Tuesday 21 August 2018

Pep Guardiola unlikely to sweep the boards as fellow managers recognise Sean Dyche's achievements

Talking point

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Mark Critchley

It was no surprise on when it emerged yesterday morning that Manchester City were the club with the best representation on the PFA's Team of the Year, with members of their title-winning squad taking up five of the 11 positions.

It could have been more. Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling might feel aggrieved that they were not named alongside Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and - making his PFA Team of the Year debut - Sergio Aguero. Fernandinho can feel hard done by too.

The fact of the matter is that as City prepare to take more points, win more games and score more goals than any other team in the Premier League era, they deserve almost every accolade going. All of them, perhaps, but one.

Most people would agree that Pep Guardiola is the most progressive and innovative coach in the Premier League, if not world football. He is the driving force behind his side's accomplishments this term, a club which has previously struggled to make the most of their significant backing.

Yet Guardiola's brilliance as a coach is precisely why all but a few pundits named City as comfortable title favourites eight months ago. Few foresaw the style and verve his side would play with or the slew of records they would threaten along the way, but their Premier League crown was largely expected.

If Guardiola builds a dynasty at the Etihad and leaves a lasting imprint on English football, he will be the manager of the decade, but is his success this season enough to be named manager of the year?

Burnley manager Sean Dyche. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Burnley manager Sean Dyche. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The answer is probably, yes - the Premier League's Manager of the Season award is consistently won by the title-winning coach. Only Ipswich's George Burley in 2001, Tottenham's Harry Redknapp in 2010, Newcastle's Alan Pardew in 2012 and Crystal Palace's Tony Pulis in 2014 have claimed it without the league trophy under their arm.

Even though eagle-eyed City fans will notice neither Roberto Mancini nor Manuel Pellegrini were recognised for their triumphant campaigns, every truly dominant title-winning side was, from Jose Mourinho's Chelseas to Alex Ferguson's best Manchester United teams. It seems unlikely that Guardiola will also be overlooked.

There are two 'manager of the year' awards at the end of each season though, and the other often takes a slightly different tack.

The LMA Manager of the Year gong is voted for by the managers themselves and can recognise any coach working in the four fully-professional divisions. It has only been awarded to the top flight's title-winning coach in eight of its 25 seasons, and that ratio was lower still until the recent achievements by Claudio Ranieri and Antonio Conte at Leicester and Chelsea respectively.

Past winners include Frank Clark for taking Nottingham Forest to third in 1995, Dave Jones for a 12th-place finish with Southampton in 1998 and Steve Coppell for Reading coming eighth in 2007. Stripped of context, a decade or two on, those examples seem mediocre, inconsequential or unworthy of acknowledgement.

But in each case, Clark, Jones and Coppell's fellow managers were tipping their cap to what good management is - exceeding beyond the limits of one's resources, achieving beyond expectation. And if there is one manager who has done that more than any other this year, it is Sean Dyche.

Despite decent cases from each of this year's promoted managers, the Burnley manager is Guardiola's only real competition for either managerial award and it is not difficult to see why.

In the opening months of the season, Dyche had to contend with the loss of Michael Keane to Everton and captain Tom Heaton to a dislocated shoulder, but astute planning meant James Tarkowski was a ready-made Keane stand-in.

Heaton was replaced by a top-flight novice in Nick Pope who nonetheless ran David de Gea close to be named this season's best goalkeeper. Ashley Barnes has repaid Dyche's faith in him, while Jack Cork has proved one of the signings of last summer.

But to pick out individuals would be to diminish Burnley's greatest strength - their organisation as a unit.

The precise, pincer-esque way Dyche's banks of four move around the pitch is the chief reason why a side roundly tipped for relegation instead find themselves in seventh-place, two points behind Arsenal, with a better-than-decent chance of qualifying for Europe. A place in the top six is not beyond the realms of possibility either.

In a league where wage budgets often dictate a club's success, Burnley's stands at £55m, the third-lowest in the league and more than four times smaller than City's. Their season is the very definition of achieving beyond expectation.

Guardiola may take one of the managerial awards, but he should not be surprised if he does not claim a clean sweep. (© Independent News Service)

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