Wednesday 10 December ~

It is the time of year when the managerial merry-go-round begins to pick up pace. In the next few weeks, chairmen will be mulling over whether they can trust their current manager to lead  them through a busy festive schedule, or if they should be handed a cheque book in January. Managers have been at the centre of the back-page debate today with Juande Ramos yesterday taking over the reins at Real Madrid on a six-month deal, six weeks after leaving Tottenham Hotspur at the foot of the Premier League.

Spurs fans will be puzzled as to how a man who steered their team to their worst ever start to a season has now been given a chance with probably the most celebrated football club in the world. The appointment makes Ramos the ninth Real Madrid coach in the last ten years. Meanwhile, things are looking up for two Premier League managers. Rafa Benitez is close to signing a contract that will keep him at Liverpool until 2013 and, in Porto tonight, Arsène Wenger takes charge of Arsenal for the 700th time.

Down at the foot of the table, Sam Allardyce claims to be the right man for Sunderland – ”I know what it needs,” he insists – but he will face competition from Gerard Houllier and Alan Curbishley. Allardyce was at Sunderland both as a player and as a coach under former Bolton team-mate Peter Reid, and although his previous links with the club may have minimal bearing on the outcome, he would seem to possess the credentials to succeed at a club of Sunderland's stature. He won't want to dwell on his time at Newcastle but his seven-and-a-half years in charge at Bolton Wanderers made him one of the chief candidates to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager as recently as 2006.

Allardyce has also passed on some wisdom to his former deputy, Hull City manager Phil Brown, who has developed his mentor's knack of getting the best out of less-celebrated performers. Allardyce's style of management has tended to rely heavily on set pieces and long balls, but with home games coming up against West Brom and Blackburn, Sunderland need to start getting results, regardless of the quality of their performances. What are the odds of Allardyce getting the nod and making Rory Delap, a former Black Cat, his first signing? It's a lot likelier than Ramos still being Real Madrid manager in three years’ time. Rich Evans

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