Europe’s top coaches are at clubs like Strasbourg, Torino, and Valencia – could they thrive in Prem?
The Premier League and Championship can expect an influx of new, super-talented European football managers, as analysts turn their attention to assessing coaching talent for the first time.
A new branch of football analytics is now looking beyond players and is testing coaches, based on their ability to improve teams and individuals.
The approach promises to transform managerial recruitment, beyond the merry-go-round of the usual suspects and expand the options for top flight clubs.
Jose Bordalas head coach of Valencia has been identified by Analytics FC as one of Europe’s best performing coaches in terms of improving his club’s performance and Bo Svensson, the coach of Mainz 05 also makes the list after turning around the fortunes of the German club last season and he is on course for a top half finish in the Bundesliga
Data analysts, Analytics FC, are among the trailblazers in the new discipline and have produced a list of coaches, who have delivered the best value for money in Europe, in terms of improving their club’s performance.
The number-crunchers have shared their findings with Sportsmail and the results are surprising, with some names less familiar to English fans and perhaps even the owners of their clubs.
They include the Dane, Bo Svensson, at German Bundesliga club, Mainz 05, where his record surpasses that of both Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, during their formative years in the Rhineland.
There is Julien Stephan, who has taken the unfashionable French club, Strasbourg, to the brink of European competition, after previously guiding Rennes into Europe.
Croatian death metal fan, Ivan Juric, is bullying the aristocrats of Serie A, while sharing beers with adoring Torino fans at an Irish bar in Turin.
Strasbourg’s French head coach Julien Stephan is also in the list of promising young coaches
Iberian journeyman, Pepe Bordalas, has spent 20 years fighting it out in the Spanish lower leagues and took Valencia to the Spanish Cup Final, with no budget, while Andoni Iraola, has emerged as the master tactician of the minnows of Madrid, Rayo Vallecano.
And then there are better known names, like Villareal’s Unai Emery and Atalanta’s Gianpiero Gasperini, who have made their clubs famous across Europe.
These are proven coaching talents and with new analytics confirming their value, there is more chance of them heading to the English leagues.
But the question remains, will notoriously conservative English clubs be willing to take the plunge?
‘Premier League teams and Championship clubs go for the same candidates,’ said Analytics FC managing director, Jeremy Steele. ‘It is the same managerial merry-go-round. It is the same people who keep coming back. The reason is there is not enough information for clubs to take a chance on someone in another league.
Atalanta have become stalwarts of the Champions League in recent years and their attacking coach Gianpiero Gasperini would make an exciting addition to the Premier League
‘But there is loads of good coaching talent. These names are really interesting. Why would you not go for Gasperini? Atalanta are now a stalwart of Champions League football.
‘It is for clubs to change their approach slightly and say this is where the talent is when it comes to coaches. It is a solid list of coaches who could coach at Premier League level.’
Steele highlights the sterility of the coaching market at the elite level of the Premier League, where there is a perception that only a limited number of coaches can manage the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City.
‘That is just saying if you have not coached Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool or Man City then you can’t coach Chelsea, Real Madrid…’ he told Sportsmail. ‘It is a self fulfilling prophecy that does not make sense.
‘If you continue not to explore the market, not look at coaches who are talented and give them the chance at the top level then that pool of coaches will shrink and shrink.’
Kjetil Knutsen, head coach of FK Bodo/Glimt has made a name for himself this season
But data analysts say that with more information his rise could have been spotted earlier
It is not just at the top level that recruiting clubs play safe. Steele highlights the example of Kjetil Knutsen, the manager of Norwegian club Bodo Glimt, who humiliated Roma and Celtic en route to the quarter finals of the Europa Conference League this season.
‘Knutsen is going to go to a big club because he has had a good run in Europe, but let’s be honest he has had a good season for two or three seasons,’ said Steele.
‘If someone was really looking for an up and coming young coach and had the information they could have picked him up a lot earlier. Now they are going to have a battle for his services.’
