Klopp, Pochettino, Tuchel style are in; trophy-hoarders like Mourinho are out
Towards the end of the season, Jose Mourinho started referencing his stellar CV with greater regularity. "I won eight championships," he said after Manchester City and Pep Guardiola clinched the Premier League title. In Mourinho's world, trophies offer the ultimate vindication. They are the irrefutable retort in any argument. They give him the final word.
But perhaps this is not Mourinho's world anymore. Consider the situation at one of the Manchester United manager's old employers. Zinedine Zidane became the first manager to lift the Champions League trophy in three successive seasons. Yet he was a rookie when Real Madrid appointed him. The sense is that Real's preferred replacement for Zidane is Mauricio Pochettino, a manager who is famously yet to win a major trophy. It is a detail that has not escaped Mourinho's attention as he gets irritated by the praise lavished on the Argentinian.
Nor is a newfound fondness for coaches with small medal collections a trend confined to the Bernabeu. Chelsea went through a phase when it seemed they only wanted to appoint Champions League and World Cup winners. This summer, though, their preferred candidate looked like Maurizio Sarri, and if they were deterred by something in his past, it was not the lack of silverware. Perhaps instead they will plump for Slavisa Jokanovic, a clincher of promotions and domestic leagues in Thailand and Serbia, but those are not the game's most prestigious prizes.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich appointed Niko Kovac before he won his sole trophy, the German Cup. Paris Saint-Germain, who had appeared as keen on proven winners as Real Madrid, chose Thomas Tuchel. He too has one German Cup to his name, but eight fewer league titles than Mourinho and four fewer than Antonio Conte.
The Italian faces the prospect of well-remunerated unemployment next season, squeezed out of the sort of top jobs he might be expected to command by a shift in priorities at the highest level. Decision-makers are taking more risks, eschewing some of the tried and trusted figures. Clubs who are defined by their success are considering other criteria, rather than simply looking for proven winners.
It is not merely confined to the boardroom. Jurgen Klopp topped a fan poll to take over at Real. The German has twin Bundesliga titles and two Champions League final appearances; equally, he has lost his last six finals and gone six years without major silverware. In the past, that may have disqualified him from contention for the Real job. Not now. Arsenal considered Mikel Arteta, a man who has never managed.
The dynamic is changing. Take Real Madrid: Zidane's three immediate predecessors -- Rafa Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti and Mourinho -- had won five Champions Leagues for four different clubs before going to Madrid. Now Benitez is at Newcastle, about to enter their 50th season without a major trophy, and Ancelotti has gone to Napoli, who have only two Coppas Italia since 1990, even if they have just completed a 91-point campaign in Serie A.
But, Benitez apart, the most decorated managers have not tended to stop at the San Paolo. They have not needed to. The notion of elite managers who moved between superclub and superclub, forever replacing another, safe in the knowledge only a handful of others ticked the boxes the best required, has been dented. They have had to look elsewhere. Champions League-winning coaches are at clubs who are strangers to silverware.
Perhaps Real's rationale is that the club has enough of a trophy-winning pedigree, that the size of the budget and the calibre of player can compensate for a lack of experience in the dugout. The Zidane experiment would suggest it is true: it implies that the importance of the manager -- or of his past, anyway -- has been overrated, and that the skill set required need not include claiming honours elsewhere.
Their greatest rivals would suggest so. Barcelona were long the exception to the rule among the biggest clubs. They have appointed on ethos, not medal collection; they have not plumped for a Champions League winner since Louis van Gaal. They make managerial stars, rather than hire them, as they showed when overlooking Mourinho for the untried Guardiola in 2008.
Having a style of play mattered more, and it has become increasingly important elsewhere. In some cases, it is because clubs are virtually guaranteed Champions League revenue and so supporters want to be entertained. In others, it reflects the downgrading of trophies: Pochettino and Klopp have achieved the more financially important feat of turning their clubs into regular Champions League qualifiers. Silverware would be a bonus, rather than a necessity.
But it is worth rewinding a year, to the aftermath of Manchester United's Europa League triumph, when Mourinho declared: "There are lots of poets in football, but poets, they don't win many titles." Zidane, a poet of a player, may disagree. So, too, might Guardiola, who has allied style with the substance of silverware in his coaching career.
Yet whether or not the other poets win trophies, they are eminently employable. The gaps on their CV seem no impediment. Unless the philosophers fail and there is a change of policy, the pragmatists are left facing an uncertain future. If the serial trophy-gatherers will never be an endangered or persecuted species, then some of their privileges have been revoked as they are no longer guaranteed employment at the summit of the game. Because while Mourinho counts league titles, there is increasing evidence that others don't.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.