The mindset of a caretaker manager is quite curious. On one hand, you usually given the job in extremely testing circumstances. The side sacks the full-time manager due to poor results for instance. To then become the man in charge, can be somewhat of a culture shock. As they are generally loyal club-men, they assume responsibility to help as much as they can. To lead the club through this unsettled period. On the other hand, their good work can be overlooked as a new manager steps in and gains most of the plaudits.
As calls for our temporary manager to be given the job on a permanent basis, I am going to have a look over the various caretakers who have operated in the Premier League in the period since this last occurred at the club. On certain occasions, managers may have resigned for different reasons. Others where they left to join another club. The usual instances is being sacked. Can their experiences provide insight into what the future decision should be for the Reds? In the various cases, I will mention the circumstances where they took charge, how they got on and what happened afterwards. Unsurprisingly, some clubs crop up quite often!
Kevin Ball at Sunderland. The reign of Paolo Di Canio was controversial for various reasons. They were happy enough to employ him in order to escape from relegation in the previous season. A terrible start to this campaign cost him ultimately. One point from their opening five games. This allied to fractious relationships with senior players and the board over signings. Former captain, and current club ambassador, Kevin Ball stepped into the fray. His two games saw them lose at home to title chasing Liverpool and us under Moysey. Former Brighton manager Gustavo Poyet was appointed, and they managed to have another great escape towards the end of the season. He is currently operating as a club ambassador and was featured in their Netflix documentary.
Keith Millen at Crystal Palace. An equally dismal start to the season. Ian Holloway had managed to get the club promoted for the first time in almost a decade. It seemed clear that both manager and club were out of their league. Only winning once in eight matches (against Sunderland) saw him under increasing pressure. A dismal 1-4 defeat at home to Fulham saw him step down. Millen was charged with minding the ship. They lost 0-2 to Arsenal at home and 0-2 to West Brom away. They did draw 0-0 with Everton though. Eventually, former Stoke manager, Tony Pulis took charge and managed to keep the club in the league for the first time in premier league history.
Keith Downing at West Brom. Former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke had a decent campaign in the previous season with the club finishing in eight place. An extremely inconsistent beginning to the next one put him under scrutiny. Three wins (one at Old Trafford) and five draws (one at Chelsea) in the first five months saw the club down in the relegation area. Millen filled in the void. And did quite well. They managed draws away to West Ham and Spurs, a home draw with Hull and beat Newcastle. The West Ham game was memorable in the wrong way for an extremely ill-timed celebration by Nicolas Anelka. Spaniard Pepe Mel was appointed and the club did enough to stay clear of the danger zone. Millen went on to help England’s under-19’s to a European title in 2017.
David Kerslake at Cardiff City. The very first spell in the premier league. Most fans would have been happy just to have been there. But once you are there, you want to stay there. The club managed to have a couple of decent results in their opening half. Man City were beaten in their first game at home, they conquered local rivals Swansea in the first Welsh derby in top flight history and drew with Man Utd at home. It was the spells in the meantime though. Plus, an ill-timed and inappropriate phone call exposing dodgy views did not help. The owners had no choice. The journeyman footballer was left with the baby to take care off. He helped the club to draw with Sunderland but lost away to Arsenal. His brief time was ended when Ole Solskjaer (who?), was appointed. Cardiff eventually dropped back down to the championship. Drew 2-2 with Sunderland at home. Kerslake is currently assistant manager at Northampton.
Let’s just say that this season was not too memorable in terms of Reds fans. ‘The Chosen One’ presided over one of the worse ever title challenges in Premier League history, lost at home in the third round of the FA Cup and lost at home on penalties in a League Cup semi-final. Getting rid of plenty of experience in the backroom, heavy defeats at home to traditional title rivals and being out of European qualification spelt his end. One of our most famous players in modern history, saw us through. Ryan Giggs was given until the end of the season. He started well by beat Norwich City 4-0. A few days later saw the end of our European aims when losing to Sunderland at home. The home season was finished off with a young team who beat Hull City 3-1 at home. They were unlucky to only draw 1-1 with Southampton away. Giggs stayed at the club until Jose arrived and is now national coach of Wales.
