Were Leicester City right to sack Claudio Ranieri?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

Claudio Ranieri’s gone! The man in charge when Leicester City pulled off the biggest shock in the history of English football has been sacked less than ten months after lifting the Premier League trophy. Leicester’s form has been dreadful – but should he have been sacked?


YES

Mike Franchetti argues…

Shock horror! Tactically one-dimensional manager sacked after players and fans rapidly lose faith. Uproar! Departure follows a run of five straight Premier League defeats and six games without SCORING A GOAL. The worst decision ever! Champions of England spend £60,000,000 and plummet to relegation battle winning just five games by the end of February.

Really? Is Ranieri’s sacking the worst decision ever? Worse than Birmingham City turfing out Gary Rowett – when eighth in the table – to bring in Gianfranco Zola? Worse than Swansea City kicking out their obviously talented young manager and former captain Garry Monk? What about when Gianluca Vialli was given his marching orders after winning three cup competitions in two years?

Okay – whisper this – but I actually might not have sacked Ranieri. Why? Because I value loyalty and like to see managers given a chance to turn things round. I don’t think like a businessman and I’m certainly not a multimillionaire chairman. I long for the old days where managers could mould their clubs and create defining eras; Ferguson’s United, Wenger’s Arsenal and, erm, Allardyces’s Bolton? This is probably the first pro-sacking post I’ve written. Over the years I’ve wanted them all to stay; from Andre Villas-Boas and Martin O’Neil, to Tim Sherwood and Steve Clarke.

But Ranieri’s sacking hasn’t left me with the usual sour taste. Outside of sentiment, I don’t see too much wrong with the Italian getting axed.

Let me first find a sentence or two for the miracle of the 2016 season. I still haven’t been able to get my head round what happened. Leicester winning the Premier League was at least ten times more improbable than Liverpool overturning their deficit in Istanbul. It was absolutely bonkers. They sailed to the top of the Premier League, lost to Arsenal, dusted themselves off and then went another 12 games unbeaten. Bizarre. Bonkers. A miracle.

What follows a miracle? Another miracle? Highly unlikely. Ranieri had the near-impossible job of delivering Leicester City to a safe mid-table finish without players and fans suffering from a case of apathy. He was behind the steering wheel of the most feel-good story in recent footballing history but with no idea where to go next. Somebody had to walk into the Leicester City party, turn the music off and say ‘What the f*** do we do now’? Nice-guy Ranieri was never the man for that job.

If I’m honest, I don’t even think he was that instrumental in last year’s success. During Leicester’s string of sensational victories his face often showed the same pleasant surprise as mine. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing and neither could we.

The main argument for keeping Ranieri is that Leicester should not sack the man who has helped deliver the greatest season in their entire history. It’s a fair shout but not one that would play on the mind of the King Power International Group. By all accounts they seem like reasonable owners (at least by current standards) and, even taking into account parachute payments, they can’t afford to let their club drop to the second division.

Perhaps, in an ideal world, the club would sack Wes Morgan – and his spiced rum deal – or the aging Robert Huth. Perhaps they’d sack Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez for losing interest and returning to mediocre levels of form. But players can’t be sacked in such certain terms. The club has been loyal to the spine of their title winning team but unfortunately this loyalty can’t be extended to the man in charge.

Maybe this is the true level of Leicester City; a fair conclusion considering their struggles in the last part of 2014 (no win in thirteen). But sadly there is nothing about Ranieri’s character – or managerial history – which inspires confidence that he is the right man for this situation.

With relegation looming, many thought Leicester fans would smile and say to eachother ‘Ah well, it was all worth it’ but this was never going to be the case. Diehard football fans will never settle for prolonged periods of substandard performances. Ranieri’s sacking – much like last season’s title – was written.

 

NO

Sam Simmons argues…

We all know that football managers are sacked on a regular basis. An isolated glance of the Premier League table would indicate that the sacking of Ranieri was justifiable. There have certainly been harsher cases of managerial sackings in the not so distant past.

Looking exclusively at this season and the results of Ranieri’s Leicester team is choosing to analyse only half the story. This season is only a disaster in the context of what happened last time around.

Let’s say that Leicester had finished 16th last season. Ranieri would have been congratulated for stabilising a team that had experienced a summer of turmoil. Let’s not forget that when Claudio took over he was hardly the first choice among Leicester fans and, of course, the mandatory football ‘experts’. Many had predicted him to be the first manager sacked and the bookies had emphatically decided that the Foxes were destined for the drop. “Well done, Claudio – you did your job!” Those are the words you’d imagine that the Leicester City owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, would have said to his Italian manager had that particular scenario played out. Pleased that his left-field appointment had paid dividends, the Thai businessmen could be satisfied with what his manager had achieved.

Of course we all know what really happened. Ranieri’s side lost only three games, two of which were to Arsenal, and won the title by a staggering 10 points. “Well done, Claudio. That really is incredible!” Again – I am being somewhat facetious, but Mr Srivaddhanaprabha would surely have been able to realise the enormity of what his manager had achieved.

