It is always interesting when football managers are appointed as coaches of clubs that they used to play for. A lot of the time, these have proven to be favoured due to the relationship they had with fans, their loyalty as a player or if they had played a key part in winning trophies.
With current Bayer Leverkusen boss, Xabi Alonso, being linked with a move back to Liverpool, a club he played for, following the shock revelation that Jurgen Klopp will leave at the end of the season, it got us thinking about the occasions when players have returned to manage clubs they played for and to what degree that it worked out.
Alonso’s Leverkusen are leading the Bundesliga and look a certainty to win their first league title since the 2010/11 season. The Spaniard has put together an exciting squad that plays attractive football, and this, alongside his previous history with the Reds, is why he is being touted as Klopp’s replacement.
Alonso is also a fan favourite at Anfield after playing a big part in helping them win the Champions League in the 2004/05 season and the FA Cup one year later, alongside Steven Gerrard; a shock comeback against AC Milan in the final and a great spectacle against West Ham United respectively.
There is no doubt that Alonso would be a great appointment, and everything so far points to the fact that he would be a manager who could foster continuity at the club in terms of playing style, youth development and recruitment.
Below, we take a look at instances where former players have returned to manage clubs that they played for and to what extent that it worked out. Have a read through and see if you remember any of these names – there could well be some that you would not have expected!
Comparison Of Number Of Honours At Clubs Where They Were Players And Managers
|Number of Honours as Player at Club
|Number of Honours as Manager at Club
|Roberto Di Matteo
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
|A: 18, B: 2
|A: 3, B: 11
Zinedine Zidane And Real Madrid
Arguably, in terms of honours at least, one of the most decorated players in the modern game, the Frenchman was a mercurial midfield talent and formed part of the first ‘Galactico Era’ at Los Blancos. As well as winning the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey (plus multiple honours at Bordeaux and Juventus), he also lifted the World Cup and European Championship.
It appeared that this was enough to convince his previous employer to hand him his first and, as yet, only managerial job in 2016, stepping up from the B team. He won three consecutive Champions League trophies, one La Liga title, one Supercopa de Espana, two UEFA Supercups and two FIFA Club World Cups in the space of just three years. After a short hiatus, he returned for a second spell at the club to bring about stability. That season, managed to win the Spanish Cup and the league again before leaving. To this day, he remains one of the most successful players and managers.
Roberto Di Matteo And Chelsea
Former fan favourite Di Matteo, who as a Chelsea player, won the FA Cup twice (scoring a wonder goal against Middlesborough the first time in 1996/97), the Football League Cup, FA Charity (Community) Shield, UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup returned as Blues’ caretaker boss on March 4th 2012 after the dismissal of his boss Andre Villas-Boas.
At the time, the club were in a bad run of form, though Di Matteo quickly fanned the flames. The Italian knew he had nothing to lose and decided to focus the majority of his energy on cup competitions. As it is, Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup final and, against all of the odds, produced one of the biggest Champions League upsets of all time, defeating a formidable Bayern Munich side on penalties in their own backyard.
The feel-good factor only lasted so long. While Di Matteo was then handed the job on a permanent basis, the high standards that were set proved too much of a gap and he was dismissed the following November.
Carlo Ancelotti And AC Milan
In terms of honours, even as a player, the Italian’s record speaks for itself. He won every major trophy at least twice over while on the pitch at AC Milan, while his return as boss was equally successful.
He won the Serie A at a time when Juventus were considered the elite power in Italy, though he followed this up with two Champions League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, one Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa Italiana and FIFA Club World Cup in the space of five seasons.
Ancelotti, to this day, remains adored by AC Milan fans for his achievements with the club and arguably compiled one of the greatest sides to ever play in the Serie A, featuring Paolo Maldini, Andriy Shevchenko, Kaka, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo and more.
Pep Guardiola And Barcelona
Having been blessed with some of the finest mentors in the game, Guardiola is effectively an encyclopedia of footballing knowledge. As a Barcelona player, he won everything there is to win in the game, learning a brand of football that would help to build the foundation for his coaching philosophies.
In 2007, he was appointed as the manager of the Barcelona B team, where he achieved promotion and, at the same time, established several great relationships with numerous youth players. A year later, he replaced outgoing first-team boss Frank Rijkaard, and the rest is history.
He placed an emphasis on homegrown talent, and the midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta became pivotal to the club’s success and Guardiola’s philosophy, not to mention the small matter of a young guy called Lionel Messi.
