Opinion

AVB safe… but he’s the only one

FEB 23 – With less than a third of the English Premier League season remaining, we’re faced with the strange situation where only one of the managers in the top six can be regarded as a certainty to still be leading his team next season.

Somewhat contrarily, that man is Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas, who wasn’t the most popular choice amongst Spurs fans to replace Harry Redknapp but has done more than enough to earn himself another season in the hot seat.

Of the other five, Sir Alex Ferguson obviously has one of the most secure jobs in the sport but there’s always a chance that this summer – at the age of 71 – will be the time he finally decides to step down into a well-earned retirement.

I don’t think he will. Ferguson seems to be enjoying himself too much to stop now, and the fact that Pep Guardiola – who would be a major frontrunner to succeed Ferguson – made the early commitment to take over at Bayern Munich leads me to believe that there will be no vacancy at Old Trafford just yet.

If Guardiola had any reason to suspect that the Manchester United job might become available in June – and Guardiola is on friendly terms with Ferguson and is therefore well placed to judge the situation – he would have surely delayed his decision rather than preparing for life in Bavaria.

A few miles east of Fergie, second-placed Roberto Mancini is under increasing pressure for his failure to mount a title challenge or guide his Manchester City team past the group stage of the Champions’ League.

I quite like Mancini but he does invite criticism with his tendency to say some strange things, such as his declaration earlier this week that he’s the best manager in England. Of course, it’s obvious that he was referring to his success in leading City to the EPL title last season, but why not just stick to that? Why give the media machine a ready-made headline with such a silly soundbite?

Soundbites won’t ultimately decide Mancini’s fate, though – his club’s hierarchy are too smart to be swayed by irrelevancies of that nature. They will, however, be concerned by the fact that Mancini has taken his team backwards this season, in no small part due to his apparent inability to decide upon his strongest team or even strongest playing system.

Whether or not Mancini stays at City next season could come down to the question of who might be available to replace him. City’s bosses will be disappointed to have missed out on the chance of landing Guardiola, and they may decide that there are no better options currently available.

This weekend’s big game in the EPL sees the perhaps-to-be-departing Mancini coming up against the definitely-to-be-departing Rafa Benitez, whose time as “interim manager” at Chelsea will surely come to an end in May.

Benitez hasn’t actually done that badly since moving to Stamford Bridge – they’ve only lost three of their last 18 games – but surely it would have required outlandish success to have persuaded owner Roman Abramovich to ignore the objections of the baying masses and give the Spaniard a longer deal.

In any case, Benitez probably won’t want to stay in the toxic environment that prevails at Chelsea any longer than he simply has to... and which sane man would?

His brief tenure at the Bridge has succeeded in putting him back in the forefront of club chairmen’s minds as they ponder their recruitment plans, and it was no surprise to hear Benitez expressing his love for Real Madrid – who will almost certainly need a new manager in the summer – on Spanish radio earlier this week.

From Benitez’s perspective, enduring an unpleasant few months at an unpleasant club, working for an unpleasant owner and being brayed at by unpleasant fans will have served its purpose. It is a means to the end of getting him a better job – and when it comes to managing a major football club, there is scarcely a worse job than Chelsea.

Ferguson, Mancini and Benitez could all therefore be regarded, with differing degrees of certainty, as potential candidates to leave their jobs in the summer. And the same can certainly be said of fifth-placed Arsene Wenger, whose reign at Arsenal continues to unravel due to his stubborn refusal to modify his idealistic philosophy.

Bayern Munich’s walk in the park at the Emirates on Tuesday night demonstrated just how far behind the elite Arsenal have now fallen, and Wenger’s pretence that he is keeping the Gunners competitive at the highest level cannot be sustained for much longer.

If Arsenal finish outside the top four and therefore miss out on next season’s Champions’ League, he could easily decide to walk away in the summer – especially if the Paris St Germain job comes calling.

The final member of the managerial top six is David Moyes, who has performed admirably at Everton for more than a decade but has announced that he will wait until the end of the season before deciding whether to accept a new contract at Goodison Park.

Moyes would definitely become a leading candidate if any of the top five jobs become available. And I’m quite happy to state with a degree of certainty that next season Moyes will be managing Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City or Arsenal. The question is: which one?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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