Swansea’s signing of Renato Sanches shows what sets Paul Clement apart from the rest, writes Adam Bate.
“I first contacted Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who is chief executive at Bayern Munich, early in the summer,” explained Paul Clement. “They felt Swansea was a place he could be coached and developed – and where he would play more regularly. I’d like to thank Karl and Carlo for showing their trust in the club and myself as a coach by allowing [Renato] Sanches to come.”
On the face of it, this is not a particularly remarkable tale. Clement is just another coach perusing the contacts book and returning to an out-of-favour player at his former club in order to make a new signing late in the transfer window. So far so normal. And yet, Swansea’s loan signing of Sanches is, of course, rather more extraordinary than that.
Part of the Portugal team that won Euro 2016, Sanches is a prodigious talent, regarded as one of the most gifted youngsters in the game. But it is not only his reputation that makes Sanches’ move to the Liberty Stadium so unusual. It is the identity – more crucially, the nationality – of the coach with whom he is willing to entrust the next phase of his career.
Speaking to Simon Grayson earlier this summer, the now Sunderland manager made reference to that oft-discussed issue of a lack of Premier League opportunities for British coaches. “There are a lot of talented British coaches,” said Grayson. “It is just a shame that the only way you get to coach in the Premier League is by taking a team there.”
He is not alone in that view. There are those who feel foreign coaches are favoured and that this is unfair on their British counterparts. There is a preference for the exotic over the ordinary. For while the unknown offers hope, familiar faces root fans and owners in reality. But what should not be overlooked is that there is a logic to this pursuit of foreign coaches.
With clubs now populated by players from all over the world in search of excellence, there is little reason for the coaching staff to be any different. It is natural for Premier League clubs to prefer their coaches to have top level experience of challenging for top-division titles; of European competitions; of working with skilled players from a variety of different cultures.
When Gary Neville made his brief foray into the Champions League with Valencia in December 2015, the Sky Sports pundit became only the fifth Englishman to coach a side in the group stages of the competition. One of those was a caretaker boss and two of the others have since passed away. Only the 70-year-old Harry Redknapp remains active in management.
It is an indication that there are few figures from these shores with the experience that coaches such as Rafael Benitez and Ronald Koeman can bring, even to those clubs outside of the Premier League’s top six. Even Watford’s last three appointments – a Spaniard, an Italian and a Portuguese coach – have all boasted Champions League experience.
All of which helps to explain what makes Clement’s coaching career path so intriguing. Much more significant than his brief stint as Derby County boss are his adventures as an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. He has worked with the best, learnt from the best and coached the best.
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As a result, Clement’s coup in bringing Sanches to Swansea cannot be framed as a triumph for British coaches and what they can do. In a sense, it provides ammunition to the contrary. It points to what so many cannot do. It is proof of the benefits that arise from broader experience beyond the realms of English football’s pyramid.
Although an ongoing relationship with Ancelotti was obviously crucial, this was more than a mere favour. It was a vote of faith in Clement’s work from both the German giants and the player himself. A further clue following the shrewd appointment of Claude Makelele as his assistant, that the knowledge accrued abroad is helping to inform his thinking.
Clement’s Swansea picked up 29 points during the second half of last season, more than every team in the Premier League outside of the top seven clubs. It is results that will define him. But signings such as this one and the background behind it show why Paul Clement is regarded as more upwardly mobile that so many of his compatriots.