The unsung managers of the season

May 26, 2023 - 08:24

At Forest, with a budget probably amounting to what City spends on stocking the bar each week, Cooper has worked miracles.


Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper. AFP Photo


Paul Kennedy

I think Pep Guardiola is an absolute shoo-in to be named Manager of the Season, especially if Manchester City add the FA Cup and Champions League to their Premier League title, which I firmly believe they will.

And while I don’t begrudge the Spaniard being chosen as best boss, he is, after all, brilliant, there are other managers who also deserve a special mention.

I’m looking at the likes of Steve Cooper at Nottingham Forest, Gary O’Neil at Bournemouth, and Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe.

These three have, you could argue, surpassed the achievements of Pep without lifting a trophy this season.

At Forest, with a budget probably amounting to what City spends on stocking the bar each week, Cooper has worked miracles. Not only did he lead Forest to the Premier League, but against all odds, he’s kept them there.

This was unthinkable just a month ago when, after a string of poor results, his job was under threat.

But the Welshman ignored the critics, rolled up his sleeves, and stuck it out, securing Premier League safety with a 1-0 win against Arsenal last week.  

Over at Bournemouth, manager O’Neil has also worked wonders.

Back in August, after The Cherries were thrashed 9-0 by Liverpool, he was given the job as caretaker manager following the dismissal of Scott Parker.

What came next was a complete turnaround. They were unbeaten in the six games with O’Neill at the helm and he was rightly named Premier League Manager of the Month in September.

At the end of November, having picked up 13 points from a possible 33, O’Neil was given the job full time.

With one game to go, Bournemouth are also safe, and if results go their way on Sunday, they could finish in 13th position, one place below big-spending Chelsea.

And then there’s Eddie Howe. I appreciate he’s in charge of a club that financially are better off than Bournemouth and Forrest put together, but if you’d have asked any Newcastle United supporter at the beginning of the season, would they be happy with a top-four finish, they’d have bitten your hand off.

And that’s exactly what Howe has achieved. Newcastle will be playing in the Champions League next season for the first time in 20 years.

All that said, it will still, more than likely, be Pep Guardiola who is crowned Manager of the Season, which is probably the right decision.

But a coach of his capability, managing a team overflowing with talent, then you expect City to be winning trophy after trophy. You expect City to be in the finals of the FA Cup and the Champions league. It’s par for the course.

But a few months after the campaign started, no one would have said Bournemouth would survive. Few would have thought Nottingham Forest would be in the Premier League next season and hardly anyone would have foreseen Newcastle qualifying for the Champions League.

So here’s to the unsung managers who all turned doubters into believers. VNS