Heart Of Football

Heart of Football: A tale of contrasting managerial fortunes

When you watch English Premier League (EPL) football, the last place you want to look would normally be the bench.

Today's games are the exception.

When Burnley play Crystal Palace in the earlier kick-off, the cameras are bound to be drawn to the Palace dugout because the media and the bookies have already decided that Frank de Boer's job is on the line.

It is only the fourth weekend of the new season and the fourth game in English football for the Dutchman. And he's being measured for the ejector seat?

The critics have decided that de Boer's style, based on his Ajax and Barcelona past, is incompatible with Palace. He is a keep-ball expert, Palace have a history of hoofing it long and chasing it at great speed.

"I want to play like Barcelona but we haven't got the players. Then you adapt to what you have, starting with 5-3-2, just a small change, rather than going overboard and playing 4-3-3," de Boer said.

Does he expect to be given time? "My bottle is half-full," he replied. "We want to be a stable club. We are in a long-term project."

Long term and Crystal Palace are not the most synonymous of partners. Only four of their last 10 managers have lasted more than a season.

That trend started under the supporter-run board that rescued the club from insolvency, and has continued with the club's two American investment partners.

It is only the fourth weekend... and the fourth game in English football for the Dutchman. The critics have decided that de Boer's style, based on his Ajax and Barcelona past, is incompatible with Palace. Rob Hughes

This is the marriage that the EPL finds irresistible: English heritage and foreign money. Since billionaire Josh Harris and David Blitzer bought into the club, Palace have dispensed with Alan Pardew while Sam Allardyce left on his own accord.

De Boer is the third man in the seat in less than a calendar year. When teams are clinging to EPL survival by their fingernails, change happens, whoever the owners are.

But there is another way: The Burnley way.

Palace visit Turf Moor, home to one of the smallest catchment areas in the EPL today. Burnley's manager, Sean Dyche, is coming up to his fifth anniversary as manager - and on a shoestring budget compared to the league's giants.

Dyche, who began his playing career under Brian Clough and remembers what stability achieves, has a strong relationship with his board, having gone through two promotions and one relegation.

He is likier to be poached by a big club than to be fired, and Burnley have already drawn at Spurs and won at Chelsea this season.

Whatever happens this evening, the bench at Swansea might be even more intriguing. Swansea, like Palace, are a supporter-rescued club that have attracted American capital. The Americans want a bang for their buck, and can be trigger-happy regarding managers. Correction, Swansea call their manager, the head coach. There have been three already during the first year under American ownership.

Italian Francesco Guidolin was doing okay, but was not great. He lasted three months before the owners replaced him with one of their own, former US national coach Bob Bradley.

Bradley's Swans were sinking fast, having won only two and lost seven of his 11 games in charge. Bye-bye Bob. The second panic move, but this time in consultation with the club's Welsh chairman, brought in Paul Clement.

Clement is English, but the Welsh forgive such borderline accidents. His pedigree is that of an amateur player, a PE teacher who learnt the ropes from one of the world's top managers.

Now 45, Clement graduated from coaching youth players to working with the best in European football alongside Carlo Ancelotti.

From Chelsea to PSG, then Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. From coaching Didier Drogba in London to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Paris, then Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, followed by Philipp Lahm in Munich.

Why would you pass up the sheltered life understudying Ancelotti, one of the most accomplished coaches in the modern era?

Because, quiet man though he is, Clement wants to swim on his own.

He got his chance when Derby County called last season. Derby slapped his back after being beaten just once in 19 games, then produced the knife in the back when fortunes reversed over the next six matches.

Clement is not a man for the blame game. He simply concluded that he was not "the right fit" for Derby. His phone rang again, this time from Swansea, down on the Gower Coast of Wales.

It was a rescue mission, a dire one after Bradley's dismissal. Swansea were spared relegation after a survival run for which Clement was named EPL manager of the season.

Clement's father Dave, the former QPR and England player, committed suicide at the age of 34, reportedly depressed by life after playing.

Paul Clement, then 10, was too young to fully comprehend it, but now too knowledgeable to be misled by the glare and sudden dimming of fame.

This summer, Swansea sold their two most influential players. Gylifi Sigurdsson went to Everton, and Fernando Llorente to Tottenham. Swansea must rebuild, and will take on Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium.

A player on Swansea's bench, Renato Sanches, will be bursting to make his debut. He is the flamboyant Portuguese starlet, who was sold for a potential €80 million (S$129 million) to Bayern Munich last year.

Sanches, just 20, needs experience. He is on a year-long loan to Swansea for a reason - Bayern trust Clement. So does the player.

If you trust a coach you give him time, right? Wait and see, from Palace to the Gower Coast.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'A tale of contrasting managerial fortunes'. Print Edition | Subscribe