Aston Villa and the fallacy of Premier League ‘experience’


As Aston Villa continue their search for a new manager, debate has raged amongst fans and pundits alike as to the relative merits of experience in the English Premier League.

As Villa appear to close in on former Lyon boss Rémi Garde as the man to replace Tim Sherwood, people have been quick to lambast the direction the Villa hierarchy appear to be taking with their managerial search.

With the club languishing in 20th place having amassed only four points from the first ten games of the season, the popular narrative has followed that an experienced Premier League manager is required to give the club the best chance of ladling water out of the sinking ship.

David Moyes has been the desired choice of many, but with Moyes reluctant to leave Real Sociedad before the end of the season, that appears to be a non-starter. Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers also features high on many lists, along with former Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson. All three possess mixed successes at Premier League level, but possess that unquantifiable ‘experience’ of the top-level.

It’s a popular claim; that the Premier League is altogether so incredibly challenging that only those with intimate knowledge of its inner workings can hope to be successful.

But it’s a claim that has been consistently proven to be patently false.

While many foreign managers have failed in England’s top division, there are countless others that have excelled in the Premier League.

For every Alain Perrin there is a Mauricio Pochettino, for every Luiz Felipe Scolari there is a José Mourinho, for every Juande Ramos there is an Arsène Wenger.

All of these managers entered the Premier League with no experience of football in England—either as player or manager—but with differing levels of management experience gained elsewhere in world football.

Scolari took on the Chelsea job in 2008 with massive expectations following a hugely successful spell in international management—a run that included winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil and reaching the final of Euro 2004 and semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup as manager of Portugal. Scolari lasted just seven months before he was ousted from his post at Stamford Bridge.

Wenger had mixed fortunes while managing in France: he suffered relegation while in charge of AS Nancy and won the title with Monaco before being sacked following a rocky start to a season that left the club in 17th place. He then led Japanese J-League team Nagoya Grampus Eight for eighteen months before he was plucked from ‘obscurity’ to take charge at Arsenal in 1996.

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His appointment was greeted with mass confusion, prompting the Evening Standard to run with the headline: “Arsene Who?” upon his announcement as the new Arsenal boss.

Wenger is still managing the club today, 19 years later.

If Garde is confirmed as Villa boss, as is looking likely, then it’s impossible to say which side of the fence he will fall.

French football aficionados and pundits are largely unanimous with their respect and admiration for Garde’s management of Lyon under increasingly difficult circumstances, but he could be unable to arrest Villa’s slide to the Championship and be forever pegged as another in a line of foreign managers that failed in England.

But, as a Wenger-disciple—having been the Frenchman’s first signing at Arsenal—he could galvanize this group of talented, if uncoordinated, squad of players into a climb up the table and a reprieve from relegation.

This is the risk with any manager, regardless of their acquaintance with the Premier League, yet fans and pundits still react to notions of an incoming foreign coach with a sense of reactionary bias.

The calls will still come for Villa to appoint Nigel Pearson, Harry Redknapp, or even Dwight bloody Yorke, and these shouts will only grow louder should Villa continue their struggles following their next managerial appointment.

Garde’s appointment would represent a risk from the Villa board, but a risk with high potential for reward if he is able to organise this Villa squad into a cohesive unit.