And this is why the sacking of Britain’s favourite foreign manager is so utterly ridiculous, so utterly unnecessary, and so utterly wrong!

When sacked, his side were outside of the bottom three, still in the Champions League, and still, in my opinion at least, likely to stay up. In fact, it is worth reminding those who are less familiar of Leicester’s recent history that they were sitting in a far worse position 24 months ago. The then manager, Nigel Pearson, was given the time to turn things around then.

Would the owners have sacked Ranieri had he finished 16th last season and was sat in, say, 14th place now? Absolutely not. People would still be saying that he was doing a reasonable job with the squad he had available. The owners – likely content with the progress from the previous campaign – could board their private helicopter safe in the knowledge that the team would be enjoying a fourth consecutive Premier League season.

“Well done, Claudio. You’re still doing your job to the level we expected.”

How could Ranieri not be afforded the same courtesy as Pearson was? In many ways this question is largely irrelevant. The decision has been made. But what the decision tells us sets a worrying precedent. Essentially, by making this decision the owners have said that they value Premier League survival over the success of last season. It affirms a nasty reality of the modern game – money really is everything. Clearly Srivaddhanaprabha and his son feel the cost of getting relegated is one that is too financially hard to bear.

There are other alleged reasons for Ranieri’s departure, namely regarding whether the players had lost faith in their manager. I am sorry, but I find that particularly story very hard to believe. You’re telling me that a group of players who achieved the impossible last season have suddenly lost faith in their manager?

I mean, pull the other one! And even if they had, that only reflects badly on them. If they were not professional enough to get on with their jobs even though they had reservations about the manager, then it just goes to prove that modern day footballers are just overpaid, pampered prima donnas.

I happen to disagree with this theory. For me the reality is far more simple – Leicester are where they are meant to be. They were never meant to win the league last season, so why should expectation have been so drastically different?

Naturally anything below first is a failure compared to last season – but what else were people expecting? A Manchester United like period of dominance? What Ranieri achieved last season was absolutely unprecedented. He deserved immunity. Instead of sacking him, the owners should have been building statues.

I can’t help but feel bitterly sad and disappointed about the events of the last week. Last season was so romantic, so wonderful; it really did go a long way to restoring an element of humanity in a game that increasingly seems to lack it.

Ranieri was a key figure in that. His humour, positivity and general behaviour was a stark contrast to the macho and unpleasant bravado we have seen from many of his contemporaries.

In the words of the great man. “Dilly ding. Dilly dong. Wake up!” If only the owners had woken up and realised that they were never, ever going to have it so good.


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Will Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers get 100 caps between them?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw emerged in the same Southampton team before securing big money moves to Arsenal and Manchester United. Both have debuted for England with the latter knocking on the door of the first team. Many believe the two are certain of big England futures but are they really good enough to rack up the caps? We argue whether they’ll reach 100 collectively – and this time there’s money on the line…


Sam Simmons argues…

Yes – I still believe Calum Chambers and, particularly, Luke Shaw are destined to become England stalwarts. However I must admit I feel far less confident about this bet now than I did 12 months ago. When I first wagered a score on this I was willing to increase either the cap count or the bet itself. Wind forward a year and I fear that I may well be out of pocket. To be honest, this isn’t a great concern, we won’t find out the answer to this question for about another 10 or 12 years, by which point I may actually have found a job!

I am always an optimist when it comes to English players. Some may say I am too optimistic and let it cloud my otherwise flawless judgement. Winning 100 caps for your country is an achievement few reach; there have only ever been nine English centurions. Yet it becomes a different thing altogether when you combine caps between two players.

For example, if you choose to add Kieron Dyer’s and Owen Hargreaves’s individual totals you reach 75 caps, Stewart Downing’s and Wayne Bridge’s combined total gets you to 71. I guess the point here is that two players can win an awful lot of caps between them. I believe that come the World Cup in 2026, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers, who already have nine caps, will have a accumulated a combined total of something between 85-100.

However, I fear that if I am going to win this highly coveted £20 then I will have to be heavily reliant on Shaw fulfilling his unquestionable potential. When Shaw joined Manchester United two summers ago he was considered by many to be the best young left back in Europe. His first season was average at best; questions about his attitude and his weight blighted his development.

A good pre-season led to Shaw starting the following campaign in fine form. He even looked to have cemented his place in the England team, starting the Euro 2016 qualifiers against San Marino and Switzerland in September, winning the man of the match award against the latter.

An unfortunate leg break against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions looked to have curtailed Shaw’s season. Nevertheless, the then England manager, Roy Hodgson, was not keen on giving up hope of him recovering for the finals. This was testament to how highly Shaw was rated by the England management at the time, and there can be little doubt that had Shaw not suffered that injury he would already be well into double figures.

Unlike Shaw, Chambers was not even a Southampton regular when he joined Arsenal for a deal reaching a potential £16 million in 2014. Chambers had only ever appeared in 25 Southampton games, with nearly all of those coming at right back.

