What do Premier League managers blame after a bad result? And who makes the most excuses?

Managers sometimes complain that post-match interviews are slightly unfair.

Moments after resigning as England boss in 2016, Roy Hodgson famously told the media: “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”

In 2013, former Nottingham Forest coach Billy Davies held a post-match interview before kick-off.

Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, is frequently monosyllabic.

They may have good reason for their distaste. Publicly analyzing an outcome minutes after a bad result is a skill set demanded by very few professions. A politician voted out of office? Bumbling military general?

And then there is pressure too — lots of it.

Their comments are often still insightful, although not solely for their footballing analysis. Reaching for an excuse can signal their wider management style — not only their message to the fanbase, but in how they treat their players.

Do they deflect attention away from their team? Is responsibility carried on their own shoulders? Or, was it a factor they could not hope to control?

It can also be a chance to complain or release frustrated energy. Scheduling, injuries, refereeing decisions — all regular excuses trotted out.

They will be on full display this weekend as the 2022-23 campaign begins. Last season, the opening day saw limited pre-seasons, thin squads, and Euro 2020 hangovers all blamed.

But what do coaches tend to blame — and which of them make the most excuses?

Tuchel and Arteta embrace after Chelsea's win at Arsenal last season (Photo: Getty Images)


Tuchel and Arteta embrace after Chelsea’s win at Arsenal last season (Photo: Getty Images)

To answer these questions, The Athletic listened to the comments made by every Premier League manager after a loss or a draw during every domestic game in the 2021-22 season — a total of 492 interviews.

The results of this tongue-in-cheek empirical study can be found below.


Tuchel makes more excuses than any other manager — with Arteta not far behind

Chelsea might have flirted with a title challenge in the opening months of last season, and reached the final of both domestic cups — but Thomas Tuchel had the highest excuse ratio of any Premier League manager.

In 19 post-match interviews after a draw or defeat, Tuchel raised mitigating factors 11 times, giving him a moan percentage of 57.9 per cent.

Breaking this down, his favorite cause for complaint was COVID-19, which affected the squad on several occasions in December. He used this excuse three times.

He also blamed refereeing decisions (twice), luck (twice), individual players (twice), fatigue (once), and even the Stamford Bridge pitch after a 4-2 defeat to Arsenal in April.

Most complaining managers

Rank Manager Club Blame percentage

1

Thomas Tuchel

Chelsea

57.9%

2

Mikel Arteta

Arsenal

55.5%

3

Daniel Farke

Norwich City

54.5%

4

Dean Smith

Aston Villa/Norwich City

48.4%

5

Rafa Benitez

Everton

46.7%

6

Frank Lampard

Everton

46.2%

7

Eddie Howe

Newcastle United

42.9%

8

David Moyes

West Ham United

41.7%

9

Sean Dyche

Burnley

40.7%

10

Ralf Rangnick

Manchester United

40.0%

11

Steven Gerrard

Aston Villa

37.5%

12

Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool

33.3%

13

Claudio Ranieri

Watford

33.3%

14

Ralph Hasenhuttl

Southampton

32.3%

15

Bruno Lage

Wolves

29.2%

Mikel Arteta, Tuchel’s counterpart that day, was narrowly behind the German, finishing the season with a moan percentage of 55.5 per cent.

His favored target was refereeing decisions, which he brought up after games against Manchester City, Crystal Palace, and Tottenham Hotspur.

But his best excuse was saved for after the defeat to Southampton, where he bemoaned football’s scoring system, saying that if it was basketball, his side would have “won the game very comfortably”.

At the other end of the league table, Daniel Farke narrowly pipped his Norwich successor Dean Smith to the bronze medal position, finishing with a 54.5 per cent moan ratio, compared to Smith’s 48.4 per cent.

The 2021-22 top 10 is rounded out by Rafa Benitez, Frank Lampard, Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Sean Dyche, and Ralf Rangnick.

Leeds most accepting of their fate — with Conte laying least blame of the Big Six

Leeds United — purveyors of fair play and sportsmanship.

Jesse Marsch and Marcelo Bielsa blamed external factors less than any other managers last season — on just four occasions from 31 opportunities. They also never used refereeing as an excuse, with Brentford’s Thomas Frank the only other coach to achieve that accolade.

Not content with taking his job in February, Marsch narrowly pip Bielsa to the top spot, although the American does have a far smaller sample size. Bielsa, famously, refuses to ever criticize officials, although he did bemoan Leeds’ injury situation on three occasions.

Least complaining managers

Rank Manager Club Blame percentage

29

Jesse Marsh

Leeds United

12.5%

28

Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United

13.0%

27

Thomas Frank

Brentford

14.8%

26

Antonio Conte

Tottenham Hotspur

15.4%

25

Xisco Munoz

Watford

16.7%

23

Mike Jackson

Burnley

20.0%

24

Nuno Espirito Santo

Tottenham Hotspur

20.0%

22

Patrick Vieira

Crystal Palace

21.4%

21

Steve Bruce

Newcastle United

22.2%

20

Brendan Rodgers

Leicester City

23.1%

19

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United

25.0%

18

Graham Potter

Brighton & Hove Albion

25.9%

17

Roy Hodgson

Watford

26.7%

16

Pep Guardiola

Manchester City

27.3%

Also featuring highly is Spurs manager Antonio Conte, who has a moan percentage of only 15.4 per cent, comfortably below all his top-six counterparts.

