herald

Tuesday 25 September 2018

it's celebrity death match

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has been consistently linked with the Stoke job.
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has been consistently linked with the Stoke job.

These are nervous times in the Premier League.

The managerial trapdoor hinges are well-oiled and have already swung open seven times this season.

With seven points separating nine teams at the bottom of the League, and with six of those teams just three points off the relegation zone, managers will fear being added to the casualty list.

While those managers operating in the highest strata of the football hierarchy can afford to indulge themselves in catcalling and schoolyard-style bullying, those near the bottom are engaged in football's real politik.

Reputations will be made or lost over the coming months as managers strive to prove their worth and hold on to a job.

It's an ill wind but one manager's sacking creates an opportunity for another manager to grasp.

Even if he hasn't been Stoke City's first, or even second, choice, to replace Mark Hughes, Martin O'Neill's profile is already receiving a bounce as speculation develops around him taking the job with The Potters.

When a person is drowning, a piece of flotsam is as welcome as a lifeboat.

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson.
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson.

When the pressure is on a club to survive, owners' decisions often puzzle supporters.

Not everyone thinks O'Neill is suitable for Stoke, while Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores remains first choice for the Potters.

But, having been dumped out of the FA Cup by League Two Coventry City, the shambles of O'Neill's World Cup qualifier play-off strategy, and some questionable performances towards the end of the campaign, will be conveniently airbrushed by Stoke and replaced with the old "Mister Motivator" mantra.

Martin's thin skin, displayed by his haranguing of RTE's Tony O'Donoghue, could be parlayed as "fighting spirit" by a bunch floundering in a flooded basement.

Right now Stoke have three options and two of them involve O'Neill. Firstly, they might appoint Flores ona three-and-a-half year deal, secondly they could offer O'Neill the job over the same course of time. Thirdly, Stoke might offer O'Neill the job until the end of the season. This would have the benefit of keeping him active and enjoying a tidy little earner, while exercising what Hercule Poirot, the fictional Belgian egghead, calls the "little grey cells" and keeping himself match-fit for Ireland's next big campaign.

Chaos in the League presents the possibility of a win-win opportunity for the coach who says he has a verbal agreement to manage Ireland.

These are turbulent times in football management.

When Frank de Boer was sacked by Crystal Palace in September after just five games in charge, the phrase "results-based business" was trotted out by the Palace chairman. Since then, the old school approach of former England manager Roy Hodgson has brought a certain stability to the squad.

Hodgson is earning his corn. With 22 points after 22 League games, Palace are at 14, with three clubs between them and the drop zone teams.

Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal
Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal

Only goal difference separates the bottom two teams, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion, who are both on 16 points.

West Brom must feel aggrieved that, having sacked Tony Pulis when they were actually outside the relegation zone, things have actually got worse under Alan Pardew, another manager lauded for some notional motivational skills.

Charm

Carlos Carvalhal stepped into the sacked Paul Clement's job at Swansea at the end of December insisting he liked "difficult challenges."

Swansea were at the bottom of the League then. And they still are. But the Portuguese manager believes he can turn things around.

Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino must have a lucky charm stitched into his tracksuit. On the same points (20) as Stoke, who've sacked Mark Hughes, chairman Ralph Krueger says Southampton are happy with Pellegrino, blaming the months of uncertainty around the transfer stalemate of Virgil van Dijk for upsetting what he calls "our very fragile environment."

Despite having finished ninth last season, expectations are realistic at Bournemouth where Eddie Howe is seen as a manager of talent who's still developing.

Since he stepped into the West Ham job, David Moyes has given the impression of a man intent on salvaging his reputation. In July 2013, after eleven years as boss at Everton, David Moyes took over as Manchester United manager.

Ten traumatic months later, he was sacked. Since then, there was a sense that Moyes' career had spiralled downwards to new levels of football hell.

He joined Real Sociedad in La Liga in November 2014 on an 18-month contract but lasted just twelve months.

From there, the slide continued. When his next club, Sunderland, was relegated, Moyes resigned without compensation. In quieter moments, Moyes might have asked himself how it had come to this.

In November, with just nine points from 11 games under Slaven Bilic, West Ham were in trouble and appointed Moyes on a six-month contract. Taking points off top six clubs, Moyes has dragged the Hammers out of the doldrums. Now on 22 points, they're 15th in the League.

But with just three points separating six clubs from the three in the relegation zone, there are sure to be many unexpected twists and turns ahead.

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