Yet Arsène Wenger saw in Chambers a player who could be converted into a centre back. He was thrust into first team football earlier than he might have expected when injury struck Per Mertesacker. If there had been concerns regarding Chambers’ ability to adapt to his new position, then they were quickly quashed.

His early season performances led to a call up to the senior squad. He started the two October qualifiers against San Marino and Estonia and was even nominated for the European Golden Boy Award. It was a meteoric rise for someone who had played fewer than 40 senior games.

But sadly, Chambers could not build on his early season promise. Injuries and poor form restricted his appearances from January onwards. His second season was a similar tale as he appeared in just 22 of Arsenal’s 53 games. The signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding in the summer threatened to restrict Chambers’ playing opportunities further. Realising he needed first team football, Chambers chose to join newly promoted Middlesbrough on a season long loan deal.

Shaw hasn’t played for England for 14 months, Chambers, not for over two years. Yet I still hold faith in their ability to return to the international fold. Shaw has already been called up to the England squad this season, for Sam Allardyce’s one and only game in charge, yet he did not feature. An indifferent start to the season with United, and the odd run in with José Mourinho have meant that he has not always been first choice for United.

Despite this I can’t envisage a situation where Shaw goes off the boil. I think it’ll be a matter of time before he regains his England place. When fit he is undisputedly the best English left back. Others like Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand have come in and impressed but neither are of the same class as Shaw.

For Chambers the situation is a little more complicated. In order to get into the England squad, he needs to ensure that he returns from his loan spell after having got a solid run of games. He also needs to commit to a position. England are blessed with good quality right backs so if Chambers is going to become an England regular it will almost certainly be at centre back.


Mike Franchetti argues…

No – This Agree to Disagree really did start with an argument in a pub, evolved into a bet, and quickly became a mild obsession. I should also add I have no real aversion to the two Southampton graduates and would happily accept either nodding in a winner in the final of Euro 2020.

The critical part of me thinks they simply aren’t good enough. A more rational part thinks there’s some hefty competition at full-back (admittedly less so at centre-back) and mustering an average of 50 caps each will be no mean feat. There’s been plenty of talent from the Saints’ academy, but I think Shaw and Chambers were snapped up for big money far too soon creating a buzz they’ve so far struggled to live up to.

Let’s start with Shaw – a man many think will get close to 100 caps on his own. Shortly before his 19th birthday he signed for Manchester United for a figure of around £30 million. Shortly after my 19th birthday I turned up to Reading University football trials with glow paint in my hair. However, I’ll refrain from throwing a price tag argument into the mix. Shaw wasn’t worth £30 million but in this Andy Carroll/Raheem Sterling/Yannick Bolaise/Paul Pogba environment no footballer represents true value for money. I won’t be using his lofty transfer fee as an argument against his obvious potential.

But how much potential had Shaw actually shown prior to his move? It was difficult not to have some love for his Southampton team with perhaps only Nigel Adkins having any real gripe with Mauricio Pochettino’s success. Shaw had played 60 Premier League games by the age of 19 but was he delivering standout performances? My memory is of another terrific campaign for Rickie Lambert, the emergence of Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana, and rocksteady displays by Dejan Lovren and the underrated Jose Fonte. At the end of the 2014 season a fallen Manchester United were eager to replace the excellent Patrice Evra and threw their weight into the transfer market to pick up Southampton’s exciting youngster.

They say big club players have a greater chance of getting the nod and I felt Luke Shaw transitioned from ‘promising young left-back’ to ‘future England centurion’ far too quickly (he’s played just five times for the England U21s). His first season at United was promising – if unspectacular – but he was dealt a huge blow in September 2015 when suffering a horrible leg-break. I feared the worst for Shaw and the injury seemed so horrific I was happy to call it quits on the bet. His absence was felt in Louis Van Gaal’s stuttering side and everybody was excited for his return. People were, if anything, too excited for his return (a similar story to Jack Wilshere’s) and believed he would magically comeback to save both club and country. Shaw’s a good player but let’s not pile the weight of the nation on his shoulders just yet; he’s got to get into Jose Mourinho’s good books first.

In order for Shaw and Chambers to collectively reach 100 caps the United left-back may need to receive upwards of 90. I just don’t think Arsenal’s Chambers – plucked from Southampton for £16 million – has an England future. He’s currently on loan at Middlesbrough and its feasible he spends the better part of his twenties plying his trade in the lower-mid table (who remembers Justin Hoyte?). In Chambers’ favour is his dual-positional status functioning both at right-back and centre-back. However, this could also be his greatest flaw and he needs to become a specialist; my vote would go for centre-back. The first obstacle to any young English centre-back is squad stalwart Phil Jagielka and anyone vaguely promising deserves to displace the aging Everton captain.

