You can debate whether it’s the world’s greatest top flight, but there is no questioning the English Premier League's status as the most cosmopolitan. No fewer than 22 different nationalities were recently represented in a single match, and there is not a single club at which internationalism does not reign.
However, when it comes to Premier League management, one nation – one city, in fact – dominates all others. It’s not, as you might expect, Manchester, Liverpool or London; actually, just three English managers currently ply their trade in their nation’s top division. Look further north, though, and you find twice that number from within a tiny 20-mile radius.
Kenny Dalglish, David Moyes, Owen Coyle, Alex McLeish, Steve Kean and Sir Alex Ferguson make for a formidable Scottish sextet, and with all six Glasgow is the common denominator. Ferguson, Dalglish, Moyes and Coyle grew up in the heart of the city, McLeish and Kean in its outlying areas, and all are continuing a long-established tradition of English football being shaped by Scottish managers.
The facts leave no room for doubt. The most successful manager in the history of both the English league and the FA Cup is a Scot. Arsenal and Chelsea’s first-ever managers were Scots, while England’s two most famous clubs owe much of their lustre to three towering figures from north of the border: Liverpool to Bill Shankly; Manchester United to Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby.
Nor are the English slow to acknowledge the contribution made by their ‘Auld Enemy’. When London-based The Times newspaper published an in-depth study on the world’s top 50 managers of all time three years ago, Scotland was responsible for four entries in the top 20 - twice as many as any other nation. All but one of them made it into The Times’ top five and, incidentally, all four - Shankly, Busby, Ferguson and Jock Stein - were born within an hour's drive of each other.
So what makes Scotland, a nation of just five million people, such a prolific producer of outstanding managers? For some, it begins with a passion that borders on obsession. Aberdeen boss Craig Brown, speaking in 'The Management' - a book which studies the success of Scottish managers – highlighted the way in which football dominates the country’s sporting landscape. “In Scotland,” he said, “football is the game. In England there can be the distraction of cricket and maybe rugby.”
“Think about the Scottish psyche,” echoed Andy Roxburgh, Brown’s predecessor as national coach. “Hard-working, conscientious about what they’re doing, obsessive about what they’re doing, with a winning mentality and a real competitiveness.” There are nuances, of course, but Roxburgh’s identikit applies as much to the likes of Ferguson and Moyes today as it did to their legendary predecessors. Shankly, in one of his many famous quotes, summed it up best. “Even if I was scrubbing floors,” he said, “I’d want my floor to be cleaner than yours.”
The Anfield icon once likened the functioning of a successful team to “socialism, but without the politics”, and is it is widely agreed that the common ethos of Scotland’s managerial giants was moulded by their working-class backgrounds. Long before Busby, Shankly and Stein, the first British manager to win the European Cup, became heroes of the terracings, they each worked in one of the many mines of that era. It was a harsh, hazardous environment in which life and limb depended on the men you were working alongside, and it taught them that unity, teamwork and camaraderie were not only desirable, but essential.
Ferguson, who grew up in the shadow of Glasgow's shipyards and was himself an apprentice toolmaker, is in no doubt that those life lessons provided a perfect grounding for a career in the dugout. He said: “The values great managers like Stein, Busby, Shankly and Bob Paisley brought to their jobs in football were rooted in their mining backgrounds... I am sure, too, that any success I have had in handling men, and especially in creating a culture of loyalty and commitment in teams I have managed, owes much to my upbringing among the working men of Clydeside.”
It doesn’t explain everything, of course – plenty of working-class managers have failed miserably – but there is a common thread here that also runs through most of the English greats. Paisley, Herbert Chapman and Sir Bobby Robson all came from mining stock, Brian Clough and Don Revie hailed from industrial Middlesbrough, and today the benefits of a working-class upbringing are to be seen in this proliferation of the Premier League's Glaswegians.
Moyes, speaking in 'The Management', identified the mental toughness that came from growing up in Scotland’s biggest city during the 1970s. “In those days, Glasgow was beginning to thrive,” he said. “But it was still a really tough, tough city, with a real working-class background for most people. You had to be able to go and do things by yourself, play and get on with it, and be in and around the men and be able to handle it, know what they were talking about and know what it was all about.”
Among the managers who thrived and are currently thriving, there has always been a formidable intelligence and shared thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. And just as Ferguson idolised and studied Stein during the formative years of his career, so he has become a mentor for the likes McLeish and Moyes.
Yet these Scottish managers do not follow a strict, set formula for success. Ferguson is known for ruling by fear, while Coyle - though still a disciplinarian - is all charm. Shankly and Busby were great friends but very different personalities. And beyond the Premier League, where the likes of Paul Lambert and Malky Mackay are forging stellar reputations in England’s second tier, it’s clear that the stereotype of the Scottish manager doesn’t always fit.
For the moment at least, it seems the one ingredient that binds them all is success. As long as that is maintained, English football will undoubtedly continue to be influenced by, and indebted to, its Scottish managers.