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Darren Lewis: Who are the Runners and Riders for Manager of the Season?

05 Mar | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Darren Lewis: Who are the Runners and Riders for Manager of the Season?

Forget Mourinho, Pellegrini, Wenger and Van Gaal. The real hero this season is likely to be the man who has made the most of his lack of resources.

HE WILL probably win the title turning handsprings now that the ground is starting to open up below Mauricio Pellegrini.

So take Jose Mourinho, Chelsea, the money and the most complete squad in the Premier League out of the equation.

Who then would be the leading candidates for Manager of the Season?

You’d have to start with Ronald Koeman at Southampton. The Dutchman jokingly tweeted a picture of an empty training pitch last summer as the club’s top talent defected to the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.

With the players he has brought in to replace them, the Saints have had a magnificent season and remain in the hunt for a shock Champions League place.

The doubters might insist that Koeman has raked in nearly £100million from the club’s business last summer to revamp the team. But just £4million of that went on a squad defender, Florin Gordos from Steaua.

The £10million splashed out on Celtic keeper Fraser Forster at the time was actually seen as an overspend.

But Koeman – a highly-decorated defender himself – has succeeded in turning an unfashionable back five into the most formidable in the Premier League.

Ryan Bertrand came in on loan from Chelsea, Toby Alderweireld joined him on loan from Atletico Madrid and both Jose Fonte and Nathaniel Clyne were already at St Mary’s having been signed for nominal fees from Crystal Palace. Hardly breaking the bank.

And anyway, Koeman endured a mid-season dip which saw Southampton beaten by Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Burnley in successive games.

They were still able to take a point off Chelsea, beat Arsenal and sink Manchester United to elbow their way back into the Champions League reckoning.

Monday night’s win over Palace was only their second in five matches and their first at home since January 1. Yet because of that defence they are still there, just four points off the top four. Koeman has to be in the reckoning for Manager of the Season.

Or is it Alan Pardew at the other end of the table?

When Tony Pulis quit the south Londoners last summer – two days before the start of the season – it plunged the Eagles into turmoil.

Pulis had turned Palace into a fortress last season when many other coaches swerved the job vacated by Ian Holloway believing it to be Mission Impossible with the players they had. Under Pulis’s successor Neil Warnock, Palace managed just two home wins – against struggling Leicester and Liverpool – in four months between August and December.

Warnock did indeed manage to convince observers that the same attack with which Pulis had finished 11th last season was not good enough to keep the Eagles in the top flight.

Enter Pardew. After we at the Mirror ran a story on our back page having being tipped off about the 53-year-old quitting Newcastle for Palace, the first question asked was: ‘Why would any manager swap Newcastle for a relegation scrap at Selhurst Park?’

Pardew, however, has lifted the club out of the drop zone and up to 12th in the table – just one place and five points behind his former club.

Monday night’s defeat at Southampton was the first time that the Eagles had had their colours lowered away from home in six matches. Palace had won the previous five in all competitions.

Strikers Glenn Murray and Dwight Gayle – frozen out under Warnock – have come in from the cold to add quality and cutting edge to the club’s attack.

At the start of this week, Palace had hit 17 goals from dead ball situations. No team in the top flight had scored more.

And Pardew’s men had picked up 15 points from losing positions this season. Only Spurs have done better.

If you are looking at candidates for Manager of the Season Pardew has to be in the reckoning as he inspires the Eagles to a feat many believed to be beyond them.

But what about Pulis? The West Brom boss took over in January at a club where morale was lower than a snake’s belly.

It isn’t just the results that make him a candidate. It is the organisation and efficiency that he has restored to the Baggies’ team along with a sense of pride from the players in their performance.

Alan Irvine may be widely admired for his coaching ability but at the point of his sacking, back in December, West Brom were just a point above the relegation zone having been beaten by Stoke.

The beating was their seventh in nine games. Irvine had won just four of his 19 games in charge.

The club’s own fans had turned on him and £10million striker Brown Ideye looked more donkey than dead-eyed finisher.

Along came Pulis. West Brom now sit 12th in the table, level on points with Palace with the pair eight points clear of the drop zone.

The Baggies have also recorded six clean sheets during a run of only two defeat in 11 games under the Welshman’s reign.