At left-back Shaw’s competition is far greater with Danny Rose the current first choice. It’s surprising to think Rose has locked down a starting place with such authority. It doesn’t seem long ago that he was flapping about in Sunderland colours but a return to Tottenham has seen the 26 year-old hit some real form and he’s consistently one of England’s better players. I’m confident he’ll block out left-back for another two years. Aaron Cresswell is another left-back who’s received a recent call-up following an eighteen month period peppered with good games. Shaw champions both in the age department but must make headway into both the Manchester United and England first XI before the next hot prospect emerges; full-back is a position England has a recent history of overflowing in talent.

Collecting 100 caps is a big ask. Assuming Chambers struggles to make an impact, Shaw will need to have a huge career. John Terry got 78 caps and Rio Ferdinand 80. Glen Johnson started young and will end on 54. Gary Neville was a top full-back and can count just 85.

I’m confident they won’t make it.

Should Arsène Wenger take the England job?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

WANTED – England manager to last more than 67 days. Gareth Southgate has recently taken over England duties and whilst he looks to be a safe pair of hands whispers of Wenger have surfaced stronger than ever. Is he the best choice for England? Is England a good move for him?


Sam Simmons argues…

Yes – The ideal manager of  the England team ideally possesses experience managing in the top-flight; knowledge of the English game; big game know-how; integrity and honesty.Crucially the above description bears no reference to the nationality of this person.

The events of the last week have seen the resurrection of an old question – should a foreign manager be in charge of the England team? It is a difficult discussion to have with patriotic supporters. The heart almost certainly says no. However, decisions made by the heart are often idealist, ill-advised, impulsive and frequently bad. Just ask poor Sam Allardyce. The England job is the biggest job in English football. It eclipses the jobs at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and, dare I say it, Arsenal.

Arsène Wenger stands out as the outstanding candidate.That statement alone is likely to incense a large portion of England’s loyal following. Realistically though, Wenger has to be the FA’s no.1 target. If measuring it against the criteria listed at the beginning of this article, then there can be little doubt that the Arsenal manager is the best suited for the role.

For all of his faults, of which there are many, the Arsenal boss is undoubtedly a great manager. His arrival in north London two-decades ago heralded a footballing revolution. Whether he could have the same effect on the England team now is questionable, however, there is little doubt that he is the most qualified for the job.

Wenger is at the right age for the role. At 66 he it at the end of his career. Taking the England job is not a risk for him in the same way it would be for say, Eddie Howe. Why would the Bournemouth boss walk away from a stable job to take up a position that seems almost cursed?If Howe were to fail, then his career would be forever tarnished. If Wenger were to fail his legacy would still stand. If people insist upon the England football manager being English, then the pool from which to choose from is automatically narrowed. Whether we like it or not that pool lacks both depth and quality.

Whilst football romanticists may envisage a true and proper Englishmen, whatever that may be, lifting a World Cup or European Championship, the hard facts are that there aren’t any suitable candidates.

If people were to look beyond the rather jingoistic and prehistoric opinions of so called experts, then they would realise that the nationality of a manager means little if he is the best man for the job. Wenger certainly is the best man for the job. With 20 years’ experience managing in the Premier League, there is no man, English or otherwise, better suited for the role.

Wenger’s future is entirely in his own hands, He, and he alone, will decide when time is up at The Emirates. The sad truth is that Wenger has probably outstayed his welcome. The last few years have not gone the way we he would’ve liked.
Sometimes he has looked aged, downtrodden, and dishevelled.

Let’s be clear, the England job is not easier than the Arsenal job. Far from it in fact. But as a foreigner, Wenger would almost be detached from that pressure. Eriksson and Capello both failed, but neither felt the wrath of the British media like McClaren, Hodgson or even Allardyce. Both have managed to move back home or abroad and resume their careers elsewhere.

Wenger loves Arsenal, but the notoriously stubborn Frenchmen must realise that enough is enough. Longevity is only good if there is an evidential progression. For Wenger and Arsenal there hasn’t been; in fact, they’ve been stagnant for the best part of a decade.

For Wenger the time has come. With his contract up at the end of the season he will have a decision to make. His legacy at Arsenal will stand for an eternity. But now his adopted country needs him.

For England fans there has to be some realism. Whilst having a foreign manager in charge is not ideal, insisting upon having an Englishmen at the expense of the success of the national team would just be absurd.


Mike Franchetti argues…

No – Should Arsène Wenger take the England job? Erm, no – definitely not. I’m sure his appointment would reinvigorate the bumbling England fanbase – I’d certainly love it – but should Wenger walk away from this current Arsenal team to join the mess that is the national set-up? No way.

Let’s first mention the timing of the whole thing. Wenger’s in the ‘last year’ of his seemingly never-ending contract. This could be the perfect time for Le Professeur to cast a look beyond the Emirates and take the reins of the national side. However, on closer inspection, it’s the worst possible time for him to do anything of the sort.

