For 14 Premier League managers, it's an impossible job to satisfy fans
Mauricio Pochettino was the last manager outside the top six to be promoted into the elite tier of teams, and his subsequent record at Tottenham Hotspur suggests that more managers deserve the opportunity. That said, it was a rare occurrence. When Pochettino left eighth-place Southampton for sixth-place Spurs at the end of the 2013-14 season, it was his reward for guiding the Saints to their highest Premier League finish for over a decade.
Spurs chairman Daniel Levy identified something special in Pochettino, believing that the former Espanyol coach possessed the ability to achieve the dual targets of promoting the club's exciting young players and taking Tottenham into the Champions League. Three years on, it has been mission accomplished, with perhaps even greater rewards to come, but the 45-year-old appears to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to managers being given the chance to jump from the also-rans to the contenders.
How long will it be before another manager emulates Pochettino? How long might it take before another elite club looks past Manchester United's disastrous appointment of Everton's David Moyes (who is now tasked with turning West Ham around) in 2013?
Harsh as it may be to describe the 14 clubs outside the Premier League top six as "also-rans," the reality is that is what they have become in a league dominated by the established elite.
Everton and Newcastle, well-supported clubs with history and tradition, might harbour ambitions to break the top six stranglehold, but there is no sign of it happening anytime soon. Meanwhile, Leicester's decline after their incredible title-winning campaign of 2015-16 suggests they were nothing more than a flash in the pan.
So what must life be like for those 14 managers charged with making something happen at their clubs? How do they measure success? What is achievable? And are they just waiting to be sacked for ultimately failing to take the elusive next step?
Alan Curbishley left Charlton in 2005-06 with the club sitting 13th in the Premier League and its supporters wanting more than his ability to deliver annual mid-table finishes. Charlton were relegated the following season and are now in League One.
Similarly, Bolton Wanderers and Sam Allardyce parted company in May 2007 with the club sitting in seventh and with European qualification secured. Like Curbishley at Charlton, Allardyce had grown tired of his success breeding unrealistic expectations, so he left for Newcastle. Bolton are now second-bottom of the Championship having dropped as low as League One last season.
The lessons of Charlton and Bolton are quickly forgotten by those clubs outside the Premier League top six. Supporters will always want more than mere survival -- the same will happen at Burnley, Brighton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield the longer they remain top flight clubs -- but can fans really be blamed for wanting to see their team win something? Since the turn of this century, only two clubs outside the so-called top six (Portsmouth and Wigan Athletic) have won the FA Cup, yet both now find themselves in League One, having been unable to sustain the dream of competing with the elite.
The League Cup has been more evenly contested, with Leicester, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and Swansea all winning it since 2000, but Manchester City (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United have won the last four between them. It's getting harder for managers outside the top six to achieve something tangible, leaving them in a situation where mediocrity and subsequent failure is the only option.
Overachieve and they risk becoming like Curbishley or Allardyce by setting the bar impossibly high. Deliver consistency and stability, as Moyes did at Everton, and supporters grow tired of being locked in a Premier League no-man's land.
Then there are those who walk into impossible jobs and are chewed up and spat out once results go awry or the team drops into the bottom three. Mike Phelan at Hull and Bob Bradley at Swansea were out of jobs before they had barely started them last season; Frank de Boer and Craig Shakespeare, at Crystal Palace and Leicester, respectively, suffered the same fate this time around.
Tony Pulis, who has brought such dreaded consistency and stability to West Bromwich Albion, is now coming under increasing pressure at The Hawthorns because supporters have grown tired of the football he sends his team out to play. All of which takes us back to Moyes, a man who has experienced the best and worst of the management profession in recent years.
Moyes has tasted the high of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson as the "Chosen One" at United in 2013, but his disastrous failure at Old Trafford cost him the job after just nine months. He then failed at Real Sociedad and Sunderland, overseeing relegation at the Stadium of Light, before being handed the task of saving West Ham from the same ignominious fate.
Moyes has antagonised supporters at all of his Premier League clubs with his style of play, but at Everton, it at least brought results. He needs to do the same at West Ham, but if he can keep them up this season, he will be expected to achieve much more next year.
Not all managers can be like Pochettino. Most of them, like Moyes, are in a no-win situation whatever they do.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_