arbor.)

As for the assertions that Liverpool is “ruining football” by “buying the league”, I give you Clark James:

Meanwhile, Richard Keys has passed the baton:

Kiss of death, yo. So much for this season.

Nationality and talent

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Swiping from r/soccer, someone put up a list of the managers for the coming season in the top 5 leagues. It presents an interesting case for discussion. People have often talked about various nations’ ability to produce talent for the game. It’s an open question as to whether it’s more a factor of selection or organization. Selection (larger nations with a history in football) has the obvious statistical argument: more people means more possibility to find talent. Brazil is one of the notable poster children here. Of course, key to that is the second half of that concept (history in football) as the US, India, and China remain huge outliers in that respect, with none of them able to field a national team that would seem to reflect their significant populations. But organization has an equally strong case: the tiny nation of the Netherlands embraced the concept of Total Football in the early 70s and built both a giant of a national team and a system that led to its clubs being inordinately successful for the next decade or so, before other nations hopped on the train and began bringing selection back to the fore. Since that time, the Dutch leagues have served as basically a training ground for talent to be exported to other nations’ clubs. One can say the same about Belgium and Croatia in recent years.

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But the same analysis can be applied to managers, especially since many of them are former players. Are there nations that produce better managers? I think there’s more weight added to a systemic angle here, in that national leagues will often be a reflection of the national team’s style of play. This seems evident when looking at Spain in the above table. La Liga is popularly seen as a league where many teams emulate the possession-based tiki-taka style of play. Thus, 15 Spanish managers and the remainder are Argentines. On the other hand, there’s a certain element of identity and braggadocio that accompanies major sports leagues. People often talk about players having to “learn how to handle the Premier League” which always struck me as quaintly provincial… unless they were talking about having to grit one’s teeth through miserable officiating; in which case, OK. But I think there is some of that present in the makeup of Serie A, in which one (1) manager isn’t Italian. There is a style to Serie A which also reflects the Italian national team to a certain degree (grinding, slow, soporific to watch; save us, Napoli!) and one presumes that clubs keep that in mind when hiring managers. Neither Guardiola nor Klopp would likely be an idea fit on the peninsula.

Similarly, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 are dominated by German and French coaches, respectively. But then we come to the EPL and see all of four English managers (and, OK, one Welsh and an American, too.) I can already feel the bated breath of the death struggle between English fans (“We invented the game!”) and English fan haters (“But you suck at it!”) Is it because England just doesn’t produce good managers? Roy Hodgson would be an argument in favor of that conclusion, but Sean Dyche and his notable achievements (finishing 7th in the league as the smallest club in the top division, with a fraction of the budget of the clubs around them) would argue otherwise. Or is the diversity another reminder of the enormous money flowing through and around the league? Is the EPL notable for having several of the top managers in the world (Guardiola, Klopp, (ugh…)Mourinho) because it has the most money? People do tend to like money and the league currently has the highest number of, uh, instant success teams that are often enabled by money coming from outside of football (City, Chelsea, now Wolverhampton.) There also isn’t a particular style associated with English football these days that would be a limiting/encouraging element, so you run the gamut in the Premier League, from Liverpool and City’s outright attack, to the more tempered approach of Rafa Benitez and Newcastle and, of course, the World’s Most Overpaid Bus Driver.

Is it August 12th yet?

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