Experience. It’s a word that can carry a lot of weight despite having little meaning in a footballing context. For managers, it’s far more important than players. Having the experience of getting a side out of relegation danger, or guiding them to a title, is so often a determining factor as to whether a season is successful or not.
Nobody labelled Jose Mourinho inexperienced as he roared onto the scene with Porto in the early 2000s. Claudio Ranieri’s lack of a Premier League title didn’t affect Leicester's run to glory in 2016 and yet ‘experience’ was held up as a major reason why Sir Alex Ferguson’s side won so many tense titles races.
For sides at the bottom, having a manager with experience of surviving a relegation battle is a priority when it comes to appointing a new gaffer. It’s how Sam Allardyce repeatedly got jobs in the top flight, firefighting to save clubs from falling below the dreaded dotted line. There are clubs that that don't follow this blueprint and have succeeded of course, Francesco Guidolin kept Swansea up in 2016 having never managed in the United Kingdom before, but he was one of the exceptions to the rule.
And so we move onto this year’s race for survival.
Norwich City, who looked destined for the drop, picked up Dean Smith as soon as he became available. The Englishman, along with Craig Shakespeare, kept Villa up in 2020, and although it looks increasingly unlikely they will pull off something similar in East Anglia, they do have the experience needed for the run-in - even if their squad lacks quality.
Moving onto Watford, who have taken this point to the extreme. Roy Hodgson has been managing in professional football since 1976 and enjoyed major success at Fulham and Crystal Palace on these shores, but called it a day at Selhurst Park last year. Just when it seemed the septuagenarian was done with the rigours of the Premier League, Watford came calling and Hodgson simply couldn’t resist.
"Today gives me hope we can ask a few questions of the teams around us."
Roy Hodgson was frustrated with the decision to give Liverpool a late penalty as his Watford side fell 2-0 at Anfield.
The Pozzo family have been through 14 managers since they took charge a decade ago, and yet they turned to the most experienced man in the business to get them out of danger. It hasn’t paid off quite yet, but they are still in with a shout.
The most likely team currently in the bottom three to survive however, is Sean Dyche’s Burnley. This side has defined expectations for five years and time and time again, their manager finds a way to get them over the line. Even though they have won the fewest number of games in the league this year, if they can bag a fourth success over Everton in midweek, they will go within a point of the Toffees.
When it comes down to it, the Clarets have always been able to pull these types of results out of the fire. Dyche has done it against the odds so many times before but this will be his greatest achievement yet if Burnley survive.
And so we come to the risk-takers, the ones who simply could not go down. Everton. Burnley’s opponents will fancy their chances given Frank Lampard’s miserable record on the road. The Toffees have accumulated the fewest away points so far this term (6), and Lampard has taken charge of six defeats on the spin away from Goodison Park in all competitions.
For a club that had ambitions of climbing away from the danger that Rafael Benitez had put them in, they now find themselves in serious trouble. Lampard hasn’t been in this situation before. At Derby, he was allowed to add loan players to a strong side that had finished sixth in the previous campaign, and at Chelsea, he was battling for the top four, rather than to stay up.
Frank Lampard reflected on Everton's 2-1 defeat to West Ham and believes that there are things his side can be "positive and happy about".
Not only is the pressure completely different, it is a much more difficult task to transform a club that is underperforming. Everton haven’t been right for years, but they clearly have a more talented squad than Burnley, Watford and Norwich. However, the three teams below them arguably all boast better managers than Lampard - certainly they have bosses with more experience when it comes to a relegation run-in.
The time is now for Lampard’s charges to perform. How much does managerial experience count for in a relegation battle? We’ll find out at Turf Moor tonight.