Football management is a peculiar profession; although one would think that achieving success on the field as a player would naturally lead to similar levels of success while barking orders on the periphery as a coach, the commonly-held belief is that the footballing greats who would captivate the crowds during their playing days more often than not make for rubbish managers.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course – Brian Clough, Franz Beckenbauer and Kenny Dalgish to name three – yet seeing footballing legends fail miserably at management is, in truth, a painfully regular occurrence.
Their deterioration from idols to laughing stocks as they slosh and stumble through treacherous managerial waters can be a heartbreaking, innocence-shattering experience, a realisation that these heroes whose faces once decorated our Panini sticker albums and whose names were once proudly imprinted on the backs of our replica shirts are just human after all, like discovering that the jovial, jocular Father Christmas whose lap you would sit on every year as an entranced child in the local Yuletide fayre is now a destitute Irn-Bru addict sleeping rough in a disused scout hut.
This uncomfortable truth has given rise to the mantra that a great player does not a good manager make. What’s more, it is often those who have had unremarkable playing careers who go on to become celebrated coaches, as a certain charismatic Portuguese manager would not hesitate to tell you. The failure of footballing greats to make the transition into management may be down to undimmed egotism, self-destructive perfectionism or simply the fact that competent management is a quality that needs to be learnt over time, rather than inherited on the training ground as a player who is involved in the action and not observing from afar as a detached coach.
It is a thought-provoking topic which has no doubt brought about many theories which could be discussed for eternity, so instead here is a list of five great players who turned out to be useless managers…
A fearless, commanding midfield general who achieved great success at Liverpool as a player, Souness was a bit of a dud as a manager. Numerous costly and calamitous signings over the years – it was he who infamously brought Ali Dia to Southampton – tarnished his reputation, and he is widely believed to have been the principal cause for Liverpool’s decline in the early 1990. Souness’ confrontational, authoritarian style had a negative effect on most of the sides he managed, and in 2008 he was named the ‘Worst Football Manager’ by Observer Sport Monthly. He is now a pundit with Sky Sports, and has earned praise for his work; judging by his record, Souness should probably stick to his current job and give another shot at management a miss.
The sixth most capped England player of all time and voted as the greatest ever Manchester United player in a poll of ex-United players in 2011, Robson’s managerial career had a promising beginning, as his Middlesbrough side won promotion to the Premier League and reached both domestic cup finals in 1997. It was all downhill from there, however, as his Boro, Bradford and West Brom sides all got relegated under his guidance. A sacking at Sheffield United after a series of poor results then inevitably followed, before Robson sought refuge from the cutthroat world of English football in Thailand, hoping to resurrect a limp, battered reputation by managing their national team. Seven games, four defeats and a 29% win ratio later, and the mangled, decomposing corpse of Robson’s managerial career was finally laid to rest. Robson has since been given the title of ‘global ambassador’ at Manchester United as something of a goodwill gift to put his mind off a harrowing time in his life which must surely still keep him up at night.
A one-club man and a genuine Arsenal legend, great things were expected of Adams when he moved into management in 2003. After relegation with Wycombe Wanderers, Adams wisely took a step back and took up a trainee coaching role in the Netherlands with Feyenoord and Utrecht, before joining Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth as the club’s assistant manager. Redknapp’s departure in 2008 saw Adams become the manager of the south coast side on a full-time basis, only for him to be sacked just five months later after amassing 10 points from 16 games. A spell at Azerbaijani outfit Gabala FC also proved to be shortlived, and is his most recent managerial job to date. His win percentage over the course of his brief coaching career stands at 28%.
Although including Ranieri in this list is cheating a bit, given that the Italian’s only honour as a player was the Serie C1 title with Palermo, his name must be brought up as it beggars belief as to how he continues to be employed as a top European manager. For nigh on 30 years, Ranieri has not so much boarded the gravy train as to have driven it himself; the four years he spent at Chelsea is the longest time he has spent at a single club, and since then a familiar pattern has emerged whereby the ‘Tinkerman’ is employed for a season or two before inevitably getting sacked. Widely held responsible for Chelsea’s semi-final exit in the 2003/04 Champions’ League for a number of bemusing substitutions and tactical tweaks, Ranieri has been given the opportunity to manage some of the greatest and most illustrious teams in world football – Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma, Valencia – with very little success to show for it.
A controversial choice, but one that holds water when presented with the cold, hard facts. Regarded as one of the finest defensive midfielders of all time, Rijkaard’s brief period of success as manager of Barcelona was preceded by a single season in charge of Sparta Rotterdam, who were relegated to the second division for the first time in their history under his leadership with a win percentage of 16%. Although he went on to win back-to-back La Liga titles and the Champions’ League at the Nou Camp, one could argue that most managers could have achieved what the Dutchman did with a squad containing Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Xavi, not to mention a young prodigy from Argentina. After two successive trophyless seasons, Rijkaard packed his bags and headed to Turkey in 2009 to further his managerial career at Galatasaray, only to be sacked a year later. A similar fate befell the Ajax legend as head coach of Saudi Arabia, and Rijkaard has been out of a job since.