Wenger survived Sir Alex’s supremacy and clawed his way through more than a couple of seasons of Chelsea dominance. Right now, his Arsenal side are better than both of those clubs. They’ve just comprehensively swept aside Chelsea whilst Manchester United, though finally improving, haven’t looked convincing since 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the accent (which gets more French when answering difficult questions), Wenger is a lover of the English game. It’s for this reason that his name and the England job continue to be mentioned in the same sentence. But would the F.A really appoint a man so ingrained in the history of one club? Would England’s Spurs contingent thrive under the man who spent twenty seasons keeping north London red? It seems unlikely a man of Wenger’s professionalism would do anything other than select and nurture the best players, but it’s difficult to picture him with an arm around Kyle Walker.

In truth, the players would probably be fine – but how about the fans? It seems unfair for this to be a factor, but it’s exactly the sort of nonsense the F.A will be thinking about. Look at the recent England managers with their passive personalities and non-reputations; McClaren, Hodgson, Southgate, to some extent even Capello.

But back to the point at hand – why would Wenger do it?! He already cops enough flak from his own supporters; does he really need to be thrown in front of the entire nation? He has a strong reputation and the England job is poison. Even the hardiest of his detractors start their complaining with ‘he’s done well but…’ and there’s no denying his impact on club football.

Even if you are of the mindset that the England situation can’t get any worse, the job remains a gamble. Wenger won’t be able to freely overhaul a national system which is altered only slightly with every appointment. In the mid-90s Arsenal football club was ripe for change and Wenger was revolutionary. England’s needs are far messier. Wenger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve but what will he get out of the England job? Two years of mediocrity and a World Cup quarter-final? Anything longer or more successful than that is hard to imagine.

He’s 66 now and the current England team needs more than a quick fix. The idea of Wenger’s England is exciting to players, fans and probably the man himself – but the same could be said of Pep Guardiola’s Aston Villa. Even with Sam Allardyce doing his best to make it happen, the perfect storm needed to bring Wenger to our national side will pass by as a near-miss. Arsenal are too strong right now, Wenger too old, the risk too great.

Even if you don’t believe in Arsenal’s thirteenth straight attempt to recapture the Premier League, Wenger does – and that’s all that matters. Everything he does – the way he acts, the decisions he makes – reeks of commitment, calculation and maintaining his reputation. If he has one eye on another job, he’s doing a masterful job of disguising it.

There have been no ‘do-or-die’ purchases, no signs of player unhappiness and no interviews conducted in any way other than classic Arsène. If he does eventually take the England job it will have been triggered by a break in the status quo; he’d have just won the League or Champions League, or bombed to fifth and got sacked. It’s autumn now and he’ll be pairing that knitted navy V-neck jumper with a bright red tie long into 2017. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Do Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City deserve to be favourites for the Premier League?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

It takes some managerial appointment to relegate Jose Mourinho to Manchester United to just the second biggest story of the off season. Pep Guardiola arrives at Manchester City with a glistening CV but working his magic in the Premier League is the hardest challenge he’s ever faced. Manchester City start the season as the bookies favourites – but should they be?


Sam Simmons argues…

No – The short answer is no. In his previous jobs Pep has had it easy in comparison to the issues he faces at City.

By this I don’t intend to demean the work he has done previously; he’s still an enormously talented manager, indeed, I was his biggest fan at Barcelona. His teams played with an arrogance and vigour that I had never seen before on a football field.

Yes, it can be said that he lucked out by taking over a squad full of unquestionable talent, but to do that would be demeaning the clearly wonderful work that Pep did at the Catalan giants. For a start he moulded Messi into the greatest player of all time. Messi was always destined for greatness, but Pep was the one who allowed him to realise his potential. He took Xavi and Iniesta and shaped them into the most brilliant midfield double act in world football. He promoted Sergio Busquets from relative obscurity and turned him into the best defensive midfielder Europe had seen since Claude Makélélé. Then there was Dani Alves; Pep’s insistence on playing attacking football meant that wingbacks turned into auxiliary wingers. But does all of this give City divine right to be considered title favourites? The simple answer is no. This is Pep’s biggest challenge; he doesn’t have the embarrassment of riches at City that he had at either Barcelona or Bayern.

When he took over Bayern they were the reigning European Champions. They had lost just one league game the previous season, and had also won the German Cup. They were, without question, the best team in the world.

In his three years in the Bavarian capital, Guardiola won seven trophies, including three dominant Bundesliga titles. In his first season in charge the title was sealed with six games still to play, a new record for German football. The final winning points margin was a staggering 19 points!

Yet Pep’s time in Bavaria is considered by many to be a failure. Bayern got to 3 Champions League Semi Finals, yet never further. This in itself was a damming indictment on Pep’s manaegerial credentials.

Guradiola’s Bayern showed the same fallibilities as his teams at Barcelona; they were worryingly vulnerable to counter-attacks, and also flagrantly weak in defence. In many ways this is why I don’t think City will be lifting that trophy in 9 months’ time. Guradiola has never managed in a league where the gap between the top and bottom teams is so small.

At both Barcelona and Bayern there was only really one realistic rival for the title. In England there are six or more teams that could easily win the trophy. This sort of competition will come as a shock for Guardiola. He will not have the luxury of being able to rest players in the same way as he’s been able to do in his managerial career thus far.

