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Wunderkinds in the dugout

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There are wunderkind players all the time. They are destined for greatness. However, in managers, the trajectories are rarely so linear. Some jump straight into a top club, thrive and never look back (Pep Guardiola, and maybe his protege Mikel Arteta). Some take a circuitous route to the top, but stay there for a long time (Maurizio Sarri).

However, there are also some managers who take a big step in their career too soon and struggle to recover from that failure. Managers like Frank Lampard are suffering from the same fate right now. When to make that big jump in your career is crucial for managers as one wrong step can set their career back by many years.

The latter shouldn’t be a problem for the managers listed below. These are not necessarily “wunderkinds” in the traditional sense. That means that these managers might be working for a long time, but they have proved themselves at levels below the elite. Therefore, they deserve a chance and are ready to take the big step in their career.

Here are five such managers who could be seen in the dugout of a giant in the near future.

Arne Slot

Highest point-per-game figure in the history of AZ. Winner of the Eredivisie Coach of the Year award, toppling Dutch giants Ajax in the domestic league and punching above the weight in Europe.

Arne Slot has been a manager for less than five years, but the way his star has risen puts him in the bracket for the most exciting manager in Europe.

Elite clubs these days look for more than just a winning manager. They want a manager who wins with style. Arne Slot’s tactics provide just that. Slot combines the best elements of two widespread schools of tactics – ‘Gegenpressing’ and ‘Juego de Posicion‘.

His teams press ferociously in the opponent’s half, a staple of ‘Gegenpressing‘. Once the ball is regained, they aim to cut through the opponents with crisp vertical passes while also being capable of stretching play, a staple of the positional game.

Slot has been linked with Tottenham and Chelsea jobs while there have been interesting enquiries from Crystal Palace. Erik ten Hag’s success at Manchester United has opened doors for Eredivisie managers to the Premier League after Frank de Boer’s stint at Palace shut them.

Whether Arne Slot chooses to walk through those doors or fancies a European adventure first is up to him. One thing is for certain, big things are in store for him.

Roger Schmidt

Roger Schmidt is by no means a spring chicken when it comes to managerial experience. He has been in the dugout for eight teams in a career that has already spanned nearly 20 years. However, sometimes, it takes a while for a manager to find the perfect club.

Schmidt has always been regarded as an exciting manager who never looked capable of taking the next big step. Spells at Bayer Leverkusen, PSV and Salzburg petered out after strong starts and an exciting result or two.

However, his stint at Benfica has been transformative, for both the club and the manager’s reputation. When he became only the second German manager in Benfica’s history at the start of the 2022/23 season, there was some scepticism. Those early doubters have been silenced emphatically.

With a deep run in the Champions League with memorable results, including a double over Juventus, and on their way to the title in Portugal, Benfica have become the neutral’s favourite team. Roger Schmidt’s style of play has allowed Benfica players to express themselves and play with freedom.

Despite losing key players like Darwin Nunez, Benfica is scoring like never before. Stars have been made of Goncalo Ramos, Antonio Silva, and more. Schmidt only joined the club at the start of the 2022/23 season, but if he keeps Benfica playing this way, he won’t be there for long.

Vincent Kompany

If Roger Schmidt was on one end of the managerial experience spectrum, Kompany is at the other extreme. Vincent Kompany has been a full-time manager for only about three years. Still, early days have given a glimpse into the managerial genius in waiting.

Often regarded as the most difficult and intense league in Europe, Kompany made English Championship (2nd division) his personal playground with an emphatic promotion campaign.

His Burnley side cake walked to promotion, setting the record for earliest promotion confirmation in Championship history with seven games to go.

Vincent Kompany’s tactics didn’t just yield results, they also transformed the deep-rooted culture of route-one football at Burnley. Kompany had Burnley playing some breathtaking football while also having the best defence in the league.

His former manager Pep Guardiola has already marked Kompany as someone who is sure to manage Manchester City in the future.

His managerial career might be short, but a good stint in the Premier League with Burnley will all but confirm Kompany’s credentials as a managerial wunderkind.

Will Still

How good do you have to be for your club to agree to pay €25,000 for every game you manage because you don’t have a license to manage?

That is the fairytale story of Reims’ manager Will Still. Aged just 30, Will Still’s career is a classic case of taking every opportunity, big or small, with both hands and running away with it.

Still first became manager of Beerschot in Belgium after being an assistant manager in various stints. However, his true opportunity came in France. After joining as assistant to Oscar Garcia, Still was installed as caretaker manager of Reims. Since then, he has become the story of Ligue 1.

After starting with a five-game undefeated streak, Reims handed him permanent reins and the best was yet to come. His unbeaten streak ended at 14, while he tasted his first defeat in the league after 17 games, a streak that included two encounters against runaway leaders PSG.

From being tipped for relegation at worst and a bottom-half-finish at best, Will Still’s tactics have Reims comfortable in the top half of the league. The English prodigy is the youngest manager in Europe’s top-5 leagues.

Although he is probably some way off from getting a truly top job, his age means that he is bound for greatness in the future, probably back at his home in the Premier League.

Xabi Alonso

Great players don’t often make great managers. Because the game comes so easily to great players, it is believed that the ability to teach the game to their younger counterparts is missing. However, Xabi Alonso has proved in his short career so far that he belongs in the Pep Guardiola class of managers (Great player turned great manager) instead of Diego Maradona (Great player but underwhelming manager).

Just as elegant as he was as a deep-sitting midfielder, Alonso has become a manager whose teams are easy on the eye. He has combined this aesthetic with miracles in his short career.

Alonso started off his managerial career where his playing career began. He unbelievably got Real Sociedad B promoted to the second division in Spain, their first since 1961-62.

His exploits were noticed by Leverkusen, and it is in Germany where his stock has soared. Taking over a team that was second from bottom, with just five points in eight games, Xabi Alonso’s tactics and style of play have made Leverkusen European contenders.

His miracles have garnered the attention of his former clubs already. Real Madrid are reportedly looking at him as Ancelotti’s successor. Liverpool fans are also tipping him to be the eventual successor to Jurgen Klopp.

Besides these names, there are many other managers who have shown early signs of greatness.

Karel Geraerts’ tactics have made Union Saint-Gilloise the resident giant-killer in Europe while maintaining domination domestically.

Kjetil Knutsen’s style of play at Bodo has attracted the attention of clubs in the top-5 leagues and it is only a matter of time before somebody takes a chance on him. Others like Andoni Iraola and Michael Carrick have also shown that special something to make people believe that they are destined for the top.

The next crop of elite managers is looking exciting which is great for football. Most importantly, the majority of the next batch is increasingly attack-minded and believes in the philosophy of winning with style. Following the careers of these managerial wunderkinds should be a treat for the tactics-obsessed fans.

Vatsal Gupta
A die-hard Red Devil, who has straight up not had a good time since 2012. Lives on Korean dramas and books and can often be heard talking about armchair psychological stuff.

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