Keith Millen at Crystal Palace. Clubs often have managers depart during the close season for various reasons. Not often the day before the first game of the campaign. Pulis resigned amid claims the board had not backed him in the transfer market. It was down to Millen again to assume the reigns. In his spell in charge, they managed to lose to Arsenal away and West Ham at home. This ended when Neil Warnock was appointed as permanent manager.
Keith Millen was soon back into the hot-seat. Warnock’s tenure did not particularly have the desired effect. He lost most of the twelve games he was in charge. They did manage to beat both Merseyside clubs though. A run of poor results and performances saw the South Londoners drop into the bottom three. Warnock got the heave-ho. In Millen’s second time as steward, the club at least managed some clean sheets in draws with QPR and Aston Villa away. The club then turned to Alan Pardew, who was struggling to win over the fans in Newcastle. Neil Warnock sacked and Alan Pardew appointed. Despite the various upheavals, the eagles managed to finish in mid-table. Millen’s most recent task was also as caretaker but with MK Dons.
Rob Kelly at West Brom. Alan Irvine had replaced Mel during the summer, despite the Spaniard keeping them up. Only four wins during that spell left the mid-landers down in the danger zone. Wins against Spurs and neighbours, Aston Villa, along with a draw against Utd was tempered with heavy losses to relegation rivals. Rob Kelly was asked to step up in the meantime. His single game saw them draw away to West Ham. The club went on and hired Tony Pulis in permanent charge. He led them to a mid-table finish. Kelly departed the club, amongst others, when Pulis brought in his own staff. He went on to coach at clubs such as Leeds, Blackburn, Bury, and has recently popped up in Sweden with Malmo.
John Carver at Newcastle Utd. A poor end to the previous season, and an equally bad start to this season, put Alan Pardew under increasing pressure. His affiliation with detested owner, Mike Ashley, didn’t help either. Having been unable to win in the opening seven games, they then managed to win six on the bounce. This turnaround did not really help matters though. Results stayed inconsistent and fans remained on his back. The club he made his playing career with were also going through a dismal run. Selhurst Park came calling and he announced that he was stepping down. The job went to his assistant, John Carver, on a temporary basis. The magpies did not pull up any particular trees during his games in charge. Home games saw them draw with Burnley and losing to Southampton, along with a loss away to Chelsea. Nevertheless, the decision was made to appoint him on a permanent basis. The club’s results did not manage to improve from their either. A couple of early wins, was followed by an awful run of nine defeats in ten games. Only a last game win over West Ham managed to keep the club afloat. This was perhaps due to the failures of others than his success. Despite him claiming to be the best coach in the league. His last job was in charge of Cypriot side Omonia. This lasted only six months before another sacking.
Chris Ramsay at QPR. The hoops were not expected to be promoted after being relegated in the previous campaign, but came up through the play-offs. It was clear early on that the side was not ready for it. Experienced campaigners such as Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker, and Jordan Mutch were brought it but to little avail. He had been unable to keep the hoops up previously, and this anxiety preyed on Redknapp. A mere five wins by the end of January, mainly against fellow strugglers, encouraged his departure. Chris Ramsey stood in until a permanent choice was found. As temporary manager, his side lost 0-1 to Southampton at home but beat Sunderland 2-0 away. The choice was to appoint him on a full-time basis. Only another two wins would follow as the London club finished bottom of the league. He was sacked as head coach the following season but would later return as technical director.
