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English Football and the Scottish Manager Massacre

The Premier League has rid itself of Scottish managers, but they will remain as closely linked with English football as Gazza's tears.
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Just a few years ago it seemed that the sole requirement for becoming a manager in England was a thick Glaswegian accent. On the eve of the 2011-2012 season there were seven Scottish bosses in the Premier League, ranging in stature from Sir Alex Ferguson at reigning champions Manchester United to doomed stooge Steve Kean at Blackburn Rovers. Incredibly, all were born within 13 miles of Glasgow city centre.


Less than four years later there are none. Ferguson retired at the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season, though at the time he was one of four Scots still managing in the top flight along with Paul Lambert, Steve Clarke, and his anointed successor at United, David Moyes.

But with Fergie gone the others soon followed: Clarke and Moyes lost their jobs last season, while Lambert was sacked after dragging Aston Villa into such a mess that Tim Sherwood was considered an upgrade.

The Scots have since been scattered across the globe. Ferguson didn't get far: he now spends his time tutting over the mess his successors have made of United from the directors' box. But Moyes has relocated to Spain to rebuild his tattered reputation, while Kean is managing the Brunei national side, presumably aware that his professional image in this country is far beyond repair. Alex McLeish is in charge of Belgian side Genk, and Lambert will probably move abroad too, having been so bold as to do so as a player with Borussia Dortmund.

It is a remarkable turnaround, from feast to famine in a few short years. The tough Glaswegian boss had become the archetypal football manager in British popular culture. They'd pop up on Casualty, angry and foaming at the mouth after suffering a minor heart attack on the touchline of some made-up London club. Or in bad British rom-coms, where the father-in-law to Martin Freeman's endearingly nervous character would be a bitter, retired football boss from South Lanarkshire.


This image will remain engrained for some time yet, even if the current absence develops into full-scale extinction. The enormous managerial successes of men like Ferguson, Busby, Shankly and Dalglish will ensure that. There is a vein of Scottish success running through English football that began when Glasgow-born George Ramsay took Aston Villa to the title in 1894. Since then nine more Scots have accumulated a total of 36 titles. They reached their zenith between 1985 and 2001, when Scottish managers won the top-flight in all but three seasons.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the bottom has fallen out of the good ship Scotland following Ferguson's retirement. Sir Alex was the sun around which his Scottish acolytes orbited; when he finally burnt out, they quickly drifted into oblivion. They were sucked into black holes, vaporised on re-entry, or in Steve Clarke's case wound up managing Reading.

Essentially, the whole Scottish manager fad was bound to end post-Fergie. In fact, it has been doomed since the Premier League came into being two decades ago, after which club owners began to change dramatically. They are no longer wealthy fans who have supported the local team since they were kids; they are American businessmen, Russian oligarchs, or Emirati Sheikhs.

This has seen the move towards head coaches as opposed to managers, an Andre Villas Boas-type character who won't stick his nose where it's not wanted. Scottish managers do just that: they are obsessives who seek to control every aspect of the club, tough working-class men from industrial cities who don't appreciate interference from 'the suits'.


21st century owners are not looking for labourers who'll graft for several years to build a solid football club. They want instant results, something the Scottish manager has not usually been associated with. And so they turn to the confident coach with an exotic accent who promises to build Rome in a day – and to do so with limited control over signings. Ultimately the Scots have been on their way out for some time, their lifespan extended only by Ferguson's incredible ability to keep Man United winning.

But despite their absence, Scottish managers will remain closely linked with the English game, as cherished as 1966 or Gazza's tears, as difficult to shake as horrible World Cup performances or hooliganism.

Hope is not lost. There are four Scots managing Championship clubs, including 33-year-old Norwich City boss Alex Neil. The former Hamilton Academical manager has led the Canaries up the table since taking over in January and could well secure their return to the top flight via the playoffs. Born in Bellshill, 10 miles south east of Glasgow city centre, Neil fits the template nicely.

But in modern English football, when the top clubs have become almost indistinguishable from the likes of Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, it is easy to question whether an emerging Scottish manager will be given a chance at a genuinely big club. The modern owner wants an established coach with European trophies to their name and experience in handling big egos. The next time Chelsea, Man City or Arsenal need a new man at the top, they won't go sniffing around the lower half of the Premier League; they'll look towards a Pep Guardiola or a Jurgen Klopp.

And that's all well and good, because those two are genius-grade football coaches. But there is a great deal to be said for their Scottish counterpart too, dutiful, stubborn, and often red with rage on the touchline. We will surely see their like back in the Premier League, but perhaps their work now lies towards the lower half of the table rather than at the top.