The Premier League season is now done and dusted. And with it, the six managers who started the year with hopes of a title can now recuperate to try and mount another challenge next season.
Here’s how we rate these six sideline stars after their showings in 2016-17:
Antonio Conte (A+)
Conte found success at Chelsea by riding the tides of change; his implementation of a three-man backline was the turning point of the season, but Conte’s man-management was key to achieving a record 30 wins in this title-winning campaign.
He dealt with Diego Costa‘s wanderlust by calling for focus and refusing to air dirty laundry to the press; he restored Eden Hazard‘s form and David Luiz‘s reputation, rescued Victor Moses from loan exile, turned Cesar Azpilicueta into a centre-back, handled John Terry‘s exit well, and even made Chelsea likable.
That’s no small task – give the man his much-deserved cake.
Mauricio Pochettino (A)
If trophies were awarded for effort, Tottenham would have filled its display case with silverware this season, but alas, Pochettino’s side finished empty-handed once again. Finishing above Arsenal is minor consolation in a year where Spurs proved their incredible dynamism and Harry Kane stormed to Golden Boot glory.
While Tottenham’s away form was not quite as outstanding as its home efforts, the Argentine tactician still managed to build on his team from last season, stamping out the displays of immaturity at the end of last year and playing exciting, attacking football at the fraction of the budget his peers boast.
Another silver lining? Spurs bagged an impressive tally of 86 points. That’s five more than Leicester City had in its title-winning season, if you’re counting.
Jurgen Klopp (B+)
Klopp fought the top-four battle and emerged triumphant, earning a berth in the Champions League after a long, tiring season. Liverpool is all the better for it, but will now be tested even further as the club tries to rekindle the glory of a decade now past.
The former Borussia Dortmund man brought his “Gegenpress” system to Anfield and lit a fire under Liverpool that inspired constant fight. Klopp is living up to his promise of progress with time. As he continues shaping his team with each passing transfer window, Liverpool grows stronger.
Pep Guardiola (B-)
Pep Guardiola’s schoolteacher approach worked wonders at Barcelona and Bayern Munich but less so at Manchester City, where the Catalan boss met only the bare minimum requirement of a top-four finish in his debut season.
His first change was exiling Joe Hart, but replacement Claudio Bravo failed to justify that decision, and while Guardiola righted a previous wrong in restoring Yaya Toure to the City midfield, it would not make up for a Champions League elimination to AS Monaco.
By his own admission, this outcome would have seen him fired at his previous clubs.
Jose Mourinho (B-)
Mourinho was right: Manchester United certainly did have a packed schedule to deal with this season, but that wouldn’t stop the Portuguese tactician from finding silverware at season’s end. A Europa League title isn’t Mourinho’s most treasured prize, but it assures a Champions League berth and gives the Red Devils a full trophy case; there’s nothing left for the club to win.
Mourinho’s critics will rightly point out that the “United way” doesn’t have room for anti-footballing tactics, but Mourinho won’t pay heed to the poets – they don’t win trophies, after all.
A summer of signings will boost his title challenge next season.
Arsene Wenger (C+)
Wenger is judged a little more harshly than his peers because he operates not only as the club’s manager, but controls all of the footballing decisions. It’s why Arsenal‘s failings are his failings, and it’s undeniable that Arsenal failed to reach its goals this season – a fifth-placed finish means no Champions League football.
While the Gunners’ support is split between “Wenger In” and “Wenger Out,” the Frenchman has yet to declare his future intentions; that drama might have derailed Arsenal to its worst-ever campaign under his tutelage. Still … Arsenal finished with four more points than it did in its second-placed 2015-16 season.
And, despite all the issues, there was silverware at the end of the road, as Wenger led Arsenal to a third FA Cup in the last four seasons.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)