Earlier this year, back in the summer month of July, I was enthused by the constant stream of televised football games. One after the other I managed to watch the top teams slug it out in what was a very peculiar and unusual season due to lock-down. I was rather delighted with the final achievement of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s young Manchester United team in achieving third position, although I do feel sympathy for a dynamic but depleted Leicester City squad which failed at the final hurdle. Taking the other available spot alongside United was Frank Lampard’s Chelsea, which is quite a special achievement in its own right: an English manager taking an English club into the UEFA Champions League.
Of course, this should not be such an achievement: English managers managing elite English football teams was the norm for a long time in history up to the end of the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, the scarcity English coaches taking teams into and through the Champions League is quite astounding. Astounding enough, it would seem, to give me the impetus to check every Champions League entrant since 1992, then to categorise their nationalities, and then to place the results here on this blog.
So, how many English managers are included in this table and where are they placed? Very low down, it appears. Only 7% of the available slots are taken by the seven English managers to have led Premier League clubs in the Champions League. These managers include (in chronological order):
- Howard Wilkinson at Leeds United in 1992-93.
- Ray Harford at Blackburn Rovers in 1995-96.
- Bobby Robson at Newcastle United in 2002-04.
- Harry Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur in 2010-11.
- Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City in 2016-17.
- Frank Lampard at Chelsea in 2019-20.
7% is a very low figure. Furthermore, additional context helps us understand this in greater detail. Of these coaches only Bobby Robson led a team through more than one Champions League campaign; although Frank Lampard now matches this achievement in 2020-21. Therefore, these English coaches are eclipsed several continental rivals, as shown below:
- Scotland: 21.6%
- France: 21.6%
- Portugal: 11.3%
- Italy: 10.3%
Again, context is key. The high percentage of both Scotland and France is principally due to two coaches: Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. Their enduring success and continuing ability to obtain qualification for the Champions League accounts for 18.4% each! In terms of Premier League clubs in Europe these two remain the two heavyweight titans, and in the current climate of clubs sacking managers more frequently it is very difficult to imagine their accomplishments and longevity ever being matched.
The closest rival to the Ferguson-Wenger duopoly is Jose Mourinho on 10.3%. Mourinho is an interesting case because he has achieved this figure at a higher number of clubs: Chelsea (first spell), Chelsea (second spell), Manchester United, and now Tottenham Hotpsur. Then, there are the numerous other nationalities that complete the list, ranging from countries including Israel, Chile, and Norway.
In terms of the managers that have achieved greater success – in terms of reaching a final or actually winning the Champions League – the results completely exclude all English ones. This again highlights the scarcity of English managers, as well as their rather temporal place within the Champions League; most of those on the list coached for one season only and achieved moderate to little success. Ray Harford oversaw a terrible group stage campaign in 1995-96, whilst Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds exited earlier in 1992-93 (both league campaigns, as Premier League title defenders, were also poor). Perhaps the most exciting Champions League season for an English coach was Harry Redknapp’s in 2010-21 back when Tottenham Hotspur reached the quarter finals (a club feat only bettered by Pochettino in 2018-19).
And so, what more is there to say about the stats? A few trends can be found over the past three decades. The 1990s saw the rise in European coaches, with the first few years exclusively held by British coaches: Wilkinson in 1992-93, Ferguson at Manchester United in the mid-1990s, and Harford (taking over from the Scottish Kenny Dalglish) in 1995-96. However, having won the English double in 1998, Arsene Wenger bucked this trend – and started his own long association with the Champions League – by taking his Arsenal side into the competition in 1998-99.
From the late 1990s onward more and more European managers took the helm of the top English clubs. 1999 saw the first Italian coach taking charge of an English team in the Champions League (Gianlucca Vialli at Chelsea), followed by a French coach (Houllier at Liverpool in 2000), a Portuguese coach (Mourinho at Chelsea in 2004), and Spanish coach (Benitez at Liverpool in 2004).
Then, in the late 2000s, the spread moved further than western Europe to include other countries of the world: Israel in 2007-08 (Grant at Chelsea), Brazil in 2008-09 (Scholari at Chelsea), Chile in 2013-14 (Pellegrini at Manchester City), and Argentina in 2016-17 (Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur). The major footballing countries of the world have now been represented, even if it does seem odd that Germany was only included with Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool (his first Champions League season at the club taking place in 2017-18). However, many continents are yet to feature, including Asia (if we ignore Israel), Africa, and North America.
All of this highlights the demise of the classic British manager in favour of European / South American ones. British coaches – English, Scottish, Northern Irish, Welsh – dominated the top flight for decades, as shown in the feats of the Scottish managers Matt Busby at Manchester United (winner of the 1968 European Cup), and Bill Shankly at Liverpool (in the 1960s-early 1970s). British names have been incredibly absent in the Premier League era; if we remove Ferguson’s freakish influence the only British names include David Moyes (his doomed Everton qualification in 2004-05 and his moderate success at taking Manchester United to the quarter finals in 2013) and Brendon Rodgers at Liverpool in 2014-15.
Frank Lampard has been a success in his first season at Chelsea in 2019-20: Champions League qualification and an FA Cup final. However, it is hard to believe that Lampard will buck the trend set out in this post; even if he were to remain at Chelsea for several years (itself incredibly unlikely due to the tendency to sack coaches every couple of seasons) and even if he were to led Chelsea to Champions League glory, the stats would change only ever so slightly. It is unlikely that the top clubs will appoint other English managers in the near future, with continental ones – who have achieved success – being far more considered. Until more English – and British – coaches get more chances at the most powerful clubs this trend will continue.