A majority of the 20 Premier League managers that will begin the 2022/23 season in the dugout hail from outside the British Isles. That is a huge change from the inaugural Premier League campaign of 1992/93, when all but one of the 22 coaches were from England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The exception was Wimbledon’s Joe Kinnear, who was born in Ireland before moving to Watford at the age of eight.
So, who were the first foreign-born coaches of the Premier League era and how did they get on? Let’s take a look.
Ossie Ardiles (Tottenham Hotspur)
A cult hero at Spurs during his playing days, Ardiles did not fare quite as well when he stepped into the managerial chair. He had already managed three English sides in the lower divisions – Swindon Town, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion – and was tasked with restoring Tottenham to their former glories in 1993.
While his all-out-attack approach may have been fun to watch, it was regularly exploited by shrewder opponents. Spurs finished 15th in Ardiles’ only full season in charge, and he was sacked in November 1994 after a 3-0 defeat by Notts County in the League Cup.
Ruud Gullit (Chelsea)
After a solitary season with Sampdoria, Gullit arrived at Chelsea in 1995 for the final stop of his playing career. He did not hang up his boots for good until 1998, but after a year at Stamford Bridge he was appointed player-manager following Glenn Hoddle’s exit.
The Dutchman made a fine start to life in the dugout (or sometimes still on the pitch), finishing sixth in the Premier League and winning the FA Cup. Then, in February 1998, he was dismissed after falling out with chairman Ken Bates despite the fact the Blues were second in the standings.
Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)
Appointed as Arsenal manager in 1996, many fans of the north London outfit had not heard of Wenger when he arrived. Nor should they have – even though he had previously been at the helm of Monaco, his most recent job had been in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Yet it did not take long for Wenger to get his ideas across. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Frenchman revolutionised English football, bringing in new training and preparation methods and making Arsenal a more attacking side. He spent 22 years in charge of the club, during which time he won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups – more than any other manager in history.
Christian Gross (Tottenham Hotspur)
Having seen Wenger start to work his magic in the red-and-white half of north London, Spurs decided to appoint the little-known Gross in the autumn of 1997. The Swiss was unfairly mocked by the tabloid media for much of his tenure, but he also failed to convince the Tottenham players that he was the man to take them into the top six.
Spurs were in the relegation zone for long stretches of 1997/98, although a late-season rally inspired by the returning Jurgen Klinsmann saw them pull clear of danger. However, two defeats from the first three games of the following campaign brought the curtain down on Gross’ reign.
Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea)
Vialli replaced Ruud Gullit as Chelsea boss after the latter’s contentious sacking in February 1998. The Italian had been part of Gullit’s playing squad and, like his predecessor, combined the two roles after being handed the reins. Chelsea ultimately dropped from second to fourth in 1997/98, but Vialli led them to glory in the Cup Winners’ Cup, overseeing a 1-0 victory over Stuttgart in the final.
Chelsea reached the semi-finals of the same competition in Vialli’s first full season in charge, as well as finishing third in the Premier League – just four points adrift of title winners Manchester United. The Blues dropped to fifth the following year but won the FA Cup, an achievement that did not prevent Vialli losing his job in September 2000.
Gerard Houllier (Liverpool)
Houllier became Liverpool’s first ever foreign manager in 1998, initially sharing the post with Roy Evans as the Reds continued their ‘boot room’ tradition, which saw members of the internal coaching staff groomed to take charge when there was a vacancy. The job share did not work, though, and Houllier took sole charge after a few months.
The Frenchman spent six years at Liverpool in total and guided them to a unique treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup in 2000/01. He left in 2004 after the Reds finished fourth, but he is still regarded fondly by fans of the club.
Egil Olsen (Wimbledon)
Prior to his appointment as Joe Kinnear’s successor, Olsen claimed Wimbledon and Brazil were the two teams he had always dreamed of managing. The Norwegian looked like a good stylistic fit for the Dons: the club had a reputation for direct, long-ball football, and Olsen had worked wonders using similar methods with his country’s national team.
Things did not go to plan, though, and Olsen was sacked shortly before Wimbledon’s relegation was confirmed at the end of the 1999/00 season. The players were never on board with his 4-5-1 formation and zonal marking system, while Olsen was also criticised for a recruitment policy that was centred on Norwegian imports.