He has managed to get Saido Berahino, who angled openly for a move away, focused and feasting on the goals to smash nine in his last 11.

In total Berahino has struck 18 times this season. Nine of those goals have come at home in the Premier League. Only Chelsea’s Diego Costa has scored more with 10.

Ideye, who came close to being sold to Qatari club Al Garafa on Transfer Deadline Day, has since hit form with four in his last six.

Yes, West Brom were beaten by Aston Villa in their most recent game on Wednesday night. But the club are unrecognisable from the shower that looked to be heading down with a whimper under Irvine last December.

Now then. Here’s a question? Can you put Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal in the reckoning for Manager of the Season?

With a strike-force of Rooney, Falcao and Van Persie supplemented by British-record transfer Angel Di Maria, £38million Juan Mata and the likes of Antonio Valencia this column doesn’t think you can.

Yes, Van Gaal may have defied the odds and the doubters if he gets United back into the top four without the commanding midfielder or centre-backs that the club are crying out for.

And, as previously pointed out by this column, if he gets the Reds back into the Champions League then he will have done the job that United brought him in to do.

Yet with the firepower at his disposal and the experience in other areas of the pitch, the criticism aimed at Van Gaal is entirely justified.

His team have been underwhelming and anti-climactic. Their style of play underlines just why the Dutchman should NOT be in the reckoning for Manager of the Season.

An honourable mention has to go to Brendan Rodgers who has done a sensational job at Liverpool. His team were (quite literally) at each others’ throats after they were humiliated in the League at Crystal Palace back in November.

Since then they have lost just twice in going on 30 matches to put themselves back into the hunt for third place never mind fourth.

Rodgers’ season has been a triumph for his man-management. His move to three at the back has been a masterstroke.

The Steven Gerrard situation has been handled superbly and the Reds’ resurgence is all the more impressive when you consider Rodgers’ has been without Daniel Sturridge for three months.

Liverpool were labelled a one-man team last season as Luis Suarez carried all before him. Some said that he made Rodgers appear a better coach than he is.

This season the Reds’ have had 14 different scorers in the League – only Arsenal have had as many. Rodgers has inspired players to take responsibility. Their pressing game, their intensity is back.

Liverpool go into this weekend with a very winnable FA Cup tie at home to Blackburn and the chance to reach the semi-finals. Doesn’t look as though he has been found out to me.

But, like Van Gaal and Mourinho, can you really have a Manager of the Year who has spent £100million the previous summer?

This column is also undecided on Tottenham. Mauricio Pochettino has worked wonders to keep the north Londoners competitive despite the deficiencies in their team.

Yet 24-goal Harry Kane was bequeathed to him from the club’s academy by his predecessor Tim Sherwood. So too were Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb.

In Hugo Lloris he has one of the three best keepers in the Premier League. And in Christian Eriksen he still has one of the players from the £100million spending spree that Spurs enjoyed two years ago.

To be fair, Andre Villas Boas failed to get the best out of that squad. Tim Sherwood enjoyed only limited success, falling out with a lot of people along the way.

Yet Pochettino is making it work. On and off the pitch. Southampton have a better defence, United and Arsenal a better attack and Liverpool are a superior all-round unit.

But under Pochettino Spurs are in their punching their weight. This column simply believes there are more worthy contenders.

For example, Garry Monk has a shout. A real shout.

Swansea won’t admit it but Wilfried Bony had been angling to leave for a bigger club long before his £30million move to Manchester City in January.

It is to Monk’s immense credit that he managed to get the Ivory Coast striker to focus on his job for as long as he did.

Nine goals from the first half of the seeason is not bad considering Bony’s advisors spent most of it sizing up the greenness of the grass on the other side.

More significantly, however, since Bony’s departure Swansea have proved they are no one-man team.

Wins at Southampton and at home to Manchester United have kept them in the top half of the table with Monk continuing to make the most of the sum of his parts.

He doesn’t have the clout of the profile of a Koeman, a Mourinho or a Van Gaal. But he gets his players to perform to justify the faith that the Swans board have had in him.

With a long way to go in the title race, the race for the top four and the battle against the drop there is every chance that more contenders for the Manager of the Season title will emerge.

What we know already however is that is not necessarily the ones with the money that deserve the most kudos. It is the ones who can inspire the most out of the squads without it.