In his first season, he won the treble and followed this up by winning an unprecedented six trophies in a calendar year, while further honours followed. To this day, Guardiola remains one of the most successful managers in the club’s history.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer And Manchester United
One of the most well-liked former players among Man Utd fans, Solskjaer carved a reputation for himself as being the ultimate team player during his career at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Mr reliable was often called upon by his manager off the bench if the team were struggling and always invariably found the net. He won every major honour as a player, and his finest moment dramatically won United the Champions League in 1998/99 in the last minute to complete a historic treble.
It meant that when he was appointed as United manager in December 2018 after a good record with Molde, his return was greeted with enthusiasm among the Old Trafford faithful. His only notable achievement was reaching the final of the UEFA Europa League in 2020/21, losing 11-10 to Villarreal on penalties. Arguably, it was his loyalty and commitment to the club as a player that undoubtedly convinced his employers to stick by him for as long as they did, though he was eventually dismissed in November 2021 after no significant improvement.
Franz Beckenbauer And Bayern Munich
If there was ever a name that is synonymous with one club in football, then it has to be Beckenbauer. The German was a player, manager and then president of his beloved Bayern Munich during a highly decorated career.
His 13 seasons playing for the club saw him win every major honour at least three times, where he essentially popularised the role of libero; a stylish sweeper, though he effectively could play nearly anywhere.
As manager of Bayern Munich, he won the Bundesliga and UEFA Cup, while his promotion to president saw him oversee the building of a club that would dominate German football for the best part of a decade, winning everything there was to win in the modern game.
Johan Cruyff And Ajax & Barcelona
Recognised as one of the biggest-ever talents to emerge in the game, Cruyff, both as a player and manager, won everything there is to win and, for two different clubs.
His two stints at Ajax saw him win eight league titles, three European Cups (Champions League), five Dutch Cups, plus one European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup apiece. At Barcelona, he won the La Liga and Cop del Rey.
As a manager, his successes were essentially reversed. He won two league cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup at Ajax, while as manager of Barcelona, he won everything there is to win (11 trophies); four La Liga titles and a European Cup among a collection of all the rest.
He was also responsible for assembling one of the finest squads of players in the last three decades, including (Pep) Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Gheorghe Hagi.
Frank Lampard And Chelsea
Wildey thought of as one of Chelsea’s greatest-ever players, Lampard was a key cog in the team for the best part of a decade. Under manager Jose Mourinho, he excelled and continued to flourish throughout his playing career, winning multiple honours.
This included three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, Football League Cups, two FA Community Shields, one UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League.
His appointment as Chelsea boss in July 2019 was met with intrigue and optimism by fans who were keen to see whether the club legend could take them forward.
It proved to be a difficult task for a manager in his first big test, though he did guide the club to the FA Cup final that season, where they lost 2-1 to Arsenal. He was dismissed on 25 January 2021 after the club dropped to ninth in the Premier League.
Antonio Conte And Juventus
When you think of that great Juventus side of the nineties, a number of names come to the fore, such as Alessandro Del Piero and Zidane, though there is one that perhaps slips under the radar. Conte, though, was an ever-present in the Juventus midfield alongside the more conspicuous Edgar Davids and established himself as a highly effective and tidy ball-winner.
While playing for the club, he won everything there was to win, including five Serie A titles, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League and the Coppa Italia, in addition to others.
His return to the club as manager in 2011 saw him win the Serie A in his first season. He followed this up with two further consecutive league titles in addition to two Supercoppa Italiana’s, earning himself the Italy national team job in 2014.
Kenny Dalglish And Liverpool
Considered to be a legend of the club, ‘King Kenny’, as he was known to Reds fans, had an illustrious career with Liverpool. As a player, he helped the club to 21 trophies, winning everything there was to win, including six first division titles, three European Cups and an FA Cup.
As his playing career at the club finished, he took over as manager, and the trend continued, winning the first division and FA Cup in his first season. Two more league titles followed, plus an FA Cup and English Super Cup.
His sensational return as manager in January 2011 was greeted with joy by the fans, and he followed that up with the statement signings of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez after the departure of Fernando Torres. Sensationally, he led the club to the League Cup in 2011/12 in emotional circumstances.
Diego Simeone And Atletico Madrid
Having played for the club for two seasons, where he won the La Liga title and Copa del Rey, the Argentine forged himself a ‘tough guy’ reputation as a midfield battler, with this attitude transitioning across into his managerial career.
