It’s well-known that no English boss has won the top league since Howard Wilkinson triumphed for Leeds in the final First Division season of 1991/92, but I was shocked to learn that only SIX English managers had won either of the cup competitions (FA Cup or League Cup) since the Premier League began. So here’s a look at those half a dozen names who represent the last of a dying breed…
RON ATKINSON (League Cup – 1994)
Final: Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United
In 1994, Man Utd were on top of their game, going for an unprecedented domestic treble. The first trophy up for grabs was the Coca-Cola Cup, where they faced Aston Villa. Unfortunately, Big Ron’s men couldn’t live up to their previous season’s success; a campaign in which saw midlanders finish second in the inaugural Premier League. Following a thrilling semi-final penalty shootout victory over Tranmere Rovers, Villa actually went into the final on the back of three successive league defeats.
United on the other hand, were flying at the top of the table, but goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, was suspended for the final and was replaced by Les Sealey. Just before the match, Ron Atkinson, shook his team up and surprisingly started 19-year-old Graham Fenton, who had only previously played a handful of senior matches. It ended up being a master stroke, and after early pressure, Villa took the lead in the 25th minute with a goal from striker, Dalian Atkinson.
Withstanding second half pressure from United, the claret and blue army doubled their lead on 75, Dean Saunders flicking home a Kevin Richardson free-kick. Alex Ferguson decided to go for broke, taking off captain Steve Bruce for Brian McClair, and it paid off as Mark Hughes fired home a loose ball with seven minutes remaining. A fantastic save by Villa keeper, Mark Bosnich, from a Hughes strike kept Villa in front just moments later. In the 90th minute however, the game was finally put to bed. A break down the left from Tony Daley led to his strike hitting the post, bouncing back to Atkinson, whose shot was handballed on the line by United winger Andrei Kanchelskis. The referee had no choice but to send the Russian off, and Dean Saunders fired home the resulting penalty for his second and Villa’s third in a famous victory.
On a personal level this match will live long in my memory, as I was there that day at the old Wembley Stadium with my Dad. I was 10 years old, having to stand on those famous backless seats the entire game just so I could see! Manchester United still ended up securing the league and FA Cup double that year, but Aston Villa thwarted a historic treble that was only completed for the first time last season by Manchester City.
ROY EVANS (League Cup – 1995)
Final: Liverpool 2-1 Bolton Wanderers
Roy Evans was the last Liverpool manager to graduate from the famous ‘Boot Room’ at Anfield, taking over from Graeme Souness in January 1994. His first full season was classed as a success with Liverpool finishing 4th, but it was the Coca-Cola Cup where he won his only silverware.
Evans had given youth a chance during the 1994/95 season, with the likes of Robbie Fowler, Jamie Redknapp and Steve Mcmanaman all first team regulars throughout that campaign. They had comfortably beaten Crystal Palace 2-0 on aggregate in the semi-final – Robbie Fowler scoring both goals. In the other semi, opponents Bolton edged past fellow First Division side Swindon Town, 4-3 over the two legs.
The first half of the final was a very even affair, with Bolton on top in the early exchanges, Alan Thompson hitting the crossbar and Jason McAteer (who moved to Anfield that summer) firing straight at David James. It was Liverpool however, who opened the scoring on 37. McManaman taking on two players before his shot crept underneath Bolton keeper Keith Branagan.
The second half resulted in Liverpool taking hold of the game, with defender Stig Inge Bjornebye hitting a post. It was to be Steve McManaman’s day though, when in the 68th minute he dribbled past three defenders and scored with a classy side-foot finish, way beyond his 23 years. Bolton got one back two minutes later, following a sensational turn and shot from Thompson into the top corner. Liverpool held on, with Ian Rush lifting their then record fifth League Cup and giving Roy Evans his only trophy as a manager.
