EPL | Apr 12, 2023

The rise of the player-turned-manager and what it’s done to football

By Harry Bazley

Paul Ince

It’s quite a common thing for great players to make the move into management after they hang up the boots, but many of them only manage one thing - to lead their team to failure, embarrassment and relegation.

Despite all of the sob stories we’ve witnessed over the years, the trend still seems to be holding strong. For whatever reason, the general consensus remains to be that great football players will also make great managers.

Now, there is no magic recipe for making an exceptional manager… Although Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho did not have astounding careers on the pitch, they have made history as managers of the sport. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many others, who made it to the top level of the sport, but fell to the depths as a manager.

Here are just a few instances where legendary players completely failed when they became the boss.

Gary Neville

Gary Neville is considered to be one of the best defenders of his generation and undoubtedly amongst the greatest English defenders of all time. After hanging up his boots, Neville continued his career in the football world and is now known as a top pundit with Sky Sports.

I could talk forever about how much I dislike Neville on the Sky Sports sofa and the commentators booth, but where he really fell short of the mark was when he moved into team management.

The former Manchester United right back made his first venture in coaching with the England national team back in 2012. Roy Hodgson took Neville on as his assistant manager, and this is where things began to fall apart. During his time as the team's AM, England were eliminated during the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, followed by an embarrassing loss to Iceland at Euro 2016. Neville lost his post soon after.

At the same time, Neville also took La Liga side Valencia on a disastrous run after taking over in December 2015. With no managerial experience and not being able to speak Spanish, it was a questionable appointment by the team.

Under Neville’s watch, Valencia fell out of Champions League contention, had a 10-game winless run in La Liga and lost a whopping 7-0 thrashing to Barcelona.

After winning just 3 of 16 games in the league, Neville was fired in March, just 3 months after he arrived. Fortunately, he never returned to management.

Alan Shearer

Shearer is one of the most legendary English football players to ever grace the pitch. He remains the Premier League’s all-time top goal scorer to this day - although Erling Halaand may have something to say about that very soon. Regardless of his record, Shearer will remain an icon in the world of football for decades to come, but his brief stint as a football manager certainly didn’t help build his legacy.

3 years after his retirement, Shearer became the manager of Newcastle in April 2009 when the club’s previous boss Joe Kinnear stepped down due to health issues.

Newcastle were already in trouble, with relegation looking a possibility before Shearer took on the challenge. Unfortunately, his skill on the pitch wasn’t quite reflected in his management.

After winning just one game and collecting just 5 points from a possible 24, the side suffered relegation to the EFL Championship and Shearer lost his position. The run has gone down as one of the worst runs for Newcastle in the history of the league, but they soon found redemption as Chris Hughton led them to promotion in his first season in charge.

Diego Maradona

Now, we’ve already covered some extremely talented players, but Diego Maradona is in a league of his own and is certainly in contention for the best player of all time. In 1986, he guided Argentina to their second World Cup victory, reached the final of the 1990 tournament, and won major trophies with Barcelona and Napoli.

Throughout his career, Maradona had his fair share of problems off the pitch, from behavioural issues to drug scandals - both of which should have been red flags for his management potential. But surprisingly, after underwhelming stints with smaller Argentinian clubs, Maradona became the national team boss in 2008.

Things started off pretty rough with a 6-1 loss to Bolivia, but he managed to lead the side into the 2010 World Cup where they were able to win all 3 group stage games. But when they faced tougher opponents in the knockout rounds, Maradona’s messy tactics were easily exposed.

His game plan and style of play essentially relied upon stars like Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez leading an all-out attack. Germany took a 4-0 win in the quarter final, putting the finishing touches on Maradona’s managerial career.

Despite a disappointing record as a boss, El Diego will remain a legend for as long as football lives.

The Flip Side

So, it’s clear that players don’t always make the best managers and that perhaps football should start looking at both professions individually. It seems that the community tends to presume that players make great coaches and managers because they know the game, but being a coach is much more than that. Of course, this doesn’t mean there are no success stories…

Pep Guardiola

In his time as a Barcelona midfielder he led them to their first European Cup Final victory and claimed six La Liga titles, as well as an Olympic gold medal representing Spain in 1992. After dominating as one of the sport’s most legendary players, Guardiola made the move to management.

As a manager, Guardiola established dominant football teams, earning numerous league championships with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. Additionally, he secured two Champions League titles during his tenure with his hometown club, Barcelona.

Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti was a prominent member of the dominant AC Milan team in the late 1980s and early 1990s during his playing career, having won the European Cup and Serie A twice with the Rossoneri, as well as an Italian league championship with AS Roma. He is a true legend of European football and upon his retirement, he moved to the bosses chair to take on management of some of the world’s most talented teams.

In his managerial career, the Italian has enjoyed success across multiple countries, claiming league titles in Italy, Spain, England, and Germany. As an AC Milan manager, Ancelotti secured two Champions League victories and famously led Real Madrid to La Decima, ending the club's ten-year drought. He is also one of only three managers to have won the competition on three separate occasions.

So, it can go both ways - from dominating success stories to complete failures, player-turned-managers can have a huge effect on the history of the sport. Some will take clubs to back-to-back titles and impressive World Cup runs, while others will fall well short of the mark and lead a team to relegation. Is it more of the former or the latter? That's tough to say, but with Paul Ince's recent performance and subsequent firing, the trend could be establishing itself....