Rating the 'Supermanagers': Klopp, Guardiola, Mourinho, Conte, Wenger
In case, like me, you have been frantically scanning the Vegas odds lately for Hull going undefeated this season, you may have missed the other seismic event of the Premier League's opening weekend. For the first time in its history, there was more attention paid to the debuts of various sideline celebrities than to the players who will ultimately lead them to glory -- or, in Arsenal's case, fourth place.
That's because there has simply never been a collection of such pedigreed, cerebral, charismatic and egomaniacal club managers in a single league. Call them The Supermanagers or think of them as the Mensa of the Prem, a veritable Genius Bar of certified coaching deities from which only Atletico Madrid godhead Diego Simeone is missing. (And I feel like he's been linked to Chelsea since Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a man-bun.)
Arsene Wenger, for one, views the season as nothing less than a "World Championship of Managers" ("WCOM"), which might explain Arsenal's depressingly familiar start to the campaign. He's been so preoccupied with the prospect of testing his wits against his fellow touchline titans that he forgot to make sure his team was ready for their opening game. But I digress.
Let's take a look at how the key figures in the WCOM fared in the first round of competition. And yes, I'm aware that one match is a pretty small sample size and we need to give them time to iron out their transfer window wrinkles. But trust me: neither Supermanagers nor leopards tend to change their spots, so don't be surprised if you notice these same idiosyncrasies six months from now -- if they are still be employed.
Jose Mourinho, Man United
Sartorial style: A big upgrade from last season's tired, stubbled look, Mourinho was bright-eyed and clean-shaven in his United debut, attired in a soigne dark blue suit complete with the club crest on breast pocket and tie. The only hint of mischief were the designer black sneakers, perfect for celebratory liftoff. 8/10
Touchline antics: Preternaturally calm and stone-faced through the first two goals against Bournemouth, only to unleash the full Mou when his bombastic twin, Ibrahimovic, lashed home the third from 25 yards. Bounding out of his technical area, the Portuguese man o' war screamed with what appeared to be mixture of palpable relief and immense satisfaction before being engulfed by his coaching staff in a well-deserved bro hug. 7/10
Tactical acumen: Typical Mourinho pragmatism (a midfield closely screening the defense, a well-executed offside trap, something approaching fluidity in attack) allied with an Ibra-inspired dash of panache (a backheel rainbow flick from which Wayne Rooney should have scored). Against a team that memorably beat his Chelsea side at Stamford Bridge last season only 12 days before he was cashiered, United played with a confidence that if not exactly swaggering was a welcome change from the Louis Van Gaal School of Sideways Passing. 8/10
Mind games: "The only games I know are the ones played on the pitch," Mourinho once absurdly claimed. So it surprised absolutely nobody to hear him bait both Wenger and Jurgen Klopp last week when they questioned the economic sanity of the $140 million Paul Pogba transfer. First Jose scoffed that neither man would be in a position to make a world record transfer deal like the one for the French dynamo because they're not managing top-tier clubs. Then he assailed them for not having the courage to admit they're competing for the Premier League title as Mourinho has done from the moment he arrived at the Theatre of Dreams.
It's good that he doesn't indulge in any psychological machinations or you might think he was a tiresome bore or something. 9/10
OVERALL RATING: 32/40
NEXT GAME: Man Utd vs. Southampton, Aug. 19
Pep Guardiola, Man City
Sartorial style: Suave and sophisticated but in danger of restricting blood flow. In contrast to his smug nemesis Mourinho, Pep is simply snug. His finely tailored suits -- on Sunday, he wore a dark grey number set off with a crisp white shirt and narrow tie under a black cashmere v-neck -- are cut to within an inch of his life, but Pep carries it off with effortless cool. The contrast on the touchline, with manager-of-the-people David Moyes in shirt-sleeves and a fat striped tie, was a suitable allegory for the gulf in class between the two teams. Guardiola is instantly the biggest fashion icon to bestride the Premier League since David Beckham wore anything he wanted. 9/10
Touchline antics: It's a safe bet that Pep hasn't seen so many missed chances in all his years at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, which accounts for the record-breaking number of times he clapped his ears or palmed his face in frustration. Given how the goals were scored, his celebrations of them were somewhat muted but he did manage a first-victory-in-the-Premier-League fist pump at the end without disturbing a thread on his bespoke suit. 6/10
Tactical acumen: Guardiola is as uncompromising in his style on the field as he is off it. "Winning without playing the way you want means nothing to me," he said on the eve of his Prem debut. The Pep Way was obvious from the opening whistle: defenders who are comfortable bringing the ball out of the back combined with high tempo passing in attack. Those qualities meant there was no place in the starting lineup for England's No. 1 Joe Hart, who has the foot dexterity of a pachyderm, and no place even on the bench for the 33-year-old midfield general Yaya Toure, who should find his way to the Chinese Super League as quickly as his wallet permits.
A revitalized Raheem Sterling did more off-the-ball running in one match than he did all of last season under Manuel Pellegrini but for the most part, Guardiola's lineup-shuffling failed to ignite a frumpy City side that was own-goal fortunate to win 2-1. 6/10
Mind games: When you're as successful and cocksure as Pep, you don't need to expend energy trying to undermine your opponents. Zen masters don't keep score (OK, 10/10)
OVERALL RATING: 31/40
NEXT GAME: Stoke City vs. Man City, Aug. 20
Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool
Sartorial style: Klopp's matchday attire has taken many forms over the years but whether he's wearing a black hipster suit for big European nights (something he doesn't have to worry about this season) or his trademark baseball cap and tracksuit, there remain certain constants.
