Manchester City patiently waited three years to appoint Pep Guardiola. Manchester United put pragmatism before style by appointing Jose Mourinho. Antonio Conte delighted Chelsea fans when he showed what he could do with a limited Italy squad at Euro 2016.
Not only is this summer we'll remember for a star player like Paul Pogba moving to the Premier League while he reaches his prime, but it also represents a high watermark in the caliber of coaches moving to the league and joining an already-established core of some of the world's finest soccer minds.
Jurgen Klopp has energized Liverpool and already signed a new contract after just eight months at Anfield. Claudio Ranieri, coach of the reigning Premier League champion Leicester City, signed a four-year contract this week. Tottenham's star players are opting not to leave the club as Mauricio Pochettino quietly builds a squad with long-term potential. And then there's Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, by far the longest-tenured at one club of the bunch, who will see how this season goes before deciding on his future.
“It’s a little bit of a world championship of managers,” explained Wenger in an interview with Sky Sports TV broadcast Wednesday. “Let’s not be naive, the economical power of the Premier League attracts the best players and the best managers… Every manager thinks today, ‘If I want to be recognized as a top manager, I have to go through the Premier League.’”
The true box-office managers go by their first names. Jose and Pep are at the helm of clubs who finished fifth (United) and fourth (City), respectively, last season, as Manchester has become the center of football again in England. Those who are tipping both Manchester clubs for a one-two finish in the league this season have selectively forgotten last season's results. Both have recruited expensively–never mind that it takes a while for a new team to gel, let alone for a coach to get his message across–and the rivalry is back on.
This is the cult of the manager at work. City and United will be made in their manager’s image. We know what to expect and it will be fascinating to see who is more successful, especially as both men have vastly differing views of success. For Mourinho, it is measured simply in trophies; for Pep, it is far more nuanced, and all about improvement, development and identity. They are pitted against each other even though the supporting cast is not so bad.
Mourinho has already hit out at Wenger and Klopp for attacking the purchase of Paul Pogba.
“When I heard some of the comments and heard some of the managers criticizing that, I don't think they ever have this problem because, to have this problem, you need to be at one of the top clubs in the world,” Mourinho said at a press conference.
It was typical Mourinho, and actually a good sign for Arsenal and Liverpool, whom he must see as a threat at this stage of the season. The pantomime is about to begin, and Mourinho is ready to play the villain.
Guardiola will try not to rise to the bait, but he has already declared, somewhat disingenuously, that “big managers take me to another level. They push me to achieve things.”
Those close to him, though, say that he pushes himself. And it is the Spaniard, more than Mourinho, more than Klopp, more than Conte, who represents the coaching peak in the Premier League. Guardiola has the tools to build something unique and special at City; he is an innovator, a thinker and a creator. His presence gives this season a new sheen. Mourinho may have already started the mind games, but with all the new star players and managers in place, it's time for the real games to begin.