In the Premier League there is often a cliché that gets branded about – “there are no easy games!” This is certainly true; anyone can beat anyone. For Guardiola this will mean having to play most of his best players in just about every game. To ask them to play at the same intensity that his previous teams have played at will be a massive task.

City will be playing a minimum of 46 games, and could end up playing anything up to 60, depending on their progress in cup competitions. With no winter break, another thing Guardiola will experience for the first time, I feel they will struggle to reach the heights that people are predicting.

Then there is the quality of the playing squad. City’s squad is not at the same level of either Bayern or Barcelona. Defensively they are still very vulnerable, and Guardiola has not been shy in admitting that his backline needs strengthening. Additionally, it seems likely that Pep will look to buy a new goalkeeper, with the incumbent Joe Hart seemingly not up to the required standard. In midfield there is a distinct lack of talent. Bar the shrewd signing of Ilkay Gundogan there is little to inspire confidence. Pep’s teams have always had a certain level of dynamism, verve, and finesse. Players like Yaya Touré and Silva are no doubt talented, but both lack the pace that Guardiola usually craves.

On the wings it is different. De Bruyne and Sterling have new competition in the form of Nolito and the prodigiously talented 20-year-old German, Leroy Sané. In January, Gabriel Jesus will arrive to add even more pace to a frightening forward line.

Leading the line will be the world-class Argentine, Sergio Agûero. City’s best player will shoulder most of the responsibility, and will have to be on top form if Guardiola’s reign is going to get off to a winning start. Injury problems have blighted him, and despite Kelechi Iheanacho showing signs of promise last season, nobody in the City squad can reach the same levels as Agûero.

Even with this forward line, I still can’t see City winning the title. Guardiola has not got the nous, nor the experience to deal with the trials and tribulations of the Premier League. Unless he sets his teams up in a different and more solidified way, then City will be on the wrong end of a few poor results. However, his career thus far tells me that Pep will do it his way, and consequently, City will struggle.


Mike Franchetti argues…

Yes – I’m not too keen on Pep Guardiola. The original anti-Mourinho now shares a number of traits with his Portuguese nemesis including an inflated ego and difficulty handling any form of tactical failure.

The Spaniard was a joy at first but a few too many superlatives have been thrown in his direction. I don’t really like how his teams are perceived; the pinnacle of footballing aesthetics, flawless build-up play and never showing anything lower than ultimate sporting integrity. Suddenly – and almost nothing to do with Guardiola himself – I started to enjoy seeing his sides lose.

To give him his due, he moulded a great Barcelona side into the greatest Barcelona side and walked to three Bundesligas with a fluid Bayern Munich. He remains a more easy-going personality than Mourinho and isn’t afraid to show a little love to his players. He enters the Premier League with a reputation of a relentless ball-hogging style. When weighing up the merits of each Premier League club I found it hard to look beyond Manchester City. So yes, I do believe the light blue half of Manchester are justified favourites.

Manuel Pellegrini’s City side were defined by rampant victories and more than a few moments of questionable defending. Towards the end of his spell they became increasingly inconsistent; for every Sergio Aguero masterclass there was a game that you’d genuinely forget Yaya Toure was playing. The squad grew stale and the signing of Kevin De Bruyne failed to counterbalance the patchy form of Toure and David Silva, plus injuries to Aguero and Vincent Kompany. Pellegrini kept his integrity for the length of his tenure but was unable to breathe the necessary fire back into his fading squad.

At first I thought Guardiola was up against it at Manchester City. He took over a Barcelona side primed for European domination and a Munich side who had already got the t-shirt. By contrast, City were just one point away from playing Thursday nights.

However, a closer look reveals the Pep/City combo to be a better fit. For starters, City have both money to burn and an established youth setup. The club once dubbed the ultimate money spenders have made small steps towards cleaning up their image in recent years. The youth prospects coming through are hardly the Class of 92 but their academy is something for Guardiola to get his hands on. The promotion of Kelechi Iheanacho was a highlight of last term and back-to-back F.A Youth Cup finals promises more to come (Aleix Garcia, Manu Garcia, Tosin Adarabioyo).

They’ve also bought smart. Ilkay Gundogan makes perfect sense and, providing he can reproduce his best form, should be the answer to many of City’s woes. In a midfield packed full of athletes, Gundogan will bring the ball-playing calmness that Guardiola desires. Another pulled from Guardiola’s knowledge of German football is Schalke’s Leroy Sane. The 20-year old is a risk at nearly £40 million but has the talent to make an instant impact. Nolito may yet prove to be the best piece of business at £13.8 million. The late-bloomer scored solidly across his three seasons at Celta Vigo and this sets him apart from the sometimes headless Jesus Navas.

Guardiola’s last trick may be to revitalize costly disappointments Raheem Sterling and Eliaquim Mangala. Guardiola showed his best side when jumping to defend Sterling this summer as the England International’s confidence hit rock bottom. Mangala possesses everything needed to be a world class defender but has plenty of bad games. City have so far signed no new centre backs suggesting Guardiola remains a believer.