Analytics FC has created a model that rates coaches based on their ability to improve their teams. It takes account of past performance, performance against budget and expectations, playing style and their impact on individuals.
Here are eight of Europe’s best performing coaches, who could all do a job in the Premier League.
Club: Torino, Serie A
Achievements: Maintained Serie A status for Hellas Verona for two seasons despite having one of the smallest budgets of the league; overhauled Torino, who are headed for their best finishsince 2018-19.
Torino coach Ivan Juric has rejuvenated the Turin club with a ‘satanic’ brand of football
Ivan Juric is making a loud noise in Serie A this season. The Croatian coach of Torino has cast out the traditional possession-based game of southern Europe and replaced it with a furious press.
Italian media sees German influence in Juric’s approach and likens it to Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal football, with the volume turned up.
In fact, one journalist went so far as to suggest, Juric plays ‘satanic’ football in terms of the aggressive, destructive nature of his team’s tactics.
Indeed, Torino have committed more fouls than any other team in Serie A this season, by some distance, with 19.3 per game – four more than their nearest rivals for the dubious honour, which is Genoa.
However, there is discipline in the Torino approach, which is based on position and pressure to create scoring chances high up the pitch. The Turin team sit ‘mid table’ for yellow cards, so are cautious in how and where they foul.
Juric has employed an aggressive press and Torino concede more fouls of all clubs in Serie A
And once they have the ball back, Torino have shown they can use it. They are among the four best performersin Seie A for possession in the attacking third.
Juric, who relaxes listening to ‘death metal’ music, including Napalm Death and Carcass, learned his trade as a player under the Atalanta boss, Gianpiero Gasperini, at Genoa and then as his mentor’s assistant manager.
When Toro appointed Juric in July 2021, he was their fifth manager in 24 months. And while early season form has waned in the past month, he looks set to better both the position and the points tally achieved by Torino in the last two seasons, having made a net profit in the transfer market of £3.5M to boot.
Perhaps, most importantly for this season, at least, Torino fans are enjoying their belligerent boss, who is happy to take a tilt at Serie A’s establishment. He has cemented his relationship with the Toro faithful sharing a beer at the Shamrock Inn, an Irish bar in the centre of Turin.
Club: Strasbourg, Ligue 1
Achievements: Winner of the Coupe de France with Rennes, whom he took into the Champions League for the first time in their history and he is now aiming for a top five finish with Strasbourg
Stephan is regarded as the best young coach in France after exploits at Rennes and Strasbourg
Heralded as France’s best young coach, Julien Stephan has a bright future ahead of him – the only question is where?
Aged 41, Stephan is a manager who should already be on the radar of English clubs,.
Previously the coach of youth and B teams, Stephan was given the top job at his hometown club, Rennes, in December 2018 when Sabri Lamouchi (formerly the Nottingham Forest boss) was sacked by Rennes.
On any measure, Stephan was a big success. He led Rennes to the knock out stages of the Europa League for the first time in their history (losing to Arsenal 4-3 on aggregate in the last 16) and then delivered their first trophy in 48 years after a penalty shootout win over Paris Saint-Germain in the French Cup, in 2019.
The following season Rennes finished third in Ligue 1 in a season curtailed by Covid, and for the first time they qualified for the Champions League. The upward trajectory continued the following year, but after four straight defeats and seven games without a win, Stephan resigned.
The ‘Blue and Whites’ are on course for a top five finish and Europe beckons Strasbourg
In a heartfelt letter to the Brittany local paper, Ouest France, he explained: ‘I hope with my whole heart that with another approach, and another method, the players will achieve results more befitting of their talent.’
Even so, he left with his stock high and was considered deserving of a big job. So, it was a surprise when he turned up at Stasbourg.
The yo-yo club of Alsace was declared bankrupt 12 years ago and relegated to the fifth tier, but it fought its way back and had hung on in Ligue 1 for four seasons, when Stephan arrived.
