Some believed Chris Wilder’s Premier League success story comes as no surprise

Premier League: Four Bosses Who Took Us by Surprise

When in years to come, we look back at the weirdest Premier League campaign of all time, our abiding memories will be of players celebrating in empty stadiums.

Then we’ll remember the details and action from before the March 2020 lockdown, when the season was already three quarters finished.

Liverpool were storming to their first top flight title in three decades, while the battles for Europe and relegation scraps were raging.

And the men who make it happen — who are not on the pitch but on the training ground — are in the board room and in the isolation of their own office as they are scheming daily to reach for the stars or at least keep their own job.

One thing that’s always puzzled me is that when a team is struggling it’s the head coach who gets the sack. Yes, the buck stops with him, but players seem to enjoy a lot more protection.

The television cameras invariably swing towards the dugout to catch the demeanour of a head coach who has just watched his side concede a soft goal, or his star striker blast a ball into Row Z when presented with an open goal.

The look of anguish and then sometimes resignation on his face creased with worry tells the story.

So let’s give the bosses a round of applause, and particularly these four who did better than we might have expected.

 

Chris Wilder – Sheffield United

At the start of this season, nobody here at SBOTOP or anyone else outside South Yorkshire for that matter thought Sheffield United would survive the 2019/20 campaign.

In their first season back in the top-flight, a ninth-placed finish was beyond the wildest expectations of even the most ardent Blades fan.

But under the guidance of the outwardly pugnacious and inwardly brilliant Chris Wilder, their safety was never in doubt.

While flightier and newly-promoted teams generally start well, they often get found out when the winter months and injuries and suspensions kick in.

But that is not the case for Sheffield United who stood toe-to-toe with their more illustrious opponents from the start to the very end.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United

He’s not the obvious choice in a list of overachieving head coaches, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was under pressure at the start of the season when the Premier League 2020 betting odds cast serious doubt on Manchester United’s ability to make a top-four place.

The Old Trafford faithful have always had the highest of expectations for their team. But in recent seasons, they have become used to toiling while their Sky Blue neighbours play dazzling football while seemingly collecting silverware at will.

And when their former player known as the “baby-faced assassin” came to take the reigns halfway through the 2018/19 season, United fans were hopeful, particularly when he started with an eight-match winning streak. However, the Red Devils faded badly.

This season, they were well off the pace at Christmas, but the signing of midfield ace Bruno Fernandes sparked a revival and Solskjaer’s men stormed into the Champions League with a fast finish.

If he is to continue the progress he has already made, then OGS needs to strengthen the Red Devils in the next few weeks.

But third place this season was the best he could have hoped for. It was only the second time Manchester United had finished in the top three since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.

 

Steve Bruce – Newcastle United

Another former Manchester United star makes my list after he guided the Magpies to a respectable 13th place when they were expected to be in a relegation battle.

Fans at St. James Park were underwhelmed when he was appointed to replace Rafa Benitez last summer.

Following a Champions League winner when you’ve spent your managerial career flitting between the top two flights in England — at places like Hull and Birmingham — isn’t easy.

The £40-M signing of Brazilian striker Joelinton raised a few eyebrows and it turned out to be a disaster as the 23-year-old made the Premier League 2020 news for the wrong reason, scoring just two goals all season.

But Bruce kept his nerve and stuck to his guns as Newcastle calmly collected the 40 points they needed with plenty to spare.

Brighton & Hove Albion manager Graham Potter have earned the chance to alter perceptions and put his stamp on Premier League

Graham Potter will stay at Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club until the summer of 2025

Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion

When the Seagulls appointed Graham Potter on a four-year deal at the start of last season, there were mixed feelings at the Amex Stadium.

Away from Brighton neutrals thought the sacking of Chris Hughton, who had led the Seagulls to promotion and then survival, was poor behaviour from the club.

And the appointment of Potter, renowned for his attacking football at Championship side Swansea, prompted suggestions possibly unfairly that naivety in the Premier League invariably results in relegation.

Attack-minded Norwich City fell for it, but not for Brighton.

Embroiled in a six-way relegation battle, Potter tightened things up at the back, conceding just two goals in the final three games and his side eased away from trouble.

 

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