Job stability isn’t really a thing in the Premier League.
Thirteen managers have already left their positions in England’s top flight this season – a record since the league was reduced from 22 teams to 20 before the 1995-96 campaign. Leicester City and Chelsea were the latest clubs to dismiss their managers Sunday, and both are now in the process of identifying who will tend to their ailing squads.
But they’re not the only clubs on the lookout. Here, theScore assesses the needs of the six Premier League outfits that need to resolve their managerial situation before the summer and selects an ideal candidate for each one.
Todd Boehly ran down the aisle with his arm out, indiscriminately knocking tins and packets into his shopping cart with little thought of what it would all cost once he reached the checkout. The Chelsea co-owner’s frenzied 10 months in west London have produced a squad with the balance of a giraffe crossing a pendulous rope bridge on roller skates.
The fact that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a player who should be nowhere near a club expecting to challenge for the game’s highest honors, started six of Graham Potter’s last nine matches at the helm summed up Chelsea’s haphazard approach to spending over £500 million on transfers during the brief Boehly era.
Potter’s appointment last September indicated that Boehly appreciated the Chelsea job was a project that required time, but the Englishman’s performance forced the boardroom’s hand. He’s undeniably a gifted coach – he’s proved that via his man-management, tactical flexibility, and, most crucially, his on-pitch results in Sweden and England – but this job could’ve been too much too soon and ultimately rather overwhelming for him when Chelsea lack the clear vision, wise division of labor, and holism of Brighton & Hove Albion.
So, Chelsea need another boss who can handle a project but who perhaps has a higher profile than Potter – a pedigree that demands respect at Stamford Bridge. Enter, Julian Nagelsmann; the German was surprisingly fired by Bayern Munich in March but has drawn widespread praise for his innovative game plans and meticulousness in training sessions and pre-match briefs. New Chelsea directors Christopher Vivell and Laurence Stewart worked with Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig.
Prediction: Julian Nagelsmann
There were reasons to be optimistic at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace won eight of their final 16 matches across all competitions last season, securing a 12th-placed finish in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup semifinals. Conor Gallagher returned to Chelsea after his impressive loan spell with the Eagles, but the continued presence of Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, and Michael Olise promised the progressive, attractive football would continue while Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen forged one of the best center-back pairings outside the English clubs regularly competing in Europe.
However, numerous off-pitch distractions – including a chaotic preseason and changes to the coaching staff – may have contributed to the team’s form disintegrating and Vieira changing to a defensive system. The shift didn’t work: toward the end of Vieira’s reign, Palace failed to record a shot on target in three consecutive outings.
There are elements of Vieira’s approach that Palace will want in the manager who follows Roy Hodgson’s temporary stint in charge. The Frenchman was enthusiastic about working with young players and was keen to develop a bond with the diverse local community. Brendan Rodgers could fit the bill, but Steve Cooper may be a more realistic option if Nottingham Forest are relegated.
Prediction: Steve Cooper
Leeds United revealed Javi Gracia had signed a “flexible” contract when he was installed as head coach in February, and The Athletic’s Phil Hay understands the initial stage of that deal expires at the end of the season. Presumably, the terms allow greater freedom for both the club and coach to break off the arrangement once Leeds’ Premier League status has been secured or surrendered and the budgets have been reassessed.
There are some positive signs under Gracia. He makes more changes to his personnel and tactics to adapt to opponents than Jesse Marsch did. However, only incremental progress is possible due to the injury-prone and unbalanced squad he’s inherited. Tyler Adams is sidelined following hamstring surgery and his composure is sorely lacking in midfield; right-back Rasmus Kristensen and winger Jack Harrison were among the players tasked with trying to clog the middle in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at Arsenal, and that’s not ideal.
Relegation may encourage Leeds to stick with Gracia: the Spaniard guided Watford to their highest-ever Premier League finish and the FA Cup final in the 2018-19 season, which is an extremely strong resume for a Championship manager. However, Gracia wasn’t first choice – it was Andoni Iraola. The Marcelo Bielsa-inspired tactician took over Rayo Vallecano in the second tier and is now chasing European qualification despite having the fifth-lowest salary budget in La Liga. Iraola’s contract currently expires at the end of the season and he’ll expect to remain in one of Europe’s top leagues if he leaves Rayo.
Prediction: Andoni Iraola (if Leeds survive)
Rodgers’ reign withered in agonizing fashion ever since Leicester City won the FA Cup in 2021. The Foxes have dropped a league-high 22 points from winning positions this season, and only Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest have hemorrhaged more goals. The players appear bereft of confidence.
The squad needs a refresh. Jamie Vardy and Jonny Evans are past their best. Their goalkeepers aren’t good enough. Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, and Caglar Soyuncu were previously stars of the team, but their form has dipped since it became clear their ambitions to regularly compete for silverware wouldn’t be realized in the East Midlands. The club’s last significant outlay in the summer of 2021 also didn’t work out, with Ryan Bertrand, Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, and Jannik Vestergaard proving largely ineffectual or being abject failures.
But right now, with 10 matches left to save Leicester’s season, a steady hand is required to shore up the defense. Convincing Rafael Benitez to sign a short-term deal, with a view to finding a coach better suited to getting the best out of their talented attacking players in the summer, seems the wisest option.
Prediction: Rafael Benitez
Things turned stale under Ralph Hasenhuttl. The spine of his team lost its zip, form suffered, and indiscipline reportedly became a problem as players grew tired with matters such as team selection and communication. Nathan Jones only exacerbated those issues during his disastrous 14-game spell at the helm.
Ruben Selles, the former assistant of Hasenhuttl and Jones who is under contract until the end of the season, has tried to tackle these problems head-on. The Spaniard trimmed the squad, with January signing Mislav Orsic among those seemingly frozen out. He also made it clear that some of the players’ poor behavior would no longer be tolerated, stepped up the intensity of training sessions, and created a leadership group – consisting of Che Adams, Willy Caballero, Alex McCarthy, Theo Walcott, and captain James Ward-Prowse – intended to raise standards and bridge the gap between the younger and older players, according to The Athletic’s Jacob Tanswell.
There would be a natural temptation to look overseas for a coach who favors a high-pressing system – perhaps somebody who’s worked within the Red Bull stable – but the work Selles has done to correct the club’s internal issues is encouraging, as is the early evidence of improvements to the team’s off-the-ball graft and possession play. Selles currently seems the most viable option for the 2023-24 season, whether Southampton are in the Premier League or not.
Prediction: Ruben Selles
Tottenham Hotspur were in fourth place when Antonio Conte left by mutual consent, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Spurs were knocked out of the domestic cup competitions courtesy of sorry displays against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United and limped out of the Champions League after a dismal double-header with AC Milan. And, most crucially, the atmosphere was already toxic under Conte before the Italian slammed “selfish players” and the club’s identity during an infamous post-match rant.
This is a job that requires patience and care. A new manager might need to prepare for life after Harry Kane. Funds aren’t free-flowing after last summer’s expenditure and while the stadium is only four years old. The club’s youth academy must be utilized.
What complicates matters for Spurs is that their managerial search coincides with Chelsea’s, and possibly those of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, potentially making the north London club fourth choice among the elite out-of-work coaches. The supporters should shift their expectations accordingly.
There are undoubtedly a large group of fans who want Mauricio Pochettino to return, but chairman Daniel Levy could be tempted for a fresh start and opt for a manager with a proven record of improving young players and embracing long-term projects. Former Leicester handler Rodgers and ex-Chelsea boss Potter are in the running.
Prediction: Graham Potter