But how will Pep fare in the manic world of English football? It’s true that there’s no division in world football scattered with as many banana skins as the Premier League but Guardiola is an esteemed manager and this won’t come as a shock. He’ll relish the new challenge and, after all, the core of City’s squad have plenty of Premier League experience.

Despite these reasons to be cheerful, it’s only when considering City’s opposition that they become justified Premier League favourites. Mourinho leads Manchester United setting up the biggest Manchester grudge match in recent years. They, like City, are giving their new man all the right tools but the squad will need time to settle and steering United back to the top two will be no mean feat. Chelsea welcome the exciting Antonio Conte to the Premier League but their progress is hard to predict. The Blues were unspectacular till the very end of last season and it could take Conte, recently back from the Euros, two seasons to make his mark. Arsenal have done little to suggest a change in their fortunes whilst Liverpool look a top four club at best. As for Leicester and Tottenham, they won’t do as well as last season. There, I said it.

It’s an exciting time for the Premier League but I still make City favourites – the bookmakers have got it right this year.

Brendan Rodgers: Would you trust him to spend money at your club?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

These days Brendan Rodgers can be found in the dugout at Celtic Park. He is tasked with taking Celtic to new heights whilst holding off a resurgent Rangers. However, the Northern Irishman arrives with plenty of baggage from his final season at Liverpool. Would you trust him to spend money at your club?


Sam Simmons argues…

No – Brendan Rodgers remains a football enigma – the man who took Liverpool to within two points of a long awaited Premier League title has never really been understood. To some he is a tactical genius, to others a Brent-like caricature.His managerial career has certainly declined since those days when Liverpool blew away opposing teams with their formidable SAS (Sturridge and Suarez) strike-force.There are many who believe that Rodgers was carried through his reign by the mercurial talents of Suarez, a player of such class that nearly all of Rodgers’ fallibilities were hidden from plain sight. Certainly Rodgers managed to get the best out of Suarez and Sturridge by allowing them to have the freedom to attack and play as they so wished without any tactical burdens. However since those highs Rodgers has seen his stock fall to a level where instead of being seen as the mastermind of a near footballing fairy-tale, he is now perceived (and the source of constant memes) as a caricature of David Brent. His insistence on his teams possessing “great character” have been widely mocked and merely reinforced the opinions of many that his near-success at Liverpool was not of his own doing.

Many do have sympathy with Rodgers; he lost Suarez during that summer of 2014 and was unable to find someone of the same calibre to replace him. That task was always going to be difficult, but Rodgers did not help himself with his transfer dealings. During the same summer he spent over £100 million on new players. When talking about Tottenham the previous season Rodgers had said that “if you spend more than £100 million, you expect to be challenging for the league.” The reality was Liverpool did spend that amount and did not come close to the league; in fact they finished a disappointing 6th.

The following summer Liverpool spent nearly £80 million more, and by the time Rodgers was sacked in October, Liverpool were 10th in the league and seemingly destined for another season of mid-table mediocrity. The owners had seemingly grown tired of his pretentious press conference jargon. They were after more than vacant words.People will still defend Rodgers however. They will argue that his transfer expenditure is outweighed by the enormous sales of Suarez and Sterling (the sales of those two players alone accumulated nearly £125 million).

Yet Rodgers proved during his 3 and a bit year tenure at Liverpool that he could not be trusted with money.Rodgers spent over £10 million on no less than twelve players. Of those, four were bought for £20 million or more. This list reads: Fabio Borini (£10.4 million), Joe Allen (£15 million), Daniel Sturridge (£12 million), Mamadou Sakho (£15 million), Adam Lallana (£25 million), Lazar Markovic (£19.8 million), Dejan Lovren (£20 million), Alberto Moreno (£12 million), Mario Balotelli (£16 million), Nathaniel Clyne (£12.5 million), Roberto Firmino (£29 million) and Christian Benteke (£32.5 million).

How many of those players can constitute a success? Two have left the club (Borini and Allen), and three more seem destined to leave (Balotelli, Benteke and Markovic). Another cannot seem to defend (Moreno), two more have been inconsistent at best (Lovren and Sakho). Lallana still cannot seem to find his best position, and with only 13 goals in 90 Liverpool games has been somewhat underwhelming. Then there is Sturridge. No doubt a wonderful player but also extremely injury prone (he has missed nearly 50% of all Liverpool matches since signing in January 2013).

If that wasn’t enough to demonstrate Rodgers failures in the transfer market then further analysis is even more damming. The £13.5 million spent on Spanish duo Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas was money wasted (both returned on loan to Spain within a year). Oussama Assaidi was bought in but also sold (albeit at a profit). Then there was the truly baffling signing of Tiago Ilori for £7 million from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2013 (yet to play a league game for the club). The £4 million signing of Liverpool born Southampton striker, Rickie Lambert, was heralded at the time; three goals in 36 games saw him shipped out a year later.