Kevin McDonald at Aston Villa. The mid-landers had been threading water with a number of years. Just doing enough to stay afloat. The big spending days of the past were long behind them and were struggling to retain their main stars. Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph, Ron Vlaar, Shay Given and Andreas Weimann all left the club in the close season. An opening day win over newly promoted Bournemouth promised much but it was as good as it would prove to be. Only one point in the next nine matches saw the club rooted at the bottom and the former Blackburn man was sacked. Kevin McDonald only had one game in charge. The club lost 1-3 to Tottenham away and Remi Garde appointed soon after. McDonald remained at the club but was suspended in 2018 after a series of allegations of bullying.
Eric Black at Aston Villa. The club lurched from crisis to crisis. The former Lyon coach seemed to be ill at ease with life in the premier league. Issues with discipline loomed large with many players. Others seemed incapable of adapting to the playing system that he expected of them. He was able to draw 0-0 with leaders Manchester City in his first home game but events went downhill from there. A few isolated draws and two wins from sixteen games saw the Frenchman leave his job. Eric Black was entrusted with the job until the end of the season in a desperate attempt to save the club. It would not prove to be successful. They lost to Chelsea, Bournemouth and Southampton at home, to Manchester Utd and Arsenal away. Only a 0-0 draw with Newcastle at home resulted in any points. Black left the club that summer. He joined Southampton under Claude Puel but stepped down due to personal reasons.
Alan Curtis at Swansea City. The previous campaign had seen the Welsh club finish in a reasonable position in the top ten. Much of this was attributed to the good work of their former captain, Gary Monk. And this campaign begun in positive fashion. They drew 2-2 at defending champions, Chelsea, and beat Newcastle and Manchester Utd. That would have been as good as it got under him. A return of only one win in eleven games saw them slip drastically towards the drop zone. Club legend, Alan Curtis, would be asked to take on the job on a game by game basis. His record was relatively balanced. They lost to both Manchester clubs away and to Sunderland at home. A draw with West Ham at home along with victories over West Brom and Watford at home. Despite the upturn in form, the club decided to appoint Francesco Guidolin. The Swans eventually managed to finish in mid-table.
David Unsworth at Everton. The toffees had seen a strong season in his first campaign. The former Wigan manager had introduced a freshness to the squad. The solidity under David Moyes, was added to a new attacking verve. They were even in contention for the champions league until the closing weeks. A mid-table position in his next year tempered expectations, however. For all his attacking intent, the defensive side of his set-up remained in question. Five wins from thirty games proved the inconsistency in the side. Potential victories had been thrown away in many circumstances due to leads being squandered late on. Progression to semi-finals in both cup competitions were better but resulted in defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup and Utd in the FA Cup. A heavy loss in the Merseyside derby, along with losses to champions Leicester and Sunderland, decided Everton’s hand. He was disposed and youth coach Unsworth was asked to step in. On the final game of the season, they beat relegated Norwich 3-0 at home.
Alan Curtis at Swansea City. Further upheaval at the Welsh side. Guidolin had been replaced early into the season by Bob Bradley. The former US National coach was appointed in his place, but his reign was similarly disastrous. Eight points from a possible thirty-three plunged the club deeper towards the drop zone. His lack of premiership experience, and constantly rotating systems, was blamed for this latest run of poor form. Question marks were also being asked of the owners. Curtis stepped in again. His solo game in charge saw them lose 0-3 to Bournemouth at home. Not too long after, Paul Clement was appointed as permanent manager. The club eventually picked up enough form to finish just above the drop zone. After changing position for a while, he is back as assistant manager under Graham Potter.
Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City. One of the most difficult tasks is to replicate the success of before. Manchester Utd, Chelsea and now Leicester got to experience the post-championship winning slumps. In what was one of the biggest shocks in living memory, the mid-lands club surpassed all to the biggest prize in English football. Claudio Ranieri had been lauded for bringing unheralded talent like Kante and Mahrez to the club to join the solid base already in place. It was a victory for all the hard work he had done throughout his career. But you are only as good as your last result in this game. And his side were not performing to any sort of level compared to their triumphant year. They only achieved five wins up until the end of the calendar year. A run of five defeats in a row caused the board to push the trigger. His assistant was tasked with turning around their league campaign. He did so in impressive fashion. They beat Liverpool and Hull City 3-1 at home. This prompted the club to appoint him on a full-term basis. They managed to finish in a respectable mid-table position and have a narrow defeat to Atletico Madrid in the CL. However, only one victory in eight games saw him lose his job. He joined Everton later as coach but departed during the close season.
