Why hiring a new manager can be so hard for Europe’s top clubs

There has never been a managerial recruitment race like it. Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus and Chelsea — five of football’s biggest clubs — all searching for a new manager or head coach during the same brief period of time.

Manchester United, who won the FA Cup by winning 2-1 against Manchester City in the final at Wembley Stadium in London on Saturday (stream a replay on ESPN+), could soon join the congested field of European giants looking to hire a new manager. Minority owner Ineos is conducting an end-of-season review that may lead to the departure of Erik ten Hag after just two seasons in charge.

Liverpool completed their search for a successor to Jürgen Klopp by confirming the appointment of Feyenoord coach Arne Slot last week. But having initially explored the possibility of hiring Xabi Alonso, before being told that their former midfielder would remain at Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool sources told ESPN that the recruitment of Slot came at the end of a process undertaken in a “challenging market.”

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Senior figures at Bayern would echo that sentiment. Germany’s biggest club, and six-time Champions League winners, has previously been a blue-chip destination for football’s elite coaches including Louis van Gaal, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel. When Bayern come calling, no one says no. Until now.

Sources told ESPN that Bayern are close to naming Vincent Kompany as Tuchel’s successor, having agreed a compensation package with the Belgian coach’s present employers, Burnley. But the former Manchester City captain is, at best, Bayern’s fourth choice for the job, but may even be considered their sixth or seventh pick.

Alonso, Julian Nagelsmann and Ralf Rangnick all rejected a move to Bayern, while former Brighton & Hove Albion coach Roberto De Zerbi, ex-Bayern coach Hansi Flick and Benfica‘s Roger Schmidt were all reportedly considered by the club. Talks with Tuchel about reconsidering the plan to part ways also took place before both parties stuck to Plan A of terminating their working relationship.

Meanwhile in Spain, sources have told ESPN that Barcelona are on course to hire Flick in the days ahead to replace Xavi Hernández, who announced in midseason he would leave this summer before changing his mind in April. Barça then decided to fire Xavi last week, despite spending months assessing potential successors — Flick, Alonso, De Zerbi, Sporting CP‘s Rúben Amorim — and struggling to find the right appointment.

Juventus appear to have a plan to replace Massimiliano Allegri with Thiago Motta, who is leaving Bologna, barring a possible late move by AC Milan. Chelsea have taken a week to nail down a successor to Mauricio Pochettino, with sources telling ESPN that the Blues have made an approach to open talks with Enzo Maresca after he led Leicester City back up to the Premier League. United, if they dismiss Ten Hag, have also spent months looking at possible candidates, but sources said they are yet to decide if any of them fit and whether they will be a better option than Ten Hag.

So why is the managerial market becoming such a difficult one to navigate, especially for those clubs that usually get what they want, and quickly? A big factor is the increasing influence of sporting directors, the executives charged by club owners to run the football side of the operation. The days of clubs being dominated by the relationship between chairman and manager are long gone.



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“Football clubs are moving away from generalists to specialists,” Steven Houston, head of strategic and sporting operations advisory at the Sportsology Group, told ESPN. “Sporting operations are now so big that clubs are building brains trusts with many areas of expertise and responsibility such as sporting director, technical director, director of analytics, director of performances, head coach.

“So identifying the right head coach who is comfortable with the responsibility of driving the team, improving the players, delivering results, at the same time as accepting the roles of others, is crucial. Some of the coaches out there might not be compatible with the vision set by the owner or sporting director.

“Clubs should have their non-negotiables of what a coach must be prepared to fit into, such as style of play, development of young players, communication skills and that enables them to move quickly and narrow down the field of candidates.

“But we always say that they need to have a Plan A, B, C, D and E because availability plays a big part in recruitment in a specific window of time.”



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Recent success is becoming a determining factor for many clubs in their search for a new coach. Ten Hag was hired by United two years ago after winning the Eredivisie with Ajax; Slot moves to Liverpool just 12 months after doing the same with Feyenoord. Motta tops the list at Juventus after guiding Bologna into the Champions League, while Kompany’s success in winning promotion to the Premier League with Burnley in 2023 appears to carry more weight at Bayern than his relegation at Turf Moor this season.

Those coaches with success further back in time — Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, for instance — have proved to be less attractive to those clubs looking for a coach with a recent winning pedigree as well as the readiness to work within a structure led by a sporting director or director of football.

It is the emerging coaches such as Slot, Motta, Amorim and Ipswich Town‘s Kieran McKenna, who are the new top targets, rather than the older coaches whose remit has generally been broader than those who are now making their way within club structures led by a sporting director. And that goes some way to explaining why clubs are taking longer to make an appointment and why they are working from shortlists rather than simply identifying one target.

“With tenure length [for coaches] decreasing, clubs should always have a succession plan running in the background,” Houston said. “They have big scouting departments constantly looking for players to cover every position, so it would make sense for them to do the same with coaches. The more background knowledge you have, the quicker you can move forward and make a hire.”

Liverpool have got their man, and Bayern and Barcelona seem to have finally got theirs, but none of those clubs have found it easy to switch from one coach to another. Yes, it is a tough market with so many competitors wanting the same thing, but clubs are also being more selective.

It is no longer simply about finding the coach with most titles and trophies. They now have to tick many more boxes to persuade a club to hire them.