JOE ROYLE (FA Cup – 1995)
Final: Everton 1-0 Manchester United
During the 1994/95 season, Man Utd were going for a second successive league and cup double. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, they had lost the Premier League to Blackburn Rovers the previous Sunday, following a dramatic last day draw at West Ham.
Everton came into the match on good form, steering clear of relegation and trouncing Spurs 4-1 in the semi-final. United had to play the game without the suspended Eric Cantona and cup-tied Andy Cole, and things went from bad to worse when captain Steve Bruce was forced off with a pulled hamstring halfway through the first half of the final.
Everton took the lead on 30 mins, when Paul Rideout headed home after Graham Stuart’s shot had rebounded off the crossbar. Toffees goalkeeper Neville Southall played possibly the game of his life at the age of 36, making save after save as United continued to dominate the play. Everton held on however, to win their fifth FA Cup and condemn Man United to a miserable 7 days and their first trophy-less season since 1988/99.
BRIAN LITTLE (League Cup – 1996)
Final: Aston Villa 3-0 Leeds United
In November 1994, Aston Villa chairman ‘Deadly’ Doug Ellis sacked manager Ron Atkinson after a dreadful start to the season, where relegation looked highly likely. In stepped former Villa player Brian Little to steady the ship and save the midland side from Division One football.
The following season, with help from new signings Gareth Southgate, Mark Draper and Savo Milosevic, Villa finished 4th in the Premier League and in the March of that campaign reached the 1996 Coca-Cola Cup final. Their opponents Leeds United, went into the final under pressure. Two successive 5th place finishes in 1994 and 1995 had given the Yorkshire side hope of bringing the league title back to Elland Road, but a poor run of results during the second half of the season meant their entire campaign rested on this final.
Villa started the match brightly and following an early Dwight Yorke chance, they took the lead on 21 minutes, with a superb 25 yard strike by the young Yugoslavian Savo Milosevic. He had taken stick all season from opposition fans for missing more chances than he had scored (Miss-A-Lot-Evic was his nickname), but to be fair to striker he saved his best for the biggest stage of all; Wembley. Villa killed the game off just after half-time, with a volley from midfielder Ian Taylor, who had attended the final against Man Utd two years earlier as a Villa fan. Apart from 18-year-old winger Andy Gray, Leeds never really threatened the Villa goal and leading scorer Yorke topped off a commanding Villa performance with a goal in the 90th minute, in off the crossbar.
This was probably one of the most one-sided Wembley finals of the last 25 years and the Leeds fans knew it, booing their team off the pitch and heckling manager Howard Wilkinson for his team’s poor display. Indeed it was the beginning of the end for Wilkinson, who was sacked in September of the following season, despite the new signings of Nigel Martyn, Lee Sharpe and Ian Rush – a 4-0 home defeat to Manchester United sealing his fate.
It was the start of a successful period for Aston Villa however, with fans at Villa Park enjoying many great European nights and top 7 finishes right up to the turn of the century.
STEVE MCLAREN (League Cup – 2004)
Final: Middlesbrough 2-1 Bolton Wanderers
I can remember when Steve McClaren was given England managers job in 2006, thinking it was such an uninspiring and unambitious appointment. A ‘yes man’ who only got the job because he was on Sven Goran Eriksson’s coaching staff. However, when you consider what he did for a small town club like Middlesbrough, he was probably as good a candidate as any at that time.
In his five years at the Riverside Stadium, he achieved European qualification in the league, two FA Cup semi-finals, and a UEFA Cup Final, but his greatest achievement was winning Boro’s first and only major trophy in 2004. Beating Everton, Spurs and Arsenal on the way to the final meant the Teesiders went into the showpiece without fear, but Bolton were flying in the top half of the league at the time, challenging for a European spot of their own.
