O’Neill and Pulis struggles illustrate changing Premier League, part one

Indeed it is symptomatic of football in general. Yesterday’s hero is soon forgotten amid the need for constant results. There are always anomalies, managers who somehow survive in the same job for years. Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger are the most obvious examples. Thomas Schaaf and Christian Gourcuff at Werder Bremen and Lorient are other examples, but these are the exceptions, rather than representative of the rule.

The departure of O’Neill could be easily dismissed therefore but it was particularly significant because it represents and marks a major cultural shift in the English game. The Premier League has been gradually replicating La Liga, and becoming considerably more technical and based on rapid passing, high pressing and attacking football, rather than the traditional ‘up and at ‘em’ approach that English football is associated with. With O’Neill’s sacking, the curious case of Tony Pulis at Stoke City and continuing uncertainty about Sam Allardyce’s future at West Ham in spite of his impressive record in his short spell there, mean that by the time next season starts, the Premier League may be completely converted to tiki taka.

Consider the following evidence. Which are the teams who have been promoted in recent seasons and survived? For one there was West Bromwich Albion, a team traditionally committed to free flowing attacking football, who after years of yo-yoing between top flight and second tier, finally established themselves in the big time. Then, most notably, last year saw Swansea City and Norwich City both promoted

Swansea came up with an almost religious attachment to pass and move in the finest traditions of tiki taka. Dubbed the Barcelona of the Championship the year they were promoted, Swansea under Brendan Rodgers thrilled and excited neutrals in their first year in the big time. Under Michael Laudrup this season, they have won the first major trophy in their history. It is a remarkable achievement, and all done on a budget and with a style more typical of a Spanish side than an English one. That foreign influence is epitomised by the fact that Ashley Williams, the club captain who has been with the club since they were bottom of the fourth tier X years ago, learned Spanish so he could converse with many of the foreign recruits brought in under Roberto Martinez and then Rodgers.

Norwich City too thrived in the top flight last season under Paul Lambert. They were not quite in the mould of Swansea, with Paul Lambert preferring a more varied approach, his team able to both play direct football and a more intricate short passing game when they wanted. It was though, fundamentally attacking, and it worked. This season has not been quite as good for Norwich, who have struggled to reach safety under Chris Hughton, a clever and well organised coach, but one who is fundamentally defensive. It is notable how that more defensive approach has seen them regress.…(to be continued)