Again, Stephan has had a remarkable impact. The Blue and Whites sit fifth and if they hold on to that position or better it, it will be Strasbourg’s best finish since 1980, the year after they were crowned champions of Ligue 1.
The success has been built on modest transfer activity, which yielded a net profit of £10M, and included bringing back Aston Villa’s right back, Frederic Guilbert, 26, on loan.
Like all top coaches, Stephan can reshape his approach. He began at Strasbourg with a 4-4-2 system, but now favours a 3-5-2, with a holding midfield player and full backs who bomb on to support the attackers by whipping in crosses.
Stephan’s new team sit just three points behind Rennes in third, with six games left. Europe beckons, again.
Club: Mainz05, Bundesliga
Achievements: A product of the celebrated Red Bull coaching pathway, Svensson broke a Bundesliga record by saving Mainz from relegation, despite having just seven points on the board at the half-way stage.
Svensson played under both Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel at Mainz 05 – he is now boss
It would be no surprise if Bo Svensson found his way to the upper echelons of the Premier League since he has the credentials.
The Dane played as a centre-back for Mainz05 for seven seasons, one under Jurgen Klopp, who signed him from Borussia Monchengladbach, and six under Thomas Tuchel.
Now in the hotseat himself, Svensson has a better points per game average than either of his illustrious predecessors. Svensson has 1.49 points per game in his 53 matches in charge of Mainz, compared to Tuchel’s 1.41 from 170 matches and Klopp’s 1.13 from 102.
However, that is not really the story. The former Danish international was appointed to the Rhineland club in January last year – the fourth manager in the season. Mainz were second bottom of the Bundesliga on seven points and looked doomed. No club had ever avoided the drop with seven points at the halfway point.
Svensson engineered a remarkable recovery, restructuring the team, with the aid of two signings, so that Mainz not only stopped shipping goals, but dramatically reduced the chances conceded, too.
In a remarkable run last season, Mainz survived in the Bundesliga even beating Bayern Munich
Jurgen Klopp (L), while manager of Borussia Dortmund, and Thomas Tuchel, both managed Mainz 05. Tuchel was the manager of the Rhineland club when this picture was taken in 2011
Last term, Mainz avoided relegation by eight points after amassing a further 32 in the second half of the campaign. This term, they are on course for a ninth placed finish.
‘I learned a lot from them that is now really helpful for me,’ explained Svensson of Klopp and Tuchel. ‘Without them, I wouldn’t be a coach.’
Svensson’s style would suit the Premier League. He favours a high press leading to turnovers and is happy for his players to move the ball forward quickly, in the style of Klopp, before the opponent can set their defence. Slow passing can precipitate frustrated outbursts from the touchline.
And he is already on a well-trodden path. Svensson previously managed FC Liefering, the Red Bull Salzburg feeder club. Red Bull alumni are well-represented in the Premier League. Manchester United coach Ralf Rangnick played many roles at Red Bull before becoming head of sport and development for the group,
Jesse Marsch went through the Red Bull pathway before taking over at Leeds United and Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl was in charge at RB Leipzig from 2016 to 2018.
Club: Fiorentina, Serie A
Achievements: Guided Trapani to Serie B and Spezia to Serie A for the first time in their history. Italiano has now re-modelled Fiorentina and fashioned a team pushing for Europe
Vicenzo Italiano is credited with turning around Fiorentina through excellent squad management and a possession-based games which demonstrates his flexibility
Vicenzo Italiano is an impressive operator, who takes full credit for an upturn in Fiorentina’s fortunes this season.
The 44-year-old skifully overhauled an underperforming team when he arrived in Florence, last summer. And he has succeeded where others, including Vicenzo Montella have failed. Fiorentina made five managerial appointments in four years, without beating their eighth place finishes in 2017 and 2018.
When Italiano came in, out went 11 first-team players who were largely not good enough, or too old, among them Frank Ribery, 38.
They were replaced with youngsters and five key recruits, including Lucas Torreira on loan from Arsenal, who cost just £25M between them.
