Manchester United’s tepid 1-0 loss to Sunderland last weekend took the wind out of the sails of those advocating for Ryan Giggs’ appointment as permanent manager at Old Trafford, even if the Welshman’s team followed up with a fine win over Hull City. After all, David Moyes’ disastrous tenure has dampened United fans’ appetite for experiment, despite the lure of the “class of ’92”.
Still, as things stand, prospective appointment Louis van Gaal is simply a better choice for the job than Giggs. The argument for the Welshman revolves around the idea that Giggs “understands” United and its philosophy, but one can be successful without being in tune with the club in modern football.
Whatever the philosophy, players must eventually deliver it on the pitch, and a club’s youth system, no matter how successful, cannot produce the entire first team squad. In this sense, a club’s performance is bound by finance rather than the manager alone – even if it is a coach of van Gaal’s experience. The Dutchman has won 15 major trophies with culturally unique clubs such as Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
There are exceptions to this rule – as Gary Neville has argued. Some, including Pep Guardiola, have taken to their jobs with great gusto. Jurgen Klopp spent his entire playing career at Mainz before managing the club. Manuel Pellegrini, another one club man cum manager, ended up relegating Universidad de Chile. It begs the question: was Anders Lindegaard sincere or sycophantic in branding Giggs the “next Guardiola?”
We can look at a range of data to find an answer. First, we look at the top 25 clubs by UEFA coefficients – to see if managers’ playing career has any influence on their managerial performance.
It is clear, above, that there is little relationship between length or quality of playing career and that as manager. Andre Villas-Boas has built a successful coaching career despite having never actually played professionally. And despite the popular conception that good players are poor coaches Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone and Paris Saint-Germain’s Laurent Blanc rank very highly in terms of winning ratio.
Taking the tenuously relevant trend as guide, David Moyes had under-performed at United, while Guardiola is doing better than expected given his playing background. Essentially, a top 25 manager must produce at least a 59 per cent win ratio – and given this analysis Giggs’ stellar Old Trafford background is expected to produce a 60 per cent winning percentage over a coaching career. It would be enough to qualify for the Champions League.
To be more accurate in assessing Giggs, however, we cannot simply compare the United legend to established managers and must consider natural talent. It is possible that the “Welsh wizard” is an innately gifted manager who will belie his callowness should he be appointed?
Above is a comparison of managerial experience – number of clubs managed and number of years of training before a first managerial post – and win rate. Again, there seems to be little correlation, although most managers lie in the middle, suggesting that there is a Gladwellian amount of experience required to fulfill a manager’s potential. This perhaps explains why Clarence Seedorf, a player as decorated as any, is doing poorly at AC Milan this season, while Simeone and Blanc, who are both much more experienced managers, are considered among the best in Europe.
Given this analysis Guardiola’s relatively rapid success suggests a possibility of genius – a category in which Giggs could possibly reside. There are five managers who hold a similar career trajectory as the United caretaker boss:
- Seedorf – spent a significant amount of time at AC Milan then became manager
- Moyes – player/manager at Preston North End then made permanent
- Guardiola – a long history with Barcelona – became manager after a year of apprenticeship at Barcelona B
- Klopp – one club man at Mainz then took over the manager’s job
- Pellegrini – 0ne club man at Universidad then took over the manager’s job
First job win ratio (%) / Career win ratio (%):
- Seedorf – 50/50 (on his first job)
- Moyes - 48/45
- Guardiola - 67/73
- Klopp - 40/49
- Pellegrini - 33/50
Indeed, Guardiola took to managing immediately, while Moyes regressed despite moving up a division with Everton and then taking over the reigning champions in United. Pellegrini, on the other hand, first won a trophy in 1994 – six years after his first job. The Manchester City manager was a slow starter. So is Giggs a ‘Guardiola’ or a ‘Pellegrini’.
Above, we look at number of playing appearances for the manager’s first club and see whether that knowledge had any role in the subsequent winning ratio. Guardiola is a clear outlier and there is a downward trend with Guardiola removed. This is bad news for Giggs’ supporters, although it does not answer the question: what makes Guardiola special?
Above, the horizontal axis charts the number of countries in which each manager has played prior to taking his first job. Guardiola had played in three continents before taking over at Barça B. The Spaniard, along with Villas-Boas and Carlo Ancelotti – who have also played/managed in four countries – form the top three in terms of win ratio at their current club.
The number of countries each has worked in has the strongest relationship yet to managerial success. In fact this data suggests that to break the 70 per cent win ratio mark in a top European club, a manager needs to have been to at least four countries.
The advantage of being cosmopolitan is obvious – exposure to diverse football cultures can only help a manager’s knowledge. This observation strikes close to home: Sir Alex Ferguson’s ex-players have yet to distinguish themselves as managers, with Mark Hughes of Stoke City the best of mediocre bunch. Is it a coincidence that the former United striker has Barcelona and Bayern on his resumé?
This is more a plausible argument than ‘proper’ statistical research, yet the conclusion also makes sense. An English player might have his horizon broadened by moving to the Eredivisie and being taught 4-3-3, for example. An expatriate footballer will also have to cope with a new culture and language – surely players pick up pearls of wisdom as they wander the globe. With United in peril, van Gaal will surely be appointed to steady the ship. Giggs might benefit from a voyage or two himself.
A brief note on methodology:
1) All categories are weighted equally
2) Each figure has been adjusted relative to the ‘best’ in each category
3) Assumptions dictating linear regression have not been held strict – 25 managers should be enough in deriving general conclusions
4) In case of a caretaker manager the pervious permanent coach’s figures have been used