The Managerial Hitlist – Phil Brown, Gianfranco Zola and Mick McCarthy

We are already into October and still yet to see a managerial departure from a Premier League club. This may be a league that has seen a team lose their first seven matches and a title contender lose three of their first eight matches, but still under-pressure managers are clinging on to their jobs as if someone has run amok with a tube of superglue. Football is a fickle game and reputations can be won and lost overnight. Roberto Martinez started his Wigan career with a superb win over Aston Villa before suffering heavy defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal as well as Championship Blackpool in the League Cup. With it starting to look like he had made the step up to the top flight too soon, he managed to pull a terrific win over Chelsea out of the bag – the first time Wigan had beaten one of the big four in 35 attempts. Suddenly a hero, the Spaniard then saw his team lose to Hull. Even over-achieving managers are at risk of speculation about their jobs. Harry Redknapp, in charge of the best Spurs side in years, has found himself fending off rumours that he was on his way out of the club. With the gossip-mongers targeting even the safest of managers, one wonders quite how some of the others still hold the keys to their office doors. Here we take a look at some of the managers who might just be the first to buck the trend.

In the firing line: Phil Brown (Hull City).
Looking over their shoulder: Rafa Benitez (Liverpool), Gary Megson (Bolton Wanderers), Sam Allardyce (Blackburn Rovers), Mick McCarthy (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Gianfranco Zola (West Ham United), Paul Hart (Portsmouth).
Safe as houses: Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United), Harry Redknapp (Tottenham Hotspur), Mark Hughes (Manchester City), Arsene Wenger (Arsenal), Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa), Steve Bruce (Sunderland), Owen Coyle (Burnley), David Moyes (Everton), Tony Pulis (Stoke City), Roberto Martinez (Wigan Athletic), Alex McLeish (Birmingham City), Roy Hodgson (Fulham).

Phil Brown No list of under-fire managers is complete without the bumbling Hull boss. Once rightfully lauded for a superb job in taking an unfancied side into the top flight for the first time, his credibility has dropped rapidly in parallel with his team’s form. Keeping a team like Hull in the Premier League is a big ask and no manager should be harangued for struggling to do so. What Brown does deserve criticism for is that he seems out of ideas on how to put up a fight against relegation. Having shown that Hull has the potential to surprise big teams with some excellent wins in the first half of last season, they now seem toothless in attack and vulnerable in defence. A win against Wigan at the weekend offers a glimmer of hope but was in truth nearly as surprising as their wins against Arsenal and Spurs were a year ago. Selling Michael Turner was probably not Brown’s choice, but if a manager is unable to make the best of what resources he does have then it is probably time to give someone else a try. A team like Portsmouth will have money to spend in January now that they have been taken over but the same luxury will not be open to Hull. Even if there was money there, the search for a striker in the summer showed that people are not willing to join. If the Tigers have any ambition to stay in the Premier League then it is time for Brown to go. If they are happy to drop back down and be a Championship club, then Brown is quite adequate. The choice is Hull’s.

Gianfranco Zola – A surprise choice when offered the West Ham job last summer, Zola enjoyed an extended honeymoon with an excellent first season almost capped with a place in Europe. After a slightly shaky start, the Hammers soon rocketed up the table, playing attractive attacking football in the process. Zola has turned Carlton Cole into a striker worthy of an England place and has helped Matthew Upson’s progress to the extent that he is now first-choice reserve to John Terry and Rio Ferdinand for the national side. Unfortunately, the diminutive Italian seems to have hit something of a stumbling block this time around. After seven matches, his team have just five points with just one victory to their name. There are rumours of unrest at Upton Park, with reports that owners CB Holdings are getting jittery at the clubs poor start to the campaign. At the same time, there are also suggestions that Zola and his close colleagues, technical director Gianluca Nani and chief executive Scott Duxbury, are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of support from their Icelandic bosses having worked extremely hard to keep the club afloat amidst financial problems over the last year. With The Daily Telegraph reporting that Italian side Napoli are looking to appoint Zola, Nani and Duxbury in similar roles to those they hold in East London, it seems quite likely that Zola will be on his way soon, either of his own accord or with a little Icelandic push.

Mick McCarthy – It is hard to judge McCarthy. Having enjoyed a nightmare in his previous spell as a Premier League manager with Sunderland, he finds himself with much to prove this time around. At the same time, he is in charge of a once-massive club who also have a poor top-flight record in recent times. McCarthy is no mug and has a decent record with the Republic of Ireland and in the Championship. What he needs now is a convincing season in the Premier League, but does he have the team to help achieve relative success? Wolves were easily the best team in the Championship last season, but they still made hard work of promotion, going on a long winless streak in early 2009. McCarthy has added several players to his squad over the summer, including spending a club record fee on Kevin Doyle. Without these additions, Wolves would have been odds-on for relegation as they did not look consistently good enough last season to be considered Premier League quality. The trouble is, few of their new signings are proven Premier League players and so it is hard to gauge just how good Wolves should be. The Black Country club have enjoyed a mixed start to the season, looking good at times and out of their depth at others. With McCarthy’s record at Sunderland in this league, it is tempting to pin the blame on the manager and the next few games will be key to proving if he is up to the job.

The Managerial Hitlist

Mark Hughes, Rafa Benitez and Phil Brown – September 1
Phil Brown, Gianfranco Zola and Mick McCarthy – October 9

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