Steve Agnew at Middlesbrough. The confidence was high going into the season for the Teesiders. It was their first top flight experience in almost a decade. Their manager was highly regarded whilst at Real Madrid with Jose Mourinho. Particularly for his tactical approach and solid teamwork. His side was extremely tough to break down and indeed had an extremely impressive defensive record. The addition of a couple of high-profile players such as Alvaro Negrado, Victor Valdes, Adama Traore and Patrick Bamford promised much. It was in the forward side where the team struggled badly. No players even broke into double figures. It contained a dearth of creative talent and out-of-confident strikers. Four wins in nearly thirty games said it all. The Spaniard had to step aside. His assistant was asked to manage the club until the end of the season in an attempt to save themselves. This did not improve their fortunes, however. A matter of local pride was achieved with a second victory over Sunderland, along with a draw against Man City. Failure to defeat the likes of Burnley and Swansea put them under further pressure. This was added to defeats by Manchester Utd, Arsenal and Southampton at home and Hull City, Bournemouth, Liverpool and Chelsea away. The club was relegated by early May. Agnew went on to join the coaching staff at Villa, but he lost his job upon the dismissal of Steve Bruce.
Michael Appleton at Leicester. It seemed to be bitter irony that the former temporary manager would lose his job not long after been given the position. He had one of the best ever starts to a job by an English manager when he took charge with five straight wins. The season had ended in somewhat of a low-note with a heavy defeat to Tottenham. Still optimism was relatively high. They impressed in narrow losses at The Emirates and Old Trafford and an early win over newly promoted Brighton. The club eventually became alarmed as narrow defeats became something of a habit and he lost his job by early October. Former Manchester Utd player, Appleton, stepped into the hotseat. His only game in charge saw them Swansea City 2-1 away. Claude Puel was appointed not long after and the club managed to finish in the top ten. Appleton left the club the following June. He has been recently linked with the vacant position at Hibernians in Scotland.
David Unsworth at Everton. It seemed yet again that a manager at Goodison Park was struggling to live up to expectations after a decent first season. The club finished in the European places and embarked on a hefty spending spree. This was mainly funded by the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United. Davy Klaassen, Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford, Cenk Tosun and Glyfi Siggurdsson all joined for large sums. They were joined by a returning Wayne Rooney. Fans were looking towards the top four. An opening day win, and a draw away to Man City, seemed to reflect this new hope. They then embarked on a run that consisted of just one win in seven, including some heavy losses along the way. Many of his new signings were struggling to make their mark, and others hardly featured at all. A thrashing by Arsenal finished his spell early. It was back to Unsworth yet again. He had been responsible for training many of the club’s younger talent, and him afforded them the opportunities Keoman rarely did. Results were inconsistent though. They lost to Leicester City and Southampton away, drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace and beat Watford and West Ham at home. Soon after, Sam Allardyce was appointed. The club eventually finished in eight. Unsworth returned to coaching the U-23 side after that.
Gary Megson at West Brom. Tony Pulis may have felt under pressure as a result of a poor run towards the end of the previous season. Many felt that the experienced manager was losing the support of the fans due to his negative tactics and disconnect with the crowd. He started off in positive fashion though. The first two games were both successful. They then went on an alarming run of form with only five points from thirty. A heavy loss at home to Chelsea sealed his fate. It was up to former manager, Megson to steady the boat in the meantime. And he did a solid enough job of it. Both games resulted in draws against Tottenham away and Newcastle at home. The club decided to appoint Alan Pardew as full-time manager. Upon this appointment, Megson decided to leave the club.
