If Pep Guardiola is the runaway leader to win the European manager of the season gong, his rivals must include Barcelona’s Ronald Koeman, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers, Rangers’ Steven Gerrard, Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel and reigning boss of the year Hansi Flick of Bayern Munich. Guardiola has somehow reinvented Manchester City into a seamless juggernaut which, at the time of submitting this piece, had won 25 out of 26 matches. Such consistence is the stuff of fairy tales. Should City win the quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and Carabao Cups, he will become only the third club manager to pull off such a stunning feat.
The Catalan trophy magnet is the first to admit his team has won nothing as yet, but as we all know, Pep’s teams are very good at leading from the front. Hence, it us safe to suggest since City boast a double digit points cushion, the 2020/21 English Premier League title will be added to similar success he achieved in 2018 and 2019. The Royal Blues are already in the Carabao Cup final, FA Cup semifinals and are also bookmakers favourites to win their first ever Champions League title (ahead of Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Liverpool). PSG are only fifth favourites, which explains the omission of Mauricio Pochettino from my coach of the year shortlist.
Why Ronald Koeman? Because the Dutchman has defied a toxic preseason dominated by Lionel Messi’s protracted transfer saga, hostile media coverage, the loss of Luis Suarez, a polarised management atmosphere highlighted by allegations the board initiated press criticism of players and a catalogue of injuries – Ansu Fati, Gerard Pique, Sergio Roberto, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi have all been sidelined at one stage of the season – to put Barcelona in position to topple Atletico Madrid from Liga Santander’s leadership. Blagruana may be four points behind Atleti but with 15 victories in their last 18 matches, Messi in destruction mode and ten matches to go, only a very brave man can bet against Barcelona winning recapturing the crown.
Besides, Koeman is a Cruyffian (believer in Johan Cruyff pass and move game) who gives young players a chance. This season academy products and Under-21 recruits Oscar Mingueza, Ansu Fati, Ricard Piqui, Ilaix Moriba, Sergino Dest, Pedri, Ronald Araujo and Francisco Trincao are all blossoming under his tutelage. 18-year-old La Masia prodigy Pedri has impressed with his inate vision, eye for a pass and almost telepathic understanding with Messi and has even been called up to the senior national team by one of Koeman’s predecessors in the Camp Nou hotseat, Luis Enrique.
Since I have already dedicated column inches to Thomas Tuchel’s outstanding Chelsea record (read Why Tuchel Maybe The New Special One), the less said about him the better. The German tactician’s principal contribution has been to Chelsea feared again, as is evidenced by bookmakers installing the Londoners as third favourites to win the Champions League ahead of European heavyweights Real Madrid, Liverpool and cash rich ambitious upstarts Paris Saint Germain. Antonio Conte can’t be ignored as his Inter Milan side are destined to end Juventus’ nine-year stranglehold on Serie A’s Scudetto whereas Rangers’ Steven Gerard is mentioned in the same breath because he’s already stopped Celtic from a historical tenth conservative league crown while making the Glaswegians a respectable European outfit.
Brendan Rodgers is mostly on this shortlist because he is making light work of guiding a second tier club – in annual budget and historical profile – to Champions League qualification, while the Foxes have also imperiously marched into the FA Cup semifinals where they start as favourites against Southampton. The former Swansealona and Liverpool manager has meanwhile beaten all rivals for a European berth. Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Spurs have all felt the wrath of Rodgers’ Foxes. James Justin, Ayoze Perez, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes, Wilfred Ndidi and lately, Kelechi Iheanacho, have simultaneously developed into international class acts under his careful watch.