Despite all of the negativity there has been the odd success story. Philippe Coutinho, the prodigiously talented Brazilian playmaker was bought for a meagre £8.5 million (a fraction of his true value), and Emre Can, the German midfielder, was signed for £9.5 million. Both are integral to the future of Liverpool Football Club and are seen by many as examples of Rodgers’ legacy.

Nevertheless, Rodgers is rarely remembered for those occasional success stories. The reality is that his stock fell considerably during the last year of his reign. How many owners would trust Rodgers with a large budget now? How many would consider him to be too high risk?

The answer is one that we’ll likely never know.


Mike Franchetti argues…

Yes – Did Brendan Rodgers deserve to get sacked by Liverpool? Probably. Is he a tactical genius? Probably not. Is he responsible for some of Liverpool’s biggest transfer flops? Absolutely not.

People slate Rodgers in a variety of creative ways. He isn’t helped by the lousy TV show Liverpool commissioned which did absolutely nothing for his image as the ‘Brentmeister General’ of the Premier League. He is often deemed ‘lucky’ to have stood on the touchline watching Luis Suarez evolve into the greatest goalscorer in world football. There’s also his interviews which can be hard to follow and sprinkled with baffling defenses of his players’ performances.

But none of these factors explain why his stock has plummeted so far that he now leads a team who struggled past Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps. Rafa Benitez left a fallen Liverpool side before spells with Inter and Real Madrid, whilst Roy Hodgson left behind a sinking ship and eventually landed the England job. By contrast, Rodgers left a broken man and with his reputation in tatters. Above all, the recurring criticism – and one with a reasonable amount of evidence – is that he had an abysmal transfer record. But I disagree.

For starters, Liverpool have previous. Gerrard Houllier’s tenure started well in regards to signings but ended with El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao costing £15 million collectively, plus a further £15 million on Djibril Cissé – large sums of money back in the early 2000s. Houllier looked to have control over transfers as did his successor Benitez. The Champions League winning manager overlooked some corkers (Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres) but also plugged through a long list of mediocre squad players (Josemi, Antonio Nunez, Jan Kromkamp). It got much stormier at the end of his spell with high profile fallouts over the incoming signing of Robbie Keane and one that never happened in Gareth Barry. The details are murky, but it was clear Liverpool’s American owners were having an effect.

Hodgson came next and whilst he had noticeably less to spend than his predecessors he pulled some pretty dire players to the club – Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen come to mind. The second coming of Kenny Dalglish followed and, fresh from the Torres sale, there was money to be splurged. Stewart Downing for nearly £19 million constitutes disastrous business in my book, as does the £35 million punt he made on Andy Carroll.

Against this background of transfer hit and miss, there’s nothing exceptional about Rodgers’ spell in charge. But were his signings even that bad? And how much say did he have in spending the money generated by the Suarez sale?

Two signings from Rodgers’ first year were real successes with Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho quickly becoming key figures in the Liverpool side. Arriving from Swansea, Joe Allen (£15 million) was a true Rodgers signing and it was surprising how few chances he was given to justify his price tag. Nevertheless, the Welshman’s transfer hardly stands out among the great Premier League flops and Liverpool have recouped £13 million in the recent sale to Stoke City.

Getting to the heart of the matter, Liverpool’s unhealthy obsession with Southampton has come at quite a cost. The club stumped up £20 million for Dejan Lovren and a further £25 million for Adam Lallana. Whilst this duo struggled to make an instant impact, both are still at the club and have started to show form. There’s no doubt in my mind that they (along with Rickie Lambert) were poor signings, but why does the buck stop at Rodgers? Liverpool, now under Jurgen Klopp, have just launched another £35 million at Southampton’s Saido Mane.

Towards the end of Rodgers’ spell Liverpool signed Mario Balotelli but I continue to believe this transfer bypassed the manager. The Italian’s name will always sell shirts but nothing Rodgers said indicated a desire to bring the ex-Manchester City striker in as a replacement for Suarez. Finally, at the start of last season, Liverpool signed Christian Benteke for a whopping 32.5 million – a man known for heading goals and holding up play. Rodgers likes to break quick and work the ball centrally, often avoiding traditional wing play. None of it made sense; Rodgers left soon after and ‘Big Ben’ struggled.

There’s no doubt that his final full season was defined by a very obvious struggle to replace Suarez and recapture the club’s 2013-2014 form. However, I’d argue that Liverpool signed the same mixture of gems, disappointments and big money flops as any side from the same era. There are plenty of bad signings that had nothing to do with Brendan Rodgers; Gervinho & Gabriel (Arsenal), Stevan Jovetic, Stefan Savic & Jesus Navas (Man City), Angel Di Maria & Radamal Falcao (Man United), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Paulo Osvaldo (Southampton), Ideye Brown (West Brom), Roberto Soldado (Tottenham), Konstantinos Mitroglou (Fulham) and everybody Aston Villa signed last year.

Carry on making fun of his interviews, but leave ‘his’ transfer record alone.