The impact of Italiano has been remarkable. Fiorentina are up to sixth and are in contention for a Europa League or Europa Conference League place this season, after struggling to 13th last term.
Adaptable Italiano has succeeded in the third, second and now first tier of Italian football
It is not the first time Italiano has turned a team around, either. The coach guided Trapani to Serie B, led Spezia to the top-tier in Italy for the first time in the club’s history – and kept them there.
At Fiorentina, Italiano was the second choice to Gennaro Gattuso, but the former Italian international left after three weeks in a row over transfer targets.
At the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Italiano has adjusted his tactical approach, playing a more possession-based game, with a build up through the centre backs and full backs and an energetic press when out of possession.
Club: Valencia, La Liga
Achievements: After 20 years coaching in the lower leagues, Bordalas won promotion to La Liga with Alaves and then took Getafe to the promised land, and into Europe, too. Now at Valencia, he has taken his team to the Spanish Cup Final and should improve its league position this season, despite financial chaos.
Pepe Bordalas has a big job on his hands at Valencia, but he is known to be a fighter
Pepe Bordalas is fighting for survival at the Mestalla, but if he can achieve it and flourish then he will surely have earned a big money move to England.
The stumbling giants of La Liga are famously demanding and more high-profile managers than Bordalas have been chewed up and spat out, just ask Gary Neville.
The Mestalla is an intimidating arena for visiting teams when Los Che are on song, but equally overwhelming for an underperforming coach. However, Bordalas has a track record of improving teams and is making a fist of it in eastern Spain.
Valencia have reached the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will meet Real Betis on Saturday. In addition, they sit tenth in La Liga, and will expect to improve on last season’s disappojnting 13th placed finish.
A return to the glory days of the early noughties, when Valencia championed La Liga in 2002 and 2004 are a long way off. The challenge for Valencia – and Bordalas – now is to make the club competitive even as it labours under huge debts, forcing player sales.
From Alicante, south of Valencia, there were joyous scenes when his new club reached the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will play Real Betis in Sevilla on Saturday
Bordalas is at Valencia precisely because he is a fighter. Born in Alicante, south of Valencia, Bordalas spent most of his career coaching in the lower leagues of the region. It was 20 years before he reached La Liga, returning Alaves to the Spanish top flight, only to be sacked within weeks of his triumph.
The next season he took little Getafe from the relegation places in the second tier back to La Liga, qualifying for the Europa League in 2019-20, reaching the Round of 16.
Favouring a 4-4-2, with good organisation, strong tackling and playing off the striker, Bordalas would be more Sean Dyche than Pep Guardiola should he have the chance to make the switch.
Club: Atalanta, Serie A
Achievements: Serie A coach of the year in 2019 and 2020, Gasperini has not won silverware, but he has consistently overperformed with Atalanta, who have top scored and finished third in the Italian top flight in each of the last three seasons.
Atalanta’s Giapiero ‘Gasp’ Gasperini found his vocation as a coach when he fielded a team of youngsters in a crunch game against Napoli after his older players let him down
The Atalanta boss is straight out of the philosophical school of Italian coaches that has already seen Antonio Conte thrill the Premier League. And like Conte, Gianpiero Gasperini is a hard task master.
‘Gasp’ has transformed Atalanta, since he took on the Bergamo-based outfit in 2016, but the project was almost over before it had begun.
The coach lost four of his first five games in north east Italy and was tipped for the sack. The situation forced him to embrace his own football beliefs and he abandoned the aging squad he had inherited and picked a youthful side for a crucial clash with Napoli.
Atalanta recorded a memorable 1-0 victory and the club and Gasperini never looked back.
‘I decided to go down this path,’ he told The Guardian in 2020. ‘I’ll make it until the end with my ideas; I’m ready to risk everything because I believe in it.
The Italian has developed a thrilling brand of football based on hard work and high energy, but also creativity and guile, which requires his team to have experience as well as youth in its ranks.
