The nationality of coaches and managers in England – particularly the Premier League – is something of a hot topic these days. So many of us are obsessed with the quality – or perhaps lack – of British coaches and this apparent divine right for our best clubs to be managed by people from these isles.
Foreign coaches are getting more popular by the week, while Scotland’s former domination of the Premier League feels a long way off. But don’t let the heretics win you over; this diversity is good and it helps promote a broader range of football styles.
While Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are arguably the two headline acts in terms of Premier League managers, another two look destined to reach that level and they faced each other on Tuesday; Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp.
Both took over the respective clubs in tricky situations and have not only steadied the ship, but moulded teams which are thriving at the moment.
With respect to Pochettino, he took over from Tim Sherwood in 2014, someone who was nowhere near as good in reality as he was in his own head. Granted, Harry Kane probably wouldn’t be where he is today without him, but otherwise the former midfielder’s legacy is fairly non-existent. A sixth-place finish left fans somewhat underwhelmed.
In came Pochettino in May 2014 and with him an actual philosophy, one based on promoting young players and playing a brand of football which combined intense pressing with attacking drive. Defensively they were no better in his first season, but there was obvious progression as Pochettino’s ideas began to take shape.
Last season, though, things were much different. The joint-best defence in the league, the second-highest scorers and genuine title contenders until the final few weeks. It was a huge leap forward.
Things are following a similar pattern this term, too. They may have drawn four times in the league so far, but they are the only unbeaten side after nine matches and have the best defence, with just four conceded.
And this is in spite of Harry Kane struggling for fitness and form. Pochettino has turned them from a team with little identity into one which genuinely looks capable of challenging for the title.
Little can be read into Liverpool’s defeat of Spurs on Tuesday, what with it being an EFL Cup tie and seeing lots of rotation, but it certainly highlighted Klopp’s eccentric and aggressive touchline style.
That’s not all he has brought to Liverpool. Much like Spurs with Pochettino, he actually has them looking purposeful. Following Luis Suarez’s Liverpool departure, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool just seemed to amble from one match to another, with the purpose being on a passing brand of football which had them looking ponderous more than anything, yet he had a squad which had the potential to be hugely dynamic in attack.
That, in a nutshell, is what Klopp identified rather quickly. These days the emphasis is on the creative freedom of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane, players who are hard-working but very talented technically. And it is working, as evidenced by their position joint-top of the table.
Added to that, Liverpool do not appear to have any major weaknesses, perhaps with the exception of a goalkeeping dilemma. They look strong almost everywhere and they have bought well since Klopp’s arrival. A coincidence? Probably not.
It is difficult to pinpoint which coach has had the bigger difference at their respective clubs, probably because both have undergone such identity transformations.
However, considering Liverpool actually looked destined to win the league just a couple of years ago and that Klopp has only been in England just over a year, Spurs’ development from Europa League also-rans to title challengers looks to be the biggest shift.
But a title challenge for Klopp this season will go a long way to proving that Liverpool are “back” and few would bet against the German really making the club a force once again.