Ask Norman

The Italian job

September 25, 2012
By Norman Hubbard
(Archive)

Norman Hubbard is ESPN FC's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

The FA Cup was won by Chelsea last season, meaning it has been won by three Italian managers in a row. I want to ask whether has this occurred in any league before, where a tournament has been won by two or more teams with a manager from the same foreign country, Asu Moses from Nigeria asked

Roberto Di Matteo
PA PhotosRoberto Di Matteo is thrown into the air after managing Chelsea to FA Cup glory

The FA Cup has been won in the last three seasons by Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Roberto Mancini (Manchester City) and then Roberto Di Matteo (also Chelsea) - all, as Asu said, Italians. In the process, they have emulated the French, winners in 2001, 2002 and 2003 (Gerard Houllier for Liverpool and then, twice, Arsene Wenger for Arsenal), and, unsurprisingly the Scots. In 1992, Graeme Souness of Liverpool was the winning manager, followed by Arsenal's George Graham and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson.

However, the modern-day Scots have not managed to equal their 19th-century counterparts in the FA Cup. Between 1884 and 1887, the FA Cup was won by Tom Mitchell of Blackburn three times, followed by Aston Villa's George Ramsey.

In the League Cup, meanwhile, there has been a recent run of three Scottish victories, between 2010 and 2012 by Ferguson (twice) and Alex McLeish, then with Birmingham, but the Scots have been at their most dominant in the league.

Ferguson has twice won three successive titles but there are two runs of four Scottish managers triumphing - between 1964 and 1967, when Liverpool's Bill Shankly and Manchester United's Sir Matt Busby swapped titles, and then from 1988 to 1991, when Kenny Dalglish, also at Anfield, and Arsenal's George Graham did likewise.

But the longest run of sustained Scottish success in England came between 1993 and 1997 when Ferguson won four league titles, separated by Dalglish's Blackburn being champions in 1995.

In Spain, there have been two runs of three or more titles from Dutch managers but, on both occasions, it was the same man: Leo Beenhakker (three) for Real Madrid and Johan Cruyff (four) for Barcelona.

But in the Copa del Rey there were twice five successive English managers celebrating. Most recently, between 1929 and 1933 Jack Greenwell won for Espanyol followed by Fred Pentland winning four in a row for Athletic Bilbao. Earlier, from 1920 to 1924, Greenwell (twice) for Barcelona, Billy Barnes and then Pentland for Athletic Bilbao and Real Union's Steve Bloomer triumphed.

But the longest run of success by different foreign managers from any one country, certainly in a major league, that I can find is by Englishmen at the start of Serie A. Six of the first seven titles were won by Genoa's James Richardson Spensley with the other, in 1901, going to AC Milan's Herbert Kilpin.

My question is a two-parter regarding the growing Belgian contingent in the Premier League. Are there enough Belgians in the Premier League to comprise a starting line-up for the Belgian national team? And if there are, would it be the first time that a national team is made up of players who all play in the same league outside of their country? Zahan Mehta asked

Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen
PA PhotosVincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen are all with Premier League clubs

There is a growing Belgian influence in the English league with 12 players at Premier League clubs and a further three - Kevin de Bruyne, Dedryck Boyata and Thibaut Courtois - owned by them but on loan abroad.

The full dozen are: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal); Christian Benteke (Aston Villa); Eden Hazard (Chelsea); Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas (Everton); Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Marnick Vermijl (Manchester United); Simon Mignolet (Sunderland); Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele (Tottenham); Yassine El Ghanassy and Romelu Lukaku (West Brom). In addition, Everton attempted to take Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe on loan, and thought they had until FIFA blocked the move a week after the transfer window closed.

Anyway, a fine 11 could come from those actually in England, for example: Mignolet; Vermijl, Kompany, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; El Ghanassy, Fellaini, Dembele, Mirallas; Hazard; Lukaku. Vermijl, by the way, is a right-back who is yet to make his United debut and who was included for the sake of balance. A more attacking 11 could include striker Benteke in his place. He is one of ten Premier League players in the current Belgium squad - only Vermijl and El Ghanassy are not, though the latter is a full international.

Given the lack of a logical right-back (by the way, there is a Belgium international who can play right back at an English club - Leicester's Ritchie de Laet, though he is not in the current squad), plus the presence of players such as Axel Witsel and Steven Defour, it is unlikely manager Marc Wilmots will select entirely from the Premier League, but it is possible. In the 2-0 win over Wales, seven of his starters came from English clubs, while an eighth - Courtois, owned by Chelsea but loaned to Atletico Madrid - was in goal.

However, were it to happen, it would not be a first. Republic of Ireland have often named an 11 taken entirely from English clubs; indeed, their entire 23-man squad at the 2002 World Cup were employed in England.