In December 2011, he was unveiled as manager of Los Colchoneros and was an instant hit, winning the La Liga title in 2013/14 and the Supercopa de Espana the same year. In 13 years, he has won 10 trophies for the club, establishing a distinctive yet effective style of play based on a rigid defensive strategy and quick counter-attack.
Kevin Keegan And Newcastle United
There were a number of clubs on Keegan’s illustrious CV, though one that he clearly had an affinity with was the Magpies.
As a player, he joined the club in 1982 and played a key part in helping the club achieve promotion a couple of seasons later before then retiring.
He returned to Newcastle as a manager in 1992 and won the English League First Division that year. In the following seasons, the club established a rivalry with Manchester United and, in a tense title battle with the club during the 1995/96 season, was famously quoted in a passionate interview. It was prior to what was potentially a title decider with Ferguson’s side, and he announced: “I’ll tell you; honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it!”.
Thierry Henry And AS Monaco
Known for being a legend of the game as an Arsenal player prior to his move to Barcelona, the Frenchman also had a playing stint at Monaco before a switch to Juventus. As a player with the French club, he helped them to win the Division 1 title in the 1996/97 season.
Henry returned to the club in late 2018, replacing Leonardo Jardim, though he only lasted three months, leaving them rooted in 19th place.
Gennaro Gattuso And AC Milan
The Italian won every possible major honour while playing for AC Milan, earning himself a reputation as one of the most tenacious and formidable midfielders in Europe at the time, forging a highly effective partnership with (Andrea) Pirlo.
His return as manager in November 2017 following the dismissal of Vincenzo Montella and led the club to their highest finish (fifth) since the 2012/13 season. He famously told the club not to pay him because he failed to qualify for the Champions League before leaving.
Do Fans Go Easier On Managers Who Returned To Clubs Where They Were Legends?
Invariably, most managers go through tough spells at football clubs and in a lot of cases, fans are quick to turn against them, which, in turn then, puts pressure on the board to terminate them.
However, there are instances where it could be argued that if managers have been players at the same club and had a sterling reputation, then a lot of fans may have a lot more patience.
This could be one of the reasons why Solskjaer lasted so long as manager of Man Utd; he essentially landed in club folklore for the part he played in winning the Champions League.
Lampard, despite perhaps not being the most obvious choice as Chelsea manager, pacified fans because of his exceptional record at the club, which included him playing a major part in the club’s first league title for half a century and their first ever Champions League win.
In Lampard’s case, he had built up quite a pedigree, especially considering the number of goals he scored, almost never missing a penalty. Despite the club’s deterioration under Lampard, the fans were patient, especially former owner Roman Abramovich, who demonstrated his ruthlessness over the years, being quick to sack managers rapidly.
Are There Better Chances Of Success For Managers Who Were Previously Successful At The Club Where They Were Players?
What the above table indicates is that when a former player returns to the club where they won numerous trophies, there is a high chance that they will be successful. In some cases, it is also interesting that they win more honours at the club as a manager than when they were a player.
Perhaps the most interesting example is Zidane because when he was a player at Real Madrid, there wasn’t really any difference from when he was a manager. The quality of the playing squad was essentially the same and finances were similar in relation. Arguably, the outlier was the quality of the competition.
As a player, Real Madrid arguably faced a higher quantity of better competition, especially in the league, while in the European theatre, there were even more. Zidane, as a manager of Real Madrid, arguably came up against lesser-quality competition, while in La Liga, there were only two other realistic competitors: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Interestingly, both Guardiola and Ancelotti effectively won just as many honours as a player as they did when they were managers of Barcelona and AC Milan respectively. This could highlight that they were equally great players and managers, though also their circumstances and variables were consistent.
What Does This Mean For The Future?
It will be interesting to see whether the trend of ex-players returning to clubs as managers is going to continue and how successful they might be.
There is a young breed of new managers now who are still cutting their teeth as managers; Steven Gerrard (another contender to take over as Liverpool boss), Wayne Rooney and Lampard are just a few, while Phil Neville has had difficulties as a manager. Each of these has been a legend at their respective clubs, though have not had an easy time as a manager.
Mikel Arteta has shown promise as manager of Arsenal – the last team he played for while Alonso’s potential appointment as the next Liverpool boss could well be the next successful example of a manager returning to a former club where he starred as a player.