As English football caught its breath after another truly outstanding season across all four divisions, attention turned to the seasons’ award ceremonies. After a tight season with so many teams enjoying fruitful campaigns, attention was particularly focused on the LMA Manager of the Year awards.
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers scooped the overall LMA honor while Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis was announced as the Premier League Manager of the Year. While both managers were proud of their achievements in the 2013/14 campaign, there was also likely to be mixed emotions as the two coaches accepted the awards.
The Manager of the Year accolade offered some consolation to Rodgers after his Liverpool side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title to Manchester City, who were crowned champions for the second time in three years in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge.
This was despite Rodgers’ side seemingly being in pole position to claim their first title of the Premier League era just a few weeks before the season’s finale, especially after an enthralling 3-2 win over City in April.
However, after dropping points at home to Chelsea and, ironically, away to Pulis’ Crystal Palace in a game in which they conceded a three goal advantage to draw 3-3, Liverpool presented the advantage back to Pellegrini’s men, who capitalized in some style.
Although second place was ultimately a disappointment in the end for Rodgers after Liverpool’s run of form towards the end of the season, he can still look back and be proud of his work at Anfield since his arrival two years ago.
Rodgers made a brave decision to leave his role at Swansea, who he helped establish in the top flight after leading them to promotion from the Championship, particularly after Liverpool had endured two frustrating seasons of league form prior to his arrival. But he has turned the Merseyside outfit into genuine title contenders in just his second full season as manager, playing some superb attacking football and gaining the approval of pundits and fans across the country.
His presence at Anfield has been crucial in the development of young players such as Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling and he has also shown his shrewdness in the transfer market by recruiting talent such as Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. All of these players have played a key part in Liverpool’s improvement this season. The impact he has had this season also marks a huge personal achievement in terms of his development as a head coach after taking his first managerial role at Watford just under six years ago.
England fans will also be delighted with Liverpool’s progress under Rodgers due to the presence of several homegrown players in his starting XI and the role they have played in leading their title charge this season. Their progress has not gone unnoticed, as Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge were named alongside captain Steven Gerrard in Roy Hodgson’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, while defender Jon Flanagan was named on the standby list.
But while there may have been mixed emotions as Rodgers accepted his prize, the confirmation of Tony Pulis as the Premier League’s Manager of the Year would only have added to the sense of joy at Selhurst Park. It was a deserved reward for Pulis after performing what many would have seen as the impossible by keeping Palace in the top flight this season.
Many predicted before the season began that the Eagles’ would face an immediate return to the Championship come May after being promoted via the play-offs last year. That looked as though it would be the case when Ian Holloway left the club in October with Palace having just one league win to their name.
However, after showing some slight improvement under caretaker boss Keith Millen, Palace have flourished under Pulis, who defied the odds to escape relegation and finish the season in 11th place, just four points off a top half finish.
The Welshman’s arrival led to an immediate boost in form both at home and on the road as Pulis continues the impressive work he did at Stoke City, who he helped transform into an established Premier League club during his seven-year reign at the Britannia Stadium.
Pulis’ impact at Selhurst Park crystallized in the later stages of the season when they were beaten just once in their final eight games - a 2-0 home defeat to champions Manchester City. This run included a five game winning streak which comprised of wins at home to high-flying Chelsea and away at Everton, which was one of the three league defeats the Toffees’ suffered at Goodison Park all season.
The award was a landmark moment for Pulis, who has not always got the appreciation he deserves for his achievements as a manager. The Eagles’ fans can now look forward with optimism to another season in the Premier League under Pulis.
The awards were a brilliant way to round off a season of remarkable accomplishments not just at the top end of the Premier League, but at the other end of the table as well, where the stakes remain just as high. Attention now turns to how these admirable managers and the rest of the football pyramid look to build on their progress come August.