Leicester City confirmed top spot for Christmas, Man United lost at home and a Chelsea minus Jose Mourinho, had to contend with fans booing their own players, yet even then, the most important press conference of the past week didn’t take place on these isles. Instead we look to Bavaria this week, where Pep Guardiola fired the starting gun for one of the most hyped managerial chases of all time. My God are we going to hear a lot about it over the next few months, so I might as well get it out of the way.
As had been the subject of strong rumours over the past week, the Spaniard confirmed that he will not be staying on at Bayern, come the end of the season. Cue some itchy boardroom trigger fingers and even itchier backsides in the managers’ offices across the higher echelons of the Premier League. The looming pressure of Guardiola and a freshly unemployed Jose Mourinho may well have unsettled the hitherto unflappable Louis van Gaal this weekend . The availability of these two behemoths, combined with a worrying home defeat to Norwich, left the Dutchman apparently struggling for confidence or indeed, excuses, as he faced the press. Rather than swatting away criticisms of his team’s performance with monologues around how much they have improved since last year (including losing to slightly less inferior lower league opposition in the League Cup) van Gaal seemed at a loss. “I am – or maybe I have to say now, was – a very successful manager,” were the surprisingly defeatist words uttered by the Manchester United manager over the weekend. When asked directly about the security of his job he replied, “Of course I am worried,” dropping a guard that has so often viciously rebuffed any hint of criticism in a journalist’s question. For the first time van Gaal appeared to be in a position of weakness. Maybe he’s not really that bothered and could do without the building pile of criticism from pundits, ex-players and fans. Maybe he has realised that his methods have become outdated and that the game is leaving him behind. Whatever the reason for his deflated post-match display for the media, the vultures will be circling and there is suddenly a healthy pot from which to pick world-class managers.
Another man who has every right to be worried is Manuel Pellegrini . The Chilean seemed forlorn as he clutched at the straws of missed chances and an attempted comeback from his team following defeat at the Emirates stadium on Monday night. A defeat against title rivals Arsenal may not help his cause but to be perfectly honest, he could win a double and still be replaced in the summer, if Guardiola’s former Barca allies manage to lure him to the City of Manchester.
Away from the managerial merry-go-round that seems to be clicking into action, two managers who have just recently landed their jobs were united in their search for better reactions from their players. Both Sam Allardyce and Jurgen Klopp lamented the ways in which their charges reacted, or more to the point failed to react, to mistakes from which the opposition profited. Both seemed content to accept that mistakes happen but went on to complain that the failure to address the consequent risk could not be allowed to continue. Allardyce seemed at a particular loss for Sunderland, claiming that they were “scared” and lamenting the fact that different personnel were making the same mistakes on a regular basis. He seems to have run out of players now so we can all expect an entertaining transfer window at the Stadium of Light. Either that or Fat Sam walking.
Once again though, I find myself rounding off the blog with a cheery note from everyone’s friend, Claudio Ranieri. As modest and gracious as ever as Leicester guaranteed themselves top spot at Christmas with a fine away win at Everton, the Foxes’ boss extended his post-match interview to wish football fans all over the country a Happy Christmas. Same to you, Claudio, what a gent. And to think I was cursing his appointment for robbing me of Nigel Pearson’s ostrich routine…