His north London rival Arteta makes excuses at four times the rate that the Italian coach does.

Klopp has an unearned reputation

Jurgen Klopp has — fairly or unfairly — built a reputation for blaming external factors after a Liverpool loss. The list of mitigation is entertaining, including the wind, the dryness of the pitch, TV broadcaster conspiracies, and Alisson’s cold feet.

But judging by the statistical analysis of this season alone, it is not an accurate depiction.

Is Jurgen Klopp unfairly treated?  (Photo: Getty Images)


Is Jurgen Klopp unfairly treated? (Photo: Getty Images)

The Liverpool manager sits comfortably mid-table among Premier League coaches, finding an excuse 33.3 per cent of the time, leaving him 12th out of 29 eligible managers.

One caveat — Liverpool only drew or lost nine domestic games this season, so the sample size is small. However, when The Athletic accounted for the 2020-21 season as well, in which Liverpool drew or lost 20 games, Klopp’s moan percentage only rises to 34.4 per cent.

He did, however, complain slightly more than City manager Pep Guardiola in the battle of the top two.

The top six blame game

Rank Manager Club Blame percentage

1

Thomas Tuchel

Chelsea

57.9%

2

Mikel Arteta

Arsenal

55.5%

3

Ralf Rangnick

Manchester United

40.0%

4

Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool

33.3%

5

Pep Guardiola

Manchester City

27.3%

6

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Manchester United

25.0%

7

Nuno Espirito Santo

Tottenham Hotspur

20.0%

8

Antonio Conte

Tottenham Hotspur

15.4%

Managers blame refereeing more than any other factors

So, it’s clear which managers make the most excuses — but what exactly is it they blame?

The leading recipient is referees, with their decisions queried 67 times across the Premier League last season. It reached a zenith in early December, when a quarter of the league — David Moyes, Bruno Lage, Dean Smith, Eddie Howe, and Steven Gerrard — blamed the referee for their result in the 16th gameweek.

Smith, who began the season at Aston Villa, before being sacked and quickly rehired by Norwich, was the least impressed with standards, complaining about a refereeing decision on 11 occasions. Who knows whether Norwich might have avoided relegation if Smith’s view of decisions was correct…

Sean Dyche (six) and Brendan Rodgers (five) were the other managers to be notably frustrated with officiating.

The next most common reason, after refereeing, was managers blaming them players.

Of course, a manager can state his side has performed poorly without it being an excuse. Therefore, this category only addresses an attempt by a manager to absolve themselves of responsibility, whether that is by 1) claiming their squad had failed to follow instructions, or 2) pointing to an individual mistake which cost their side the game.

Particularly fond of this reason is Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, who blamed his players in approximately half of his excuses. United interim manager Ralf Rangnick, quickly tiring of a difficult squad, also grew particularly fond of this mitigation, using it three times in the closing weeks of the season.

Also featuring highly are availability issues, with injuries complaints comprising 12.3 per cent of excuses, and COVID-19 disruption at 4.3 per cent.

Luckwhen a manager is really scraping the blame-dodging barrel, was cited 12 times, for a total of 7.4 per cent.

Winter is the season of discontent

Another interesting facet thrown up by this research is that it charts the frustrations of managers throughout the season. When are they most laid back, happy to ride the Premier League’s fickle ocean, and when do they bullishly admonish any suggestion their work was in any way inferior?

In 2021-22, December was the unhappiest month, with each gameweek averaging six excuses. Of course, last year’s Premier League saw particular disruption in that month, with COVID-19 ravaging several fixtures, and the condensed schedule naturally leading to more injury absences.

Numbers rose again towards the end of the season, with pressure growing ever higher as the title, European qualification, and relegation were all at stake. Speaking of…

Top six more likely to complain than relegation-threatened sides

Working off the basic assumption that a higher level of pressure makes managers more likely to reach for an excuse, this data could help indicate whether chasing titles or dodging relegation is more stressful.

Comparing the Premier League’s top six to their bottom six equivalents paints an interesting picture.

Managers of the top six sides are more likely to complain, remonstrating 38.8 per cent of the time after a loss or draw, compared to 34.7 per cent for the relegation candidates.

It seems the pressure of the job, as well as the situation, is reflected in their post-match judgement.

The awards

Across the 2021-22 season, of 163 excuses, only three can make the podium.

3 Mikel Arteta, Southampton 1-0 Arsenal: “We’d have won if it was basketball”

2 Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham: “Tottenham played too defensively

1 Graham Potter, Brighton 0-0 Norwich: “Our fans telling us to shoot was distracting

Will there be even better to come in 2022-23?

(Top photos: Getty Images/Design: Sam Richardson)

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