Sports

Why are the best international managers ignored by the biggest clubs?

Didier Deschamps won the seventh major honour of his coaching career by guiding France to success in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday, winning 2-1 against Spain (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.). In doing so, the former AS Monaco, Juventus and Marseille coach denied Spain‘s Luis Enrique his ninth trophy as a manager.

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Add in the 11 major honours won by Italy‘s Roberto Mancini — including the Euro 2020 title — and Roberto Martinez keeping Belgium at the top of the FIFA World Ranking for the last three years (as well as winning the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic in 2013), and it is fair to suggest that the 2021 Nations League finals showcased some of the best coaches in the world, as well as the leading players.

Yet take a quick look at the bookmakers’ odds for the next Newcastle United manager in the wake of last week’s Saudi Arabia-backed takeover — Steve Bruce is still in charge at St James’ Park, for now — and Martinez is the only one of the quartet to make the top 10, despite possessing the weakest CV of all four.

It is a similar story with Manchester United, where manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retains the backing of the club’s owners, the Glazer family, yet continues to struggle to convince anyone else of his ability to turn the team into winners again.

Despite guiding Barcelona to a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in 2015, Luis Enrique is the shortest price to replace Solskjaer, but former United players Michael Carrick and Laurent Blanc feature ahead of him in the betting. As do Frank Lampard, Eddie Howe and Ralph Hassenhuttl. Luis Enrique is a 33-1 shot. Deschamps, at 50-1, is regarded as being as likely as Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger to be the next manager at Old Trafford. Martinez is 66/1 and you can’t get a price on former City boss Mancini.

Now a bookmakers’ list of candidates must be taken as no more than a guide rather than a definitive assessment of the most likely appointments, but they are indicative nonetheless of the trend of hiring coaches from within the club game or those who have recently lost their jobs, such as Lampard at Chelsea and former Bournemouth manager Howe.

It is not just a Premier League issue. In Spain, Italy, Germany and France, the leading clubs tend to ignore the international game completely when hiring a new coach. Since 2010, on only three occasions has an elite club recruited a coach directly from his role on the international stage.

United struck a deal to hire Louis van Gaal in the weeks prior to his run to the 2014 World Cup semifinals with Netherlands, while Julen Lopetegui lost his job as Spain coach just days before the start of the 2018 World Cup after it became clear that he had agreed to join Real Madrid. Ronald Koeman remains in charge of Barcelona after leaving his post with Netherlands in August last year, but it would be an understatement to say that his reign at Camp Nou is not going particularly well.

Lopetegui, meanwhile, was sacked after just 14 games in charge of Madrid, while Van Gaal lost his job at United after two seasons, despite winning the FA Cup in what turned out to his final game.

Go back another 10 years and there are still very few examples of international coaches moving to the top clubs. Luiz Felipe Scolari left the Portugal job for Chelsea in July 2008 and was sacked in February 2009, while Barcelona dismissed Van Gaal just six months after taking him from the Dutch job in 2002.

The examples of Koeman, Van Gaal (twice), Lopetegui and Scolari are perhaps why top clubs are reluctant to hire international managers.

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France beats Spain 2-1 in the UEFA Nations League final after VAR upholds Kylian Mbappe’s go-ahead goal.

One source told ESPN that there are two key reasons why sporting directors or chief executives are reluctant to hire from the international game; the first being the coach’s detachment from the transfer market and knowledge of agents and global talent, and the second being the lack of intensity and daily demands as an international coach.

Both are valid factors to consider, but with elite club coaches Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino and Julian Nagelsmann all in jobs right now, there appears to be a dearth of emerging talent with the credentials and personality to coach the very biggest clubs.

Certainly, there are no obvious available candidates in the club game who can match the records of Deschamps, Mancini, Luis Enrique and Martinez.

Deschamps won trophies at each of his club sides before taking the France job in 2012, even guiding an unfancied Monaco to a Champions League final in 2004.

The 52-year-old, who won the World Cup in 2018, divides opinion and is regarded as stubborn in terms of selection and tactics, but his ability to get the best out of Paul Pogba in a France shirt underlines his ability to work with the top talent.

Mancini has won league titles with Internazionale and Manchester City as well as domestic cups with Fiorentina, Lazio and Galatasaray, and although his abrasive approach at City saw him fall out with high profile players, the club’s success of the past decade was triggered by the 56-year-old’s impact at the Etihad.

Luis Enrique’s success at Barcelona now appears even more impressive considering the repeated failures of his successors at Camp Nou, while Martinez has turned Belgium into one of the world’s top teams after proving his worth in club management.

Luis Enrique and Martinez will be high on Barcelona’s list if they part company with Koeman, by virtue of their connection with the club and city — Martinez is a Catalan, born 100 miles from Barcelona.

Emotional connections should be insignificant considerations, however. Luis Enrique and Martinez, as well as Deschamps and Mancini, should be judged on their records.

And for those clubs considering where to look for their next manager, they really should start to pay closer attention to the leading lights of the international game.

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