Scottish manager exodus shows changing face of Premier League
With Paul Lambert "parting ways" with Aston Villa, the Premier League is without a single Scottish manager for the first time in its history -- and in England's top flight since 1984.
Think about the great English club sides of the past four decades. In many cases, they're synonymous with Scottish managers. Sir Alex "Matt" Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson (both Manchester United) and Bill Shankly (Liverpool) and are rightly regarded as the crème de la crème, and they aren't alone.
Over the years, something about the character of the stern, obsessive, west of Scotland football man has proved deeply appealing to English chairmen. It's almost as though they looked for a leader with deep roots in the old trade union movement tradition, rather than a sergeant-major type. Scots seemed to offer just the right mix of personality, pragmatism and football nous, plus the most important quality of all: success.
The stress here when talking about chairmen is on the word English. As ownership of Premier League clubs has grown ever more global, it is perhaps understandable that the mega-rich from the Middle East, Russia or the USA have preferred to indulge their own football fantasies. Such dreams have little to do with a manager on the way up at Aberdeen, Dundee United or even Celtic and everything to do with enticing the already successful tacticians from other big clubs around the world.
So when Paul Lambert was handed his P-45 by Aston Villa this week, it was perhaps the natural end of an era, rather than just a temporary trend. Scottish players used to form the backbone of top division sides in England, particularly the elite ones. Just look at Leeds in the 1970s or Liverpool in the '80s if you require proof.
In the past 10 years, sightings of Scots on the pitch in the Premier League have dwindled. It stands to reason that the number of Scottish managers working in the top flight has taken a hit too. No one should be surprised that Lambert's dismissal has seen the total drop to a big, fat zero.
Some might see this as evidence of a fall in Scottish coaching standards. A counterargument can be made that this actually is just another example of the Premier League operating on a planet of its own. Scotland, an independent football nation under FIFA (if not in geopolitical terms) has nevertheless a tendency to live vicariously through the behemoth to its south when it comes to football.
There are many positive things going on in Scottish football that are essentially hidden to those who follow the game peripherally, while operating on the tired assumption that the game is only about Celtic vs. Rangers or Rangers vs. Celtic, and when will that fixture be back?
The level of support both big Glasgow clubs enjoy is undeniable, but we must look beyond that to find news of talented young players coming through the ranks again, clubs removing debt from their balance sheets and, yes, Scottish managers emerging.
In a move no one in Scotland saw coming, Norwich City of the Championship recently swooped to sign Alex Neil as their new manager. The 33-year-old had worked wonders on a shoestring budget at tiny Hamilton Accies. He won them promotion to the top flight in Scotland and helped them punch well above their weight.
Fair play to Norwich for the sort of left-field appointment that was once far more commonplace. But will similar opportunities fall the way of Jackie McNamara (Dundee United) or Derek McInnes (Aberdeen)? Both are still young enough to be in the game for a long time.
What we should be clear about is the Premier League is unlikely to ever again be chock-full of Scottish managers. Maybe it's time Scots stopped thinking of making it in the world's richest league as the holy grail just because of their proximity to it. There are many other rich football pastures out there, including the one right before our eyes. Learning a language might have to go hand-in-hand with obtaining the right coaching badges. It's a vast football world, after all -- as David Moyes is learning at Real Sociedad.
Two of Scotland's greatest club managers, Jock Stein and Jim McLean, never managed in England at all, if you discount Stein's 44 days at Leeds United in 1978. Keep in mind that was when it was far easier for Scots to be considered.
You can't help wondering, though, whether Premier League clubs are in danger of missing out on a managerial gem somewhere. Had today's measuring stick been used in 1986, Manchester United fans might never have heard of a fellow called Ferguson.
Derek Rae is BT Sport's chief football commentator, and can be found on Twitter @RaeComm.