Leon Britton at Swansea City. From managing to just stay afloat of the relegation zone in the previous year, not much was expected of the Welsh club. This was further emphasised by the loss of key players like Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Siggurdsson. Paul Clement was unable to reverse the decline that the club found itself in. They were only able to win three games from eighteen. Heading steadily closer to the drop zone, the decision was made to sack the former Bayern coach. It was up to Leon Brittan to lead the side on a part-time basis. Having been the only player to still remain from League Two days, the fans could most connect with him. He drew with Crystal Palace away but lost heavily to Liverpool away. The board made the decision to appoint former Sheffield Wednesday manager, Carlos Carvalhal. Despite an upturn in form, nine games in a row without a win sealed their relegation to the championship. Brittan retired from playing at the end of the season and was announced as a club ambassador shortly afterwards. Returning to football at the start of the year with Llanelli Town, he broke his foot recently.
Eddie Niedzwiecki at Stoke City. The potters were decently placed at one point in the previous season. A poor 2017 saw them only win six games in the period from January to May. Mark Hughes was already under a certain degree of pressure as a result of this poor run of form. An attempt had been undertaken to transform the club from being something of a dour long-ball team to one that tried to play a bit of football. One of the key personnel in this experiment was Marko Arnautovic. He became disgruntled at the club and eventually forced his exit to West Ham. The club never really managed to replace him properly. A decent start saw them beat Arsenal and draw with Utd in their first four games. From there, the side embarked on an alarming run of form. It was perhaps not the defeats themselves but more the matter of them. Three, four and five goal beatings became a commonplace. Even seven away to City. The Welshman eventually was sacked after a home loss to Newcastle. His assistant manager was charged with stepping into the breach. His sole game was a defeat away to Manchester Utd. Paul Lambert was tasked with keeping the club afloat. He helped make them more solid, but they failed to score enough to win games. They ended up finishing second bottom. Niedzwiecki ended up joining Hughes at Southampton and keeping them up. He lost his job when Hughes was dismissed in December.
Darren Moore at West Brom. The season seemed to be going from bad to worse for the baggies. Pardew was a divisive appointment from the very beginning, and he did very little to endear himself to the faithful. Most of his former jobs had seen a period where the club in question responded immediately. This was usually followed by a drop-off in results. The anticipated bounce did not occur, however. A win against Brighton and draw against Everton promised a revival of sorts. It was to be as good as it got. No wins in the remaining eight games saw them staring into the abyss. The club seemed to be sleep-walking towards relegation under a manager more interested with his own reputation. The decision was made to dismiss him and get former player, Moore, in until the end of the season. And it was a decision many fans wished had been made earlier. He seemed to revitalise the club and get its fighting spirit back again. A win at Old Trafford handed City the title but more was to come. They came back to draw with Liverpool after being 2-0 down, beat Tottenham and Newcastle with late goals. It was ultimately results before that which helped relegate the club. His sole defeat occurred in the final game of the season. He was appointed on a full-term basis during the summer and is currently well-placed in the play-offs at the moment.
Mark Hudson at Huddersfield Town. The Terriers were one of the great stories from recent seasons. Having been a surprise winner of the play-offs in 2017, they shocked many by staying up. Much of this was attributed to the strong camaraderie and team-spirit engendered by David Wagner. Although not the most pleasing side to watch on the eye, they made themselves very hard to beat. Especially at home. Utd found that out last season to their cost. They didn’t win too often but were able to dig out a result when needed. Especially at the end of the season with draws away to Man City and Chelsea to secure their top-flight status. This season begun extremely poorly though. It took until November for their first win of the season. This was followed by a draw and an impressive win at Wolves. It was to be as good as it got though. Eight straight defeats followed after. Perhaps understandable when facing the bigger clubs. Not so when playing the teams around them in the bottom three. Wagner made the decision to step aside himself to much good wishes. Former captain, Hudson, was asked to take charge. His sole game saw them lose to Manchester City at home. Jan Siewert appointed on a full-term basis, but the club remains rooted to the bottom of the table. Hudson, meanwhile, has stepped back as coach.
