Forever immortalised as two of English football’s greatest rivalries, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger brought passion, colour and intensity to the Premier League in the 90s and 00s, and in the later stages, Jose Mourinho arrived to make the conflict a triple-threat.

But what followed was far less exciting. Jose, who had helped cultivate an irresistible identity for Chelsea, moved on in 2007, only coming back for a short spell six years later. Meanwhile Ferguson, who had become the global face of Manchester United, retired from the top job at Old Trafford in 2013.

Five years later, Arsene Wenger finally bid the Emirates faithful one final au-revoir and, within just over ten years, the Premier League had lost arguably its three biggest personalities.

Wenger was replaced by Unai Emery, Chelsea hired eight different managers before welcoming Mourinho back for a second spell in 2013, while the Red Devils’ Moyes experiment failed, and he would be replaced by Louis van Gaal.

It seemed that the era of the true club manager was over. Where once leaders had built an identity and culture, we had instead entered the era of the disposable manager, tasked with winning trophies – or losing their job.

But are we seeing the dawning of a new age? Are those top jobs once again being filled by men who either understand the culture of the club they are leading or who are inventing and entrenching a new one?

Manchester United – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Such was his impact at the club, it’s perhaps no stretch to suggest that nobody will ever replace Ferguson, nor replicate his achievements. But, in Solskjaer, United have a man at the helm who has an immortal bond with the club.

The Norwegian etched his name in United folklore when he scored the winner in the 1999 Champions League Final and, 20 years later, he is now back at Old Trafford. OGS understands the fabric of the club, having played under Ferguson and, though they remain outsiders to challenge for major trophies with those who enjoy betting on football at Space Casino, he has at least given supporters something meaningful to get behind.

Chelsea – Frank Lampard

Lampard has followed a similar path to Solskjaer in that he enjoyed incredible success as a player with the club before eventually returning to manage it. Following disappointing campaigns under Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri, the return of the Blues’ former midfielder has been reason for optimism at Stamford Bridge.

Like Solskjaer, Lampard understands the culture of Chelsea and is a passionate advocate of what it means to represent the club. The former England captain has enjoyed a reasonably successful start to his managerial career and is helping to reignite the Blues’ hunger.

Arsenal – Mikel Arteta

Emery had the unenviable task of following Wenger as Arsenal manager and, though the Gunners showed patience, they eventually parted company earlier this season. To replace him, the North London club appointed a player who’d made more than 100 appearances for them and who’d earned his stripes as a coach alongside Pep Guardiola.

Arteta has inherited a team fairly low on confidence and struggling to live up to the expectations set during the previous 20 years. But the Spaniard has already put his own stamp on Arsenal’s style of play, helping the club rediscover its identity.

The newcomers

While it is former players who are restoring lost identities, managers like Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are helping create new ones. Liverpool manager Klopp is now in his fifth season with Liverpool and has the Reds playing a style of football presently unmatched by its rivals.

Klopp’s passion for Liverpool is evident in everything he does and it’s helping to awaken one of English football’s true giants, while his Man City counterpart Pep Guardiola has brought an attacking philosophy to the Etihad Stadium that is the envy of football fans the world over.

Alongside familiar faces like Solskjaer, Lampard and Arteta, Klopp and Guardiola are playing their own roles in restoring some of the passion and identity to the touchline of Premier League fixtures that had previously been lacking.

Chris Darwen
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