The inevitable media hype machine surrounding any new Premier League campaign has been suitably fuelled, revved up and is well and truly in motion. As the big kick off imches ever closer, there isn’t a paper you will open, a TV or Radio broadcast you will hear or… um, a blog you will read that isn’t vying for your attention and demanding that you get excited for the forthcoming season. It’s been the same every summer. It will be the same next summer and for every summer thereafter.
However, at the risk of getting caught up in the hyperbole, there does actually seem to be a unique sense of intrigue about this campaign in particular; intrigue bought about primarily by the fact that the three leading sides in the country have all changed their respective managers. Everybody wants to see how David Moyes will cope having to step into shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson, and whether Manuel Pellegrini will be able to justify the hype. The new men in Manchester will not only have to contend with one another as they duke it out at the top of the table, but also a certain Portuguese making his dramatic return to Stamford Bridge.
Yes, Jose Mourinho is back at Chelsea much to the joy of Blues fans the world over. Having delivered and retained the club’s first league championship for 50 years in 2005, as well as supplementing these titles with two league cups and an FA Cup, there is very little wrong he could do in their eyes. As far as they are concerned, his unexpected departure after just three years following disputes with Roman Abramovich was far too abrupt.
After a spell in Italy and a sojourn in Spain, the self-anointed Special One has gone back to the club where he says he feels ‘loved’. Although the narrative of the Prodigal Son may not have been quite so fondly trotted out had Mourinho not been overlooked for the Manchester United role in favour of Moyes.
Ex-partners. Holidays. Jobs. The temptation is always there to go back and try to relive and recreate the great experiences we once had. Unfortunately, we often find that these experiences are never quite as good the second time around. ‘Going back’ isn’t always the best idea. In English football, two stand-out examples that Mourinho will be hoping not to emulate curiously concern both the Premier League’s Merseyside clubs.
Kendall in the wind
Howard Kendall’s three spells at Everton could not have been more different. It’s safe to say that the six years between 1981 and 1987, when Kendall first took the reins at Goodison Park, is the most successful period in the club’s long history. After an initial slow start, the 1983/84 season saw Kendall lead the Toffees to a respectable 7th place finish. In league terms, no improvement on the previous season but performances in the two domestic cups set the tone for what was to follow. The Blues were narrowly defeated by rivals Liverpool in the League Cup final but bounced back to defeat Watford 2-0 In the FA Cup. Graeme Sharp and a controversial Andy Grey header gifted Kendall his first trophy as a manager as well as ending a 14 year trophy drought for the club.
12 Months later, following an 18 game unbeaten run from December to May which saw only four points dropped, Everton were crowned champions of England finishing a massive 13 points clear of Liverpool in second. An extra time defeat to Manchester United at Wembley meant they were unable to defend the FA Cup but that mattered little a few days later when a 3-1 win over Rapid Vienna in Rotterdam saw Kendall’s side secure their first ever European trophy in the form of the Cup Winner’s Cup. A year on, the Blues narrowly finished second to Liverpool in the league as well as losing 3-1 to their city rivals in the FA Cup final. Kendall and Everton bounced back the following campaign to become champions once more beating Liverpool to the title by 9 points.
Significantly, Everton were never afforded the opportunity to compete in the European Cup thanks to the ban on English clubs following the Heysel tragedy in 1985. It has been said that this played a major part in Kendall’s decision to leave to manage Athletic Bilbao following that second title success in 1987.
In 1990, however, he returned to these shores and after a short spell at Manchester City he inevitably found himself back at Goodison. By Now though, Everton were no longer regular title challengers and found themselves falling further and further away from the summit. If Kendall was expected to reignite the flame of success and bring back the glory days, fans were to be left disappointed. Perhaps it was the club, perhaps it was the manager, perhaps it was both, but Everton seemed to stand still while the vast changes in English football were taking place around them and after three unremarkable mid-table finishes, Kendall resigned for a second time in December 1993 with the club slipping down the table.
Under his replacement Mike Walker, the Toffees survived relegation on the final day that season – something that was to be repeated during Kendall’s unprecedented third spell in charge just three years later. The first half of the 1997-98 season was nothing short of a disaster as Kendall oversaw just four wins and eleven defeats in 20 matches. Going into the final game at home to mid-table Coventry City, Everton occupied the third relegation spot and started the day one point behind Bolton. Despite the fact a win might not even be enough, the Blues laboured to 1-1 draw. Fortunately, they found themselves still in the division only by virtue of goal difference thanks to a 2-0 defeat for Bolton at Chelsea. For a third time, Kendall resigned.
