25 Sep 2020 5:21 PM +00:00

Manchester United, Manchester City and the lost art of long-term planning in the Premier League

(Photo credit: joshjdss)

When Sam Allardyce left Crystal Palace last summer, the club took the decision to change the way they played football. 

Crystal Palace over the years had used Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce as their managers: all three managers with a similar style of play that involved defensive football. 

Now Palace wanted to evolve, they wanted a play style that was more modern and progressive, hiring ex-Ajax manager Frank De Boer as the man who led this change. 

One would naturally think if Palace would do such a thing, it would take a complete overhaul of players, coaching staff and just the general way of thinking about football to do this along with time. 

That isn’t what happened as Palace did not invest at all in the squad in the summer – they were in for quite the surprise when de Boer could not quickly get his team playing possession football right off the ball. 

This saw Palace lose their first four games although their fourth game saw Palace play better and suggested they were finally settling into de Boer’s methods. 

Steve Parish hit the panic button. De Boer was out and Roy Hodgson, a relic in the mould of the previous managers that Palace wanted to move away from, was in.


The merry-go-around

It’s worked out well for Palace and they should avoid relegation this season but the move only seemed to show the bigger issue at large with teams in England, in particular with Premier League teams. 

Jump To

This season alone there has already been ten managers that have been sacked in the league and once the season ends, there’ll be more to follow.

Hitting the panic button, sacking the manager and bringing in a new one is normal by now in the league and it’s gotten to the point where the likes of Alan Pardew can con their way into a job because they promise to get the club off to a hot start and avoid relegation no matter what the cost. 

What typically happens, though, is said manager getting sacked when the results spiral downwards and the cycle begins again. 

Football myopia

The result is that clubs only focus on the short-term and not the long-term. 

In the present climate in the Premier League, it’s more important to remain in the league to collect the immense amount of television money than trying to establish any kind of team identity or club culture. 

This offers an explanation for why there isn’t that much difference between most of the clubs in the league regarding identity, how they play or how they are run. 

It doesn’t help either given the constant revolving door of the same managers getting jobs in the league despite previous failures. 


Swansea show the way

This is even more clear when you look at the fall of teams like Southampton and Swansea in recent years. 

Both clubs were in the lower leagues when they established a long-term plan where they knew where they wanted the plan to be and how to go about accomplishing it. 

For Swansea, they wanted to be Barcelona-lite. They got promoted to the Premier League by playing possession football and stuck to their methods even if the results weren’t always going their way. They hired managers based on who was willing to play that kind of style of football, from Roberto Martinez to Brendan Rodgers to Michael Laudrup. 

Swansea received plenty of plaudits for the way they approached the game, their years of work bore fruit when they won the League cup in 2013. 

The Saints go marching in

Similar things can be seen at Southampton: a club who were once regular members of the Premier League before dropping to League One. 

They established a long-term plan that involved regularly promoting players from their youth academy and playing positive football. 

This helped Southampton fly up the leagues and up the Premier League table. They recruited and hired managers that bought completely into the ethos of the club who were invested in helping the club achieve what they wanted to achieve. 


Investments were made to improve their training and youth academies, players were recruited who could fit the style of play that Southampton used.

And yet, both clubs have now abandoned both of these principles and are paying for it with the threat of relegation. 

Swansea now regularly go through two managers a season since they’ve been bought out, while Southampton have neglected their academy completely and abandoned everything that brought them to the league and turned them into a consistent mid-table team with the potential to turn into European regulars. 

Spending money the right way

But it isn’t just mid-table or lower down the table teams who implement no kind of long-term plans either – as seen by the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea. 

While many Manchester United fans will point to the fact that they are trailing behind Manchester City in the league because of the money spent by City, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. 

Both teams have spent a ridiculous amount of cash on players but City do so with a purpose because they decided several years ago that they wanted to become a club in the mould of Barcelona. 

Manchester City knew the end game involved having Pep Guardiola and sought to turn their club into a club that would entice Guardiola to join them and to thrive there. 

What is happening this season at City isn’t just a result of splashing out an ungodly amount of cash; it’s the result of a long-term plan that is paying dividends for them now. 


No one is immune

Manchester United, on the other hand, have been stumbling around since the day Sir Alex Ferguson retired. 

In the five years since Ferguson left, Manchester United have had three managers all of whom have had three different ideas on how football at Old Trafford should be played with players being recruited for three different football styles. It’s no wonder they’re constantly lagging behind. 

Manchester City have recruited young players who they believe will fit their play style while Manchester United are more attracted to which player will get them more sponsorship money. 

When Guardiola eventually leaves City, the club will hire somebody who can carry on his work in the same vein while United will look to hire the first big name manager they can – be damned whether his style of management fits the team. 

How to do things right

That is why Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool deserve credit for the way they’ve become consistent top four clubs again despite having far lesser resources than the two Manchester clubs. 

Both have invested into the long-term future of the club, neither manager is under threat of getting the sack if they do not win a trophy because they are aware this isn’t a ‘project’ for the short-term. 

Both Tottenham and Liverpool have an identifiable style of play and bring in players that compliment this style that both Pochettino and Klopp are implementing. 

Compare this to Everton, who thought splashing out money to bring in several players with no rhyme or reason for how they would fit into the team, then hiring a manager in Sam Allardyce who does not suit the players available to him. Is it any wonder why they are struggling?


Is it much of a surprise?

It shouldn’t come as surprise why clubs such as West Bromwich Albion or Southampton are facing the drop, why a team like Newcastle have been relegated twice in ten years, or why Sunderland are looking at being relegated two seasons in a row. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Burnley are going so well this season when they stuck by Sean Dyche after they got relegated from the Premier League and believed in his approach, now it is paying off.

How can any club expect success when they fixate on the short-term and do not understand what they want the club to be? 

It’s difficult to break into the top six in England, it’s even more difficult to become a team that can win trophies but that will never happen through sheer luck. 

You can only bank on sacking your manager then hiring the first guy who is available and having that be a viable plan before it winds up blowing up in your face. As the saying goes ‘’Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’’.

Has the Premier League become too short-termist? Let us know by commenting below.

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