Gasperini has developed an exciting style of football based on attack and energy
However, regardless of who they are, Gasperini is exceptionally demanding of his players, which led Christian Vieri to declare that Gasperini ‘will destroy you in training’.
The boss adopts a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation, which respects the need to defend, but is relentless in attack. For three consecutive seasons Atalanta have scored more goals than any other side in Serie A.
And while they sit eighth this season, with six games left to play, Atalanta have three third place Serie A finishes prior to this term and they are regular Champions League contenders.
Gasperini embodies the spirit of Manchester United in their pomp and almost overcame the Red Devils in two fantastic encounters in the Champions League this season, losing a two goal lead to go down 3-2 at Old Trafford and again at the Stadio di Bergamo, where the game finished 2-2.
‘Defending makes you invincible, but if you want to win, you must attack.’ Gasperini has explained, quoting a Chinese proverb from 500BC, recorded in the Art of War.
Club: Rayo Vallecano, La Liga
Achievements: Guiding Mirandes of the third tier to the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, beating Sevilla and Villareal before steering Rayo Vallecano to La Liga, where they are on course to survive.
Andoni Iraola, a Basque, the second youngest coach in La Liga, and perfect for Rayo Vallecano
Rayo Vallecano’s fans are famously loud and proud, fighting for space in the crowded football landscape of Madrid.
Vallecas, Rayo’s home, is a large working class neighbourhood, where the inhabitants, who stood against General Franco in the Spanish civil war, retain a strong leftist perspective and maintain a vibrant counter culture.
Andoni Iraola, a Basque, and the second youngest coach in La Liga, is their perfect manager. He has Rayo playing high-octane football, which won them promotion from Segunda B last season and looks destined to keep Rayo in La Liga this time around.
Not surprisingly, it is Rayo’s home form that will keep them up (nine wins and four draws), where an average of 8,000 fans whip up a hostile atmosphere at their crumbling home, dubbed ‘VallekAnfield’, each La Liga match day.
The young coach learned his trade as the captain of Atletico Bilbao under Marcelo Bielsa
Iraola employs a high press and aggression but there is also cleverness to the play, switching the ball to allow the full backs to sneak in behind the defence of whichever aristocratic club is visiting that week.
The manager, who made 510 appearances at right-back for Atletico Bilbao, and played under Marcelo Bielsa, has created a system that plays to two of his biggest strengths – Fran García and his left wing partner Álvaro García – the quickest player in LaLiga.
Bielsa’s influence is clear in the intensity of Rayo’s attacks and aggressive defending.
And Iraola has worked miracles before, taking third tier side Mirandés to the 2019-20 Copa del Rey semi-final, beating Sevilla and Villarreal on the way.
Club:Villareal, La Liga
Achievements: Four-time winner of the Europa League and a track record of club over performance in Spain and regular Champions League qualification
Unai Emery may not have been deemed a success in Premier League but he will surely be back
Surely, reports of Unai Emery’s death in English football are greatly exaggerated?
The Spaniard’s record compares with any coach in the Premier League, outside of the Champions League winners, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.
He has won the Europa League four times, three with Sevilla and once with Villareal. He has won a major league title (Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain) and the Coupe de France.
While his spell at Arsenal was seen by many in this country as a failure, it was not when viewed in context.
The Spaniard is one of the most successful coaches in Europe and consistently overperforms with his clubs, which has seen him guide both Sevilla and Villareal to Europa League glory
Emery achieved a win percentage of 55%, better than the current Emirates incumbent, Mikel Arteta (53%).
While his Gunners side fell away badly at the end of the 2018-19 season, losing in the Europa League final to Chelsea 4-1, he still achieved a fifth-place finish in the Premier League, better than the previous year and two subsequent seasons.
Emery was approached for the managerial vacancy at Newcastle this season, but turned it down. However, it would be surprising if he did not return to England to show what he can do and set the record straight.
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