Jurgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool this summer while Pep Guardiola has just 18 months left on his Manchester City deal – when the Premier League’s two undoubted managerial greats are gone, who will be stepping into the breach?
Ange Postecoglou and Roberto de Zerbi have taken roads less travelled to reach their Premier League destinations – from Japan and Greece to the Italian lower leagues and Ukraine.
Now, with Jurgen Klopp’s imminent departure at Liverpool, the Tottenham and Brighton head coaches appear at the vanguard of a new era.
Pep Guardiola could remain at Manchester City beyond his 2025 contract, Mikel Arteta continues to shape his project at Arsenal. But Klopp’s decision to step down represents arguably the most seismic shift in the managerial cycle since Arsene Wenger ’s retirement in 2018.
And this window for change means that Postecoglou and De Zerbi, both initially linked with the other’s jobs before they were hired, will be talked up as the answers to new questions.
They are presently in charge of the Premier League’s two most exciting teams to watch. And unlike Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea or Manchester United under Erik ten Hag, they have instilled clear playing identities which the available personnel must fit into.
You do not need to look far to find similarities. On the pitch their teams are hungry for possession but, unlike Manchester City, more risky. Their respective styles can appear chaotic to the naked eye but are really about control.
Critics argue they hurt themselves by pushing their defensive lines too high. And yet they have both taken more touches in their own third of the pitch than the rest of the top flight, baiting opponents out of shape.
“There are probably similarities but the approaches are different in terms of when you look at the positioning of players and the methodology of how we get from point A to B,” Postecoglou says.
“The underlying premise is both teams would like to have dominance of the ball, play through the lines to get to the outcome and be aggressive on the press. There is absolutely some synergy in the underlying philosophy. But the actual detail of it, there are differences, which is only natural.
“You can’t just go along and copy other methodologies, you have to bring your own spin and personality. That’s where the differences lie. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are underlying stats that are really similar but how we get to that point, there is a difference between the two teams.”
Off the pitch Postecoglou, in particular, and De Zerbi have embraced their roles as frontmen for their entire clubs – though that is much easier when results and performances are above expectations.
Yet both history and current trends indicate that neither may be equipped to oversee a dynasty. Spurs are Postecoglou’s eighth team and he has never lasted beyond three seasons. Brighton are De Zerbi’s seventh and he has only reached a century of games once, at Sassuolo.
Long reigns are more scarce than ever – which is what made Klopp’s tenure so remarkable, his decision to step down so easy to understand. And it is also why such a paradox now exists across the game.
One of the first things clubs assess before appointing a new head coach is their style and vision. But the reality is so few last the duration of their initial contract that there needs to be another layer of long-term planning above them.
All is well at Spurs, though familiar questions will soon arrive around how they can make that leap to become title challengers. A youthful squad is playing with the freedom imbued by Postecoglou and fans are lapping up every moment – helped by his media persona.
Right now there is a sense that the 58-year-old could break with habit and be a mainstay in north London.
Equally, he is not naive and before today’s game touched on the increasing demands of the job increasing when quizzed on if it is more difficult to remain in one gig for the long term when a manager also takes on a wider remit beyond the first-team dressing room.
“A lot of that is the club model,” he says. “I think there is room for both. One is kind of more demanding but when you become the spokesman for the club you can get dragged into areas where all of us have a limit of energy and time to spend on these things.
“Our priority is always going to be the team and producing results. I can see why a lot of clubs will say: ‘Let’s just protect our manager and sort of get him to focus on what’s important, build things around him.’ “You’ll see that more and more, for want of a better term, support services around a manager with the demands of the role.
“I’ve been doing it for 26 years at different levels – but it is becoming even more consuming than you thought it would be than when I first started.”
The horizon at Brighton is blurrier. It is easy to frame Albion as a stopover for rising stars, a pathway to bigger stages, but the central question remains how a club with relatively modest resources can bridge the gap.
And it is not as if their season has been free of struggle. De Zerbi, who serves a one-game touchline ban today, has admitted last year’s squad was better (Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo were sold, Levi Colwill returned to Chelsea) and, despite progressing to the Europa League round of 16, they have won only four of the past 17 league games.
One of those was the reverse fixture six weeks ago when Spurs were without a host of big names and Brighton led 4-0 before the visitors fought back with two goals.
“I don’t think too much [will be] different,” Postecoglou says of today’s renewal. “I know their results haven’t been great but the identity they have, the kind of football they play doesn’t change since Roberto has been there.
“That’s why they’re such a challenging opponent because irrespective of their form, they’re still going to go out there and be brave on the ball and play their football. We’ve got to be ready for that. The last game was pretty entertaining and I dare say tomorrow won’t be a dull affair either.
That Postecoglou and De Zerbi have been gushing in mutual admiration for one another is no surprise either. “Their football is fantastic,” the Spurs boss says. “They probably do things a little bit differently to everyone else. ” He adds: “Disappointing that Roberto won’t be there because I’ve got a lot of time for him and a great respect for him. “
In return, De Zerbi says of Postecoglou: “I like him so much. When he speaks in press conferences or interviews, I like him a lot. They play great football. I love their style. In terms of personality on the pitch, they are one of the best teams at the moment.”
Maybe in a few years, once familiarity has bred contempt, the bonhomie will be replaced by something more fiery. For now, however, the two men who could become the Premier League’s next managerial kings are content to steer their respective projects towards new heights.
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