It’s fair to say that the fortunes of former Old Firm managers looking to branch out into English football have been ever so slightly mixed. Take some of the lads from the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers. Dick Advocaat saved Sunderland from relegation in 2015, but back in the day everybody used to do that. Alex McLeish won Birmingham’s first proper trophy for nearly half a century, only to spoil the effect by joining the Villa and alienating absolutely everyone in the UK’s second-biggest city. Walter Smith nearly got Everton relegated for the first time in 50 years, while across the city Graeme Souness systematically destroyed the most successful club in the country. Oops-a-daisy, one and all.
It’s not a glittering record in England, all told, but then again look at the folk from the Queen’s Celtic. Billy McNeill managed to get both Aston Villa and Manchester City relegated in the same season. Gordon Strachan very nearly took Middlesbrough into League One. John Barnes lost 75% of his matches at Tranmere Rovers, while Jock Stein lasted 44 days at Leeds before thinking better of it and nipping off back home. That’s not exactly a glittering roll call either, so thank goodness for the stellar work of Brendan Rodgers, who ... oh Brenny! We looked away for five minutes!
Leicester seemed a shoo-in for a spot in next season’s Big Cup after an eight-game winning run last autumn that included a 9-0 spree at Southampton. But Rodgers’s team subsequently posted a sequence the untrained eye could easily mistake for a dirty protest: just four wins from 15. They finally made it five in seven months last Saturday against Crystal Palace, less a football team, more a resigned sigh, and as a result are still holding on to third place. But now Chelsea, Manchester United and Wolves are breathing heavily down their necks, and who knows Tottenham may still be in with a shout too if fistfights in the workplace are conducive to improved productivity, which apparently they are now.
Not all managers brazenly dissemble through their teeth like a Tory, however, and Rodgers has fronted up about his team’s post-Covid struggles. “This is elite sport,” he says. “All the guys are competitors and when they’re not winning the mood and feel can be different. Palace has been a tough gig for the team for a couple of seasons, so to have done the double over them, a team who defend deep and don’t give away so much, has really helped their confidence.”
Should they follow up with a statement win tonight against Arsenal, yet another team closing in on them, they’ll be one step closer to their dream. Can they realise it? “There’s absolutely no doubt!” trills Rodgers. But then Walter Smith once felt equally optimistic before facing Middlesbrough in the cup, while Souness was confident Ali Dia could do a job filling in for Matthew Le Tissier, so let’s wait to see how this pans out.
LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE
It’s a bumper tea-time edition of live association football from 6pm BST, with Scott Murray on hand for Crystal Palace 0-3 Chelsea, Simon Burnton in for Watford 2-2 Norwich and Paul Doyle rounding things off with Arsenal 3-1 Leicester at 8pm BST.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It’s inhumane to say that we don’t have George Floyds in Brazil. The shootings happen every day. Gay people are persecuted too and that is one of the things I am most angry about with the people who support Bolsonaro” – Juninho Pernambucano, the Lyon legend that knew his way around a set piece, speaks exclusively to the Guardian about his native Brazil and how it is unravelling with the president’s leadership.
David Squires does his best to inject some life into the sad story at Wigan. You can buy a copy of David’s cartoon right here.
“Vince Clarke is now in Erasure, who were quite successful back in the eighties, but despite diligently carrying on, have had the square root of naff all success since 2008. That’ll be Spurs, then” – Jon Millard.
“Never sure how to define empathy. But a little bit of every Spurs fan is destroyed each time our least favorite 57-year-old opens his mouth. Or is that a little bit of sick we’re tasting?” – Chris Brown.
BITS AND BOBS
Help could be at hand for Wigan from an unlikely source, after their rugby league neighbours, Wigan Warriors, announced their intention to buy the troubled Championship club.
Everton are “assisting Merseyside Police with their inquiries” after a red flare was ignited and left on the Dixie Dean statue outside Goodison Park.
José Mourinho was as delighted as others were shocked to see the on-pitch dust up between Hugo Lloris and Son Heung-min during the win over Everton. ‘My winning teams, we had big fights in the team,’ parped the Spurs manager.
Mikel Arteta wants to keep Dani Ceballos at Arsenal any which way he can, and has made that known to Real Madrid. “I’m really happy with him, the way he’s evolving, and I love how much he likes to play football,” hoorayed the Gunners manager.
Ralf Rangnick has agreed to become Milan manager next season, and that may have big implications for Paolo Maldini’s position as sporting director. Oh Paolo!
STILL WANT MORE?
Jacob Steinberg on Jorginho and why the Italian might be the odd one out at Chelsea.
Richard Foster on how and why a theatre company is getting involved with QPR to produce high-end crowd noise.
Listen to Monday’s Football Weekly on Mason Greenwood and the Manchester United renaissance? Listen to Monday’s Football Weekly on Mason Greenwood and the Manchester United renaissance!
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