So, what can these various experiences help us in our current position? In most circumstances, the clubs involved were those expected to be involved in a relegation scrap. Leicester were going to find it almost impossible to replicate the form they had shown in the Championship winning season, Everton had overspent on players in the same position without addressing the need to replace Lukaku, Moyes had never managed a club of the scale of Manchester United before and has struggled with clubs since leaving and Swansea were undergoing a change in club ethics that would eventually lead to relegation. Themselves, Stoke, West Brom, Newcastle and Aston Villa were clubs who had been on the slide for a few seasons before all went wrong.
The majority of the men in charge were only for a temporary spell, whilst the club waited for a new full-time manager to join. Three or four games was the average. John Carver, Craig Agnew, Eric Black and Darren Moore were asked to lead their clubs until the end of the season. This extended period of time worked only in the case of the latter. Although he was unsuccessful in helping West Brom stay up, he managed to instil a sense of passion and togetherness into the side. The previous two saw very little return as the clubs free-fell into the championship. Carver only managed to survive on the final day after a terrible run of form.
The degree of expectation was relatively low on them. Craig Shakespeare helped the club to an impressive win over Seville and a narrow defeat against Atletico. He was not envisaged as being able to help them reach the final or retain the league. Most would not have been allowed the time to make their stamp on the various sides. Unsworth had aspirations but an extremely miss-mass of a side to deal with. Most of which were signings from other managers. In many instances, the sole aim was to be able to survive.
Manchester United as a club have decided to go down a different route. This is one of the longest reigns of a temporary manager in Premier League history. This has afforded him a chance to set out the team in a fashion he feels is best. Setting out tactical patterns with his coaching staff to take on particular games. He stated his desire to give the full squad of players their opportunity to state their case. Coming in with a fresh slate rather than something pre-determined. Some players have shone in this period. He showed his ruthless streak with the sale of Fellaini during the recent transfer window. Others have found it tough to get minutes so far. Other departures might follow. The time afforded has allowed him to gain a sense of togetherness with the squad and coaches as well.
United are, and were, not in a position of danger when the change arrived. Sitting seventh in the table, a fall into the drop zone was a situation only scousers would imagine. Potentially missing out on a top four spot and Champions League qualification was the threat. Also, a possible shellacking by PSG in the last 32 of this season’s competition.
Success is a trait demanded of this club. Even during lean periods post Ferguson, managers still were able to win silverware. Solksjaer realises that pressure on him is going to far exceed those of other temporary managers. This can break a lot of men in his circumstances. He has brief experience of the strains of the Premier League during his time at Cardiff but top level European football was not something he encountered on a regular basis for Molde. They did manage home victories over the likes of Seville and Zenit however.
As this is written, Manchester United have just suffered their first loss under Ole. Albeit, against European giant PSG. A major week lies ahead for the club. On Monday night, they play away to the cup holders at Stamford Bridge. Six days later, they come up against title chasing Liverpool at Old Trafford. Defeat at Anfield led to the departure of Jose. United fans would be made up to put a dent under their bitter rival’s ambitions for another year. What lies ahead is anyone’s guess. Through a fantastic undefeated streak, the club has been able to put itself back into contention for the champions league places. This seemed beyond our reach for most of the season. Ole and his coaches deserve the utmost praise for what they have done.
The club has a major call to make during the summer. Do they stick with what they have at the moment? Or do they decide to go out for a high-profile appointee such as Mauricio Pochettino or Zinedine Zidane? Whatever happens, he has provided us with some of the best and most exciting moments we have encountered as reds fans for quite a number of years.