Middlesbrough attacked from the kick-off and took the lead in just the second minute, striker Joseph-Desire Job latching on to a Boudewijn Zenden cross. Manager Steve McClaren hadn’t even taken his seat in the dugout! He was certainly there for Boro’s second though, which came after just 7 mins; Zenden scoring a controversial penalty, slipping as he struck the spot-kick, which meant he had touched the ball twice before it went in. The referee allowed the goal, which sparked Bolton into life, and the Trotters hit back on 21 through a Kevin Davies shot that went through the hands of keeper Mark Schwarzer. The rest of the first half and indeed the rest of the match was dominated by Bolton, who despite many chances, could not find the equaliser, with Schwarzer more than making up for his early mistake on a number of occasions. Sam Allardyce’s men were also denied a blatant penalty, when Ugo Ehiogu handballed in the area.
Boro held on to win the first domestic silverware in the club’s history. Incredibly, this was the last time an English manager won the League Cup.
HARRY REDKNAPP (FA Cup – 2008)
Final: Portsmouth 1-0 Cardiff City
Harry Redknapp made a managerial career out of bargain buys, foreign imports and overachieving, and this was shown no clearer than during his time at Portsmouth. Now in his second spell at Fratton Park, Redknapp had established Pompey as a Premier League side and the FA Cup in 2008 would give him the biggest chance of his first major trophy as a manager. With Portsmouth’s league status comfortable, Redknapp concentrated solely on the competition when it opened up for him round by round.
The quarter-final against Man Utd at Old Trafford would prove to be where the FA Cup was really won. The south coast side beat the 10 men of United 1-0, through a Sulley Muntari penalty – Rio Ferdinand faced that spot kick after keeper Tomasz Kusczak was sent off with no substitutes remaining. Shock wins for First Division sides, Barnsley and Cardiff, over Chelsea and Middlesbrough respectively, meant that Portsmouth were the only Premier League side left in the semi-finals.
A narrow 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion in the semi, meant that Pompey reached their first FA Cup final in 69 years. They would face a Cardiff side who scraped past a spirited Barnsley side 1-0 in their last four tie.
The final itself was a tight affair, Portsmouth were missing leading striker Jermaine Defoe, who was cup-tied and consequently struggled to break down the Cardiff defence. The only goal coming from Nwankwo Kanu, who pounced on Cardiff’s keeper Peter Enckleman’s parry in the 37th minute. Despite Cardiff pressure towards the end, Portsmouth held on to secure European football for the first time in their history. Captain Sol Campbell received the trophy from the late Sir Bobby Robson, in one of his final public appearances. Surprisingly, the crowd of 89,874 is still a record attendance for an FA Cup final at the new Wembley Stadium.
Redknapp left Pompey the following October to go to Tottenham, but apart from Champions League qualification with Spurs, this trophy remains his greatest achievement in the game. And little did we know then, that no other English manager would win a major trophy eleven years on.
You may automatically blame the influx of foreign managers on the lack of major trophies won by their English counterparts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Since 1992, there have been an unbelievable 21 occasions where the losing finalist in a major cup final has been managed by an Englishman; 11 FA Cup finals and 10 League Cup finals, including Trevor Francis, Bryan Robson and Glenn Hoddle, who have all lost in both finals. This seems to suggest that the big occasion isn’t handled well by the English managers.
Imagine how many of those managerial careers could have been improved by winning just one of these major finals? It’s no wonder that not many Englishmen are given the chance in one of the top jobs in the Premier League. Or when the England job comes available there are no stand out English candidates. They unfortunately just don’t seem to win the big games that matter.
An even more alarming statistic is that only five English managers have taken charge of a Premier League side in the Champions League – Harry Redknapp (Spurs), Bobby Robson (Newcastle), Ray Harford (Blackburn), Howard Wilkinson (Leeds) and Phil Thompson, who took over as caretaker manager of Liverpool for a number of matches during the 2001/02 season while Gerard Houllier was recovering from a heart attack.
The successful English manager has virtually disappeared, and unless Gareth Southgate gets a big job when he eventually leaves his England post, it’s unlikely to ever return.
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