NB This is a fuller version of the piece published in the Guardian on 7th April, with added information
A myriad of myths that swirl throughout football, some of which hold credence, such as ‘The Law of the Ex’ that dictates more often than not that strikers will score against their former clubs. Another of these commonly held truths is that the Manager of the Month award is a curse and a team’s form will take a nosedive once the manager is handed that poisoned chalice. Taking a look at this season’s Premier League winners a discernible pattern does emerge that might make the recipient of the monthly gong a little more reticent in accepting it with too much enthusiasm.
Arsenal’s 3-0 loss at Selhurst Park on Monday night came a mere three days after Mikel Arteta had been crowned March’s Manager of the Month. Having previously notched up five successive wins away from home, the Palace defeat brought it all come to a juddering halt. And with Arsenal seemingly locked in their own private battle for fourth place with North London rivals Tottenham there is a certain synchronicity with this season’s first managerial award, which went to Nuno Espirito Santo back in August.
The Portuguese had steered his new club to three successive victories, including an opening day vanquishing of the champions Manchester City. Sitting pretty at the top of the table, while Arsenal suffered three defeats on the trot, Nuno’s team were exuding confidence going into an away game against a winless Palace side. Like Arsenal, Spurs were soundly beaten, losing by the same scoreline and following in quick succession the next two matches ended in another 3-0 defeat, this time at home to Chelsea and then a 3-1 reverse at Arsenal. Within two months Nuno had been dismissed, the memory of that August award well and truly tarnished.
In September, Arteta won his first ever managerial award, having turned the Gunners’ early season slump into a three-game winning streak. That upturn in fortunes was not maintained as the next two matches ended in draws against Brighton and Palace. Another London manager took the title in October in recognition of Chelsea’s imperious form, winning all four matches by an aggregate score of 14-1 Thomas Tuchel won his second following his award in March 2021. With a struggling Burnley the next visitors to Stamford Bridge a comfortable win would have been expected but Matej Vydra’s 79th minute equaliser put paid to that.
Over the next two months, serial winner Pep Guardiola won the accolade for the 10th and 11th time during his time in England. With his Manchester City team performing at such a high level they have suffered very few blips during the season and City did win both their matches immediately after that pair of awards. But in their second game in January they lost to Tottenham for the second time this season and only their third to date in the league so against their high standards this could be considered a downturn.
City’s two victories were the only wins recorded in the immediate aftermath of the manager collecting the monthly award. Following the eight awards in 2021/22 so far the teams have lost half of the matches straight afterwards and with two draws they have collected only 8 out of a possible 24 points, the sort of form more associated with relegation stragglers than those clubs competing for honours at the top of the table. The next two winners provided further evidence of the curse being in full flow.
January’s winner Bruno Lage has impressed in his first season at Molineux, earning his prize with a 100% record in their three matches that month, but then Wolves went on a poor run. They lost their next match at home to Arsenal, which initiated their worst form of the season with four defeats in six matches. Eddie Howe took over a struggling Newcastle side in November and the club were still in the relegation zone at the end of January but an unbeaten February comprising of three wins and a draw brought Howe deserved recognition as he commented at the time: “The players deserve a lot of credit for how they’ve attacked this spell of games and confidence has returned with every win.” Unfortunately that confidence did not last as Newcastle have lost all three matches, equalling their worst run this season, since Howe received his accolade on 11th March.
Looking at the winners of last season’s monthly awards only Guardiola, who won it twice, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel remain in their jobs. The remaining five winners have all moved on. Carlo Ancelotti won the first award of 2020/21 but left Everton at the end of the season as did Nuno who won the award in October but was on off to pastures new in May 2021. Jose Mourinho did not have long to bask in the glory of November’s award, jettisoned by Tottenham less than six months later. Within a year of Dean Smith’s triumph in December he was on his way out of Villa Park. Finally, April’s winner Steve Bruce was ushered out of the door in October, much to the delight of most Newcastle fans.
Because of the vicissitudes of a football season some may argue that judging managers on a monthly basis is a little myopic and will inevitably lead to winners becoming losers. Using a wider perspective the sharp contrast in fortunes is still prevalent over a longer period. The League Managers Association’s Manager of the Year, which is voted for by fellow managers rather than fans, has a similar history of decline in the wake of success. Over the last decade, half of the managers who have won Manager of the Year have left the club within a couple of years.
In 2012 Alan Pardew won the award but left Newcastle for Crystal Palace in December 2014, ironically just after winning November’s Premier League award. In 2014 Brendan Rodgers’ achievement in pushing Manchester City all the way and to the brink of Liverpool’s first Premier League title gave him the annual prize. The glow did not last too long as he was out of his way of Anfield in October 2015. Chris Wilder was accorded the title in 2019, having guided Sheffield United to promotion to the Premier League. Wilder was also runner-up to Jurgen Klopp in 2020 when the Blades finished a highly creditable ninth in their first season back in the top flight. Things turned sour the following season as Wilder’s side won only two matches all season and he left the club in March just before their relegation was confirmed.
Claudio Ranieri experienced the most striking example of a fall from grace for a Manager of the Year. After his triumph in 2016 with Leicester he could have been crowned as manager of the decade, if not century. Despite this achievement, the Italian was dismissed within seven months, leaving the King Power in February 2017, another victim of the curse.
Alongside the dreaded vote of confidence from the board, it seems that picking up a managerial award is not to be celebrated. Instead it is a sure sign that things are about to go awry.