First, the mop of perma-ruffled hair, which he proudly unveiled a few years ago and credited to the same surgeon who enhanced the follicles of other hirsute greats including Dutch manager Dick Advocaat and the actor Ted Danson. Then there's the manicured designer stubble and finally, the stylish wireless glasses that are an accident waiting to happen. Against Arsenal, he was resplendent in a training ground ensemble similar to what his players wear. Why rock a natty pocket square and risk staining it with Adam Lallana's sweat during one of his bonkers celebrations? 7/10
Touchline antics: Klopp is not a man afraid to show his feelings, which is a boon to optometrists all over Merseyside. Not once but twice, the German almost lost his designer specs amid the delirious scenes following Liverpool's four-goal blitz of Arsenal.
When Lallana finished off a slick passing sequence to put the Reds ahead 2-1, Klopp joined his players in the sideline melee and his glasses went flying. And at the final whistle, he pirouetted so sharply toward Phillip Coutinho to hug it out with the goal-scoring hero that his glasses once again fell away from his face. This time he tried to catch them before they hit the ground but his reactions, like those of Arsenal's defenders during the game, weren't quick enough.
All of which raises the question: Jurgen, have you thought about contacts? 10/10
Tactical acumen: Ever since descending from the Bundesliga heavens halfway through last season to restore Liverpool to relevance, Klopp has relentlessly preached his high-pressing, high-intensity gospel to his players and while it's taken rigorous three-a-day training sessions to hammer home his mantra, it's safe to say that they are embracing it to impressive effect.
The result has been two electrifying recent displays -- a 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in a friendly and a 4-3 thumping of Arsenal in the season opener -- that offer encouragement to the hopelessly delusional Liverpool supporters that this may indeed be their year ... at least to regain their place in the Top Four. Granted, it's doubtful Liverpool will face a more inexperienced and jittery center-back pairing than Calum Chambers and Rob Holding the rest of the season but the ease in which they took apart Arsenal at the beginning of the second half was a testament to the confidence and belief Klopp has instilled in his side.
Now if he can only find a way to shore up his brittle defense, especially the Alberto Moreno-shaped hole at left-back, Klopp can continue to beat his chest all the way to Europe. 8/10
Mind games: Klopp got caught up in the Great Pogba Debate but wisely held his fire after Mourinho's return salvo. The closest he came to answering the United manager was to offer up this sly dig: "It's exciting to have Pep and Antonio Conte in the same league." 7/10
OVERALL RATING: 32/40
NEXT GAME: Burnley vs. Liverpool, Aug. 20
Antonio Conte, Chelsea
Sartorial style: Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the eerie resemblance that Antonio Conte bears to legendary former New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath? Without the floor-length fur coat, of course. The Italian favors sharp suits, usually black, cut just loose enough to allow for his manic outbursts on the touchline without ripping at the seams. 7/10 (one point deduction for no mink)
Touchline antics: The lasting image of Conte from the Euros, where he led an undermanned Italian team to the quarterfinals, is of him trying to gleefully catapult onto the top of the Italy dugout after his team's dramatic win over defending champion Spain. His celebration following Chelsea's dramatic win over West Ham was nowhere near as unhinged but is still pretty awesome. Hurling himself into a sea of Blues supporters sitting behind the technical area at Stamford Bridge, he didn't come up for air until he had high-fived seemingly everyone in the front row.
Herr Klopp, you have a contender for the throne. 9/10
Tactical acumen: Conte sets up his teams depending on the talent at his disposal, and Chelsea is so thin at the back that he wheeled out John "Methuselah" Terry for the opener. In a bold, Guardiola-worthy move, the Italian left out Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea's creative deep-lying playmaker under Mourinho, and relied instead on the tireless N'Golo Kante to win balls in the midfield while shielding the back four. With Conte, it's all about intensity and he coaxed a full-blooded commitment out of his side. Two of the players he appears to have rejuvenated, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, publicly fell out with Mourinho at the end of his tumultuous Chelsea reign.
Hazard, who was a shadow of the 2015 player of the year during last season's wretched title defense, played with drive and verve and calmly converted the penalty kick that gave Chelsea the lead. As for Costa, he was his old snarling presence up top but it wasn't until the 89th minute that he rediscovered his goal-scoring mojo. Conte had thrown Michy Batshuayi on to give Chelsea some added firepower, and the young Belgian repaid his faith by flicking on a header that Costa buried with unerring accuracy into the far corner from 25 yards out.
Cue Conte's celebratory jack-in-the box routine and a mighty roar at the joy-starved Bridge. 8/10
Mind games: At his introductory news conference, Conte mentioned that he was looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Ibrahimovic. In 2011-12, the Swede was playing for AC Milan when Conte's Juventus went undefeated and won the Scudetto over the Rossoneri on the final day of the season.
"It was the only time at Milan in which he didn't win the title," said Conte, "and I hope this season is the same again." Don't poke the bear, Antonio. 6/10
OVERALL RATING: 30/40
NEXT GAME: Watford vs. Chelsea, Aug. 20
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
Sartorial style, Touchline antics, Tactical acumen, Mind games: #seelast12years
David Hirshey is an ESPN FC columnist. He has been covering soccer for more than 30 years and written about it for The New York Times and Deadspin.