A Dalg-eat-Dalg world
Overlapping and almost intertwined with Kendall’s first spell at Everton was Kenny Dalglish’s first tenure as Liverpool manager. Approaching the tail end of a fantastic playing career, Dalglish was appointed player-manager not long after his 34th birthday in 1985. Joe Fagan’s retirement, the emergence of Everton and the dark clouds of the Heysel aftermath hanging over head suggested the inexperienced Dalglish would have a major job on his hands taking charge of what was widely believed to be the best club in world football at the time. Any doubts soon evaporated as Liverpool immediately won the league – Dalglish scoring the winner against Chelsea in the title clincher – and FA Cup double in 1986.
After surrendering the league title to Everton the following year, 1987-88 saw the reds go on a 29 game unbeaten run from the start of the season, losing just twice overall, as they strolled to the title, finishing 9 points clear of Manchester United in second. A second double was only prevented thanks to a shock defeat by Wimbledon in the FA Cup final.
Kenny’s team were edged out by Arsenal in dramatic circumstances in the league the following season but picked up another FA Cup after defeating Everton 3-2 at Wembley.
Another league title followed in 1990 – the club’s 18th and their last to date – but while in pole position to defend their crown the following year, Dalglish shocked the world by unexpectedly resigning in February 1991. After 6 years, three titles and 2 FA Cups, Dalglish felt that the stress of the job and pressure he was putting on himself to succeed was too much. It may not have been a popular decision, it was one reluctantly accepted by the red half of Merseyside. He may have walked away prematurely, but he walked away a legend.
It is with this in mind that almost exactly 20 years on, following the somewhat calamitous six month tenure of Roy Hodgson, Dalglish was once more put in temporary charge of his beloved reds. This provided the shot in the arm the club needed. A strong initial six month showing saw wins over Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, leading to Dalglish being reappointed on a permanent basis. A decision welcomed with open arms by fans despite the fact he hadn’t been in management since an unsuccessful spell at Newcastle at the end of the 1990s. For the fans at Anfield, Dalglish was back to complete some unfinished business following his hasty departure years earlier.
Unfortunately, the football landscape had shifted monumentally and sadly for Dalglish, he had very much been left behind. Those initial good results masked failings to his management style; failings that would manifest themselves in different ways. There was, of course, the reckless spending on the likes of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll, whose combined £70million+ transfer fees are still the source of great amusement to all non-scousers to this day.
Dalglish did bring Luis Suarez to the club but as has been well documented, this signing brought its own problems. Not least when the Uruguayan was accused and subsequently found guilty of using racist language in a match against Manchester United. Dalglish’s vehement defence of the player was seen as both misguided and out of touch.
On the pitch, after a promising start, 2011-12 saw Liverpool lose 11 of their 19 league games between January and May to end the season in 8th place – their lowest finish since 1994. Dalglish did win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final but the dismal league form provided little indication that the glory days of the past would return and he was unceremoniously sacked.
Outside of Merseyside, there are other examples of ill-advised decisions by managers to go back to scenes of past glories. With the greatest of respect to Kevin Keegan, he’s unlikely to make it into anybody’s list of top English managers down the years but having propelled Newcastle from the brink of relegation to the third tier all the way up to touching distance of the Premier League crown during the 90s, he will always be a hero on Tyneside. The less said about his short lived return in 2008, the better. The likes of Mike Walker (Norwich), Gerry Francis (QPR) and Ron Atkinson (Sheff Weds) all also found that things were never quite as rosy second time around.
There are a number of reasons why initial triumphs cannot be repeated. Circumstances at clubs quite often change and nowadays, without a hefty pot of cash, success is remarkably difficult to attain. Then there is the paradox of increased the pressure and expectation to emulate earlier achievements while seemingly being given more slack or leeway due to the good work done previously. Call it complacency or simple blind loyalty, any failings are easily forgiven and, as seen in the examples above, the risk of sleepwalking into mediocrity becomes far greater.
For the manager himself, the fear of failure may well diminish when he has succeeded previously. A feeling of ‘been there, done that’ could well creep in. In Mourinho’s case, last season at Madrid saw him fail to land any silverware for the first time in charge of any club for a full season. Perhaps his powers are waning and he knows that being back at the Bridge where he is ‘loved’ means the fans wont bay for his blood after any perceived failure in the same way the Madridistas did.
It remains to be seen if Jose can buck this trend of managers failing to hit the same heights second time around. Given his resources, and the strength of the team he is taking over, it is difficult to see him ending up like Kendall or Dalglish. Mourinho is still relatively young, smart and talented enough for it not to be an issue, however, examples of the past mean that absolutely nothing should be taken for granted.