The 2019-20 football season was unlike any other, with the pandemic putting a halt to action from late March till June. When football eventually did resume, action commenced in front of empty stadiums as seasons ended almost a year after they had begun. While there were no shortages of surprises off the pitch, a few managers also made their mark on the season in an unexpected manner.
Here, we have a look at those first-team head coaches who unexpectedly caught the attention of the football world and forced everyone to sit up and take notice.
The former Bayern Munich midfielder, Hansi Flick was brought into the Bavarian setup as their assistant manager at the start of the season. However, Niko Kovac’s dismissal a few months into the campaign meant that Flick was handed the role of interim manager and after taking full charge of the German giants, the galvanising effect that he had on the squad was almost instantaneous.
He made Bayern look like their former selves, having failed to produce their best under Kovac’s tutelage. They went on to return to the top of the league and win their eighth successive Bundesliga title under Flick.
Currently, in the Champions League semi-finals, he will be looking to win the holy grail of European club football seven years after Bayern’s last continental triumph. During those seven years, even the much-celebrated Pep Guardiola failed to steer the German giants to the Champions League but Flick, who was confirmed as Bayern’s permanent manager in April, looks to be on course for European glory with his team.
Another young German manager who is vying for European glory, Julian Nagelsmann may be just 33 years of age, but he already has a CV to make even the most experienced managers in the game envious. With a clash in the semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain to look ahead to, Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig can still have more surprises in store for us if they get the better of the Parisians.
Having said that, it’s worth noting that reaching the semis with Leipzig in his first season with the club is already an achievement that Nagelsmann can be proud of. The former 1899 Hoffenheim manager has only further enhanced his reputation in Europe and what won’t be a surprise is that European heavyweights will all be circling for his signature if he can pull off an unlikely Champions League triumph with Leipzig.
Rudi Garcia may have had to endure a difficult campaign with French club Lyon in the Ligue 1, but his side’s performances in the Champions League have left many football pundits scratching their heads. The Frenchman’s team could only manage a seventh-place finish in Ligue 1 but find themselves in a semi-final clash against the mighty Bavarians.
Garcia and Lyon, of course, were never expected to make it this far in the competition but after narrowly qualifying for the knockout stage, they have gone on to beat the likes of Juventus and Manchester City to make it to the semis. While another shock win against Bayern this time around looks improbable, the same could have been said about their matches against Juventus and Manchester City.
Mikel Arteta has had a mixed first season at Arsenal after taking over the reins halfway into the campaign following the sacking of Unai Emery. During his time as manager, the Spanish head coach demonstrated what an astute tactician he can be with big statement wins over Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
While there are areas of improvement for next season, particularly against clubs from the lower half of the table, Arteta can be proud of what he achieved with the Gunners in his debut campaign as manager. An FA Cup trophy was perhaps a fitting reward for the effect that he’s had on the north London club and it’s also worth remembering that Arsenal had to get the better of Manchester City and Chelsea to win the domestic cup as well as a secure a spot in Europe for next season.
After enduring dismal spells during his sacking as Spain’s head coach and Real Madrid’s manager, the 2019-20 season saw Julen Lopetegui repair his reputation and rebuild his career. Now the manager of Sevilla, who he guided to a fourth-place finish in La Liga in his first season at the club, Lopetegui has already proven many doubters in Spain wrong.
Instead of enduring another tough campaign as many pundits expected him to, Lopetegui has ensured his team are in next season’s Champions League as well as in the final of the ongoing campaign’s Europa League. Even though Sevilla have a rich history in the competition, not many were expecting Lopetegui’s Sevilla to beat Manchester United in the semi-final. However, they did get the better of the Red Devils in the semis and it’ll be another surprise if Sevilla can beat Inter Milan in the final.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Manu Fernandez / Ronny Hartman / Franck Fife / Catherine Ivill / Martin Meissner