Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Do Ex-Footballers Ever Transition Well to Management or the Boardroom?

The new millennia has seen rapid change in all aspects of professional sport, whether it is retractable roofs, cameras mounted on drones, VR review technology, Moneyball-style big data strategies or Liverpool winning the Premier League, things they are a-changin.

However, there are some ancient sporting trends that run through athletic competition like a weed that refuses to die.

One of these is undoubtedly the idea that a great football player will automatically become a successful manager, with club owners and international team head honchos all believing that a player’s former glory can be sprinkled over a contemporary crop of players.


One of the leagues and indeed countries with a propensity for putting ex-pro players at the helm of a club is the SPL and Scotland, inspired by old school legends like Kenny Dalglish and Jock Stein.

Whether it is the little ginger wizard that is Gordon Strachan leading the national team or Neil Lennon getting excited about fulfilling the SPL odds of Celtic winning ten league titles in a row, Scottish football has always bought into the idea that playing experience trumps all other managerial qualities.

That theory will be severely put to the test during the new, already up and running, SPL season, as the aforementioned Lennon and Steven Gerrard go head to head.

Whoever finishes second in Scotland is always deemed an abject failure. It remains to be seen if Gerrard’s blood and thunder approach will garner results or if SPL betting aficionados will have him nailed on for the sack come the end of a dismal league campaign.

However, the SPL title aside, it could be argued that years of managers who are short on ideas of how rejuvenate a club has been one of the many factors that have led to Scottish sides having a diminished impact in European competitions. With perhaps only Brendan Rodgers being a rare exception.

Will Neil Lennon keep proving that players can succeed when leading from the dugout?

Premier League

England’s most famous managers tend to be non-English former players who no one had heard of before they went on to take over the world. The likes of José Mourinho, Arsène Wenger, Alex Ferguson and Jürgen Klopp are all excellent examples of this.

When it comes to former Premier League stars who came good as managers there are pretty slim pickings.

However, when it comes to failures, there are quite a few. The funniest of these tend to be the Premier League superstars who head abroad to take control of a team, with culture clashes and languages barriers hindering them at every juncture.

Gary Neville’s dismal attempt at running Valencia culminated in him being sacked after just four months and a crazy 7-0 thrashing against Barcelona, which still ranks as one of the embarrassing defeats in football history. 

Thierry Henry was a legend at Arsenal, but suffered a similar fate to Neville, as he tore all the va va voom out of Monaco. 

David Beckham’s new Miami-based MLS franchise, during its maiden season, made the worst start to a campaign in the league’s history.

Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, David Beckham and Roy Keane all failed to learn anything about managing a team from Alex Ferguson

Serie A

While recent seasons in Scottish and English leagues have been cautionary tales against having a former player as a manager, the same cannot be said of European domestic leagues.

Some of Serie A’s most successful managers of all time were also once at the top of the game as players.

Didier Deschamps was a Juventus playing legend long before he led France to World Cup glory, as were the likes of Fabio Capello (he was actually really good before he wrecked England) and Giovanni Trapattoni.

In more recent times there are a new breed of Italian manager who also used to ply their trade as players, with Andrea Pirlo, Simone Inzaghi, Antonio Conte and Gennaro Gattuso all leading highly successful teams.

In Conclusion

Ultimately it appears to be the rather insular nature of the English footballer that has meant they have failed to become successful managers either at home or abroad.

This has become even more pronounced as the game has developed to be more globally popular and tactics have moved on from the days of “if in doubt put it out” and “we’re playing four four two whatever happens.”

For now, though, if you are a team owner, the only former players you should be looking to make your team manager are those sourced from Italy, Spain, France or Germany.

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