So, as the short and complicated story of Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea comes to an end, thoughts have already turned towards who his successor might be. The favorite at this early stage looks like being Frank Lampard, who’s arguably overachieved during his single season in charge of Derby County. If not him, then John Terry is also being talked about. Terry has never managed a club before, but has been the assistant manager at Aston Villa for the past season, playing a role in their return to the Premier League via the playoffs. Some Chelsea fans are even hoping for a ‘dream team’ of the two men combined, with Terry working as Lampard’s number two.
The appeal to supporters of such a union is an obvious one. Both men are club legends, and would be welcomed by fans as returning heroes. They’d enjoy a longer honeymoon period than most new coaches would be permitted, and an ocean of goodwill to tap into if things proved difficult at first. From a purely logical standpoint, it makes no sense at all. Chelsea is a club that has constant aspirations to compete at the very highest level both at home and in Europe. Giving the job to a management team who have a combined two years of coaching experience would be a huge risk; the job calls for steady hands, and years of nous. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen anyway.
Appointing a manager at a big club is a lottery these days, regardless of their level of experience. International managers don’t necessarily adapt to working in new countries. Players sometimes resist philosophies. Fans don’t take to the brand of football. That’s why managers have become disposable. Club chairmen now operate like they spend the season at an online casino or All Sister Sites, trying something for a while, and discarding it if it doesn’t work. They’ll make a bet, spin the reels, and see what comes out. If they like it, they’ll stick at it. If they don’t, they’ll move on to the next casino game (or manager), and spin the reels there instead. Eventually, they’ll hit the jackpot. The owners of big clubs have deep pockets. They can play every game in town, and in the end, it’s their casino to play with.
Given that football management comes with less job security than selling hot chili in a desert, it’s inevitable that at some point a club legend will get a go, but does it ever work in practice? Let’s take a look.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United
The jury is still very much out on this one, but they’re not looking as convinced as they did a few short months ago. Solskjaer was briefly the man of the moment when he picked up the reigns of Manchester United from where Jose Mourinho had dropped them, and could do no wrong. Then, as soon as he was appointed permanently, he could do no right. The end of the season was a disaster, as United crashed out of the FA Cup and European Cup, and missed out on Champions League qualification. Now, fellow club legends like Paul Ince (himself a failed manager) are on his back. Solskjaer has the summer transfer window to rejuvenate United’s squad, and get them back to winning ways quickly next season. If he doesn’t, he’s unlikely to see Christmas.
Alan Shearer – Newcastle United
Alan Shearer was only in charge of his beloved Newcastle United for eight Premier League matches, but that doesn’t take away from the scale of the disaster he oversaw during his time there. Nowadays, he’ll tell you that he never intended to take the job permanently anyway, but that wasn’t the case at the time. The stage was set for Shearer when he came in; he replaced the deeply unpopular Joe Kinnear, who’d been taken ill. All he had to do was save them from relegation, and the job was his to keep. It didn’t go to plan. Shearer’s Newcastle won only one of those eight games, and achieved a total return of five points out of a possible twenty-four. They were relegated, and Shearer quietly returned to his position as a pundit on Match of the Day. The whole affair was a disaster.
Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool
Kenny Dalglish – domestically at least – might be the one bright spot when it comes to legendary players becoming the manager at their most strongly-associated club. There’s nothing that Dalglish didn’t achieve as a player at Anfield, and with three league titles, almost nothing that he didn’t achieve as a manager. There’s a reason that the Kop still sing about ‘King Kenny.’ He might even have been able to bring the European Cup back to Anfield during his reign, were it not for the fact that English clubs were banned from Europe at the time. Even this bright spot has a downside, though – he made the ill-advised decision to return to the helm to succeed Roy Hodgson twenty years later, and it didn’t go well. He may have won the League Cup, but the Suarez racism affair tarnished the club, and his win/loss record wasn’t much better than the departed Hodgson’s.
Glenn Hoddle – Tottenham
Hoddle’s time at Tottenham was something of a mixed bag. As one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) midfielders the English game saw during the 1980s, Hoddle was always beloved at White Hart Lane. He was sadly missed when he left, and when the opportunity came to replace George Graham in March 2001, he was welcomed back with open arms. Goodwill kept him there for arguably longer than he should have stayed. Spurs back then weren’t on the level they are now, so getting to a League Cup final was no small achievement, but if we had to sum up his spell as manager there in one word we’d have to go with ‘indifferent.’ He was in charge for 104 games, and won 41 of them. Spurs made a dire start in 2003/2004, and Hoddle paid the price with his job. By the end, nothing was working for him. Maybe it was something he did in a past life?
We could also make cases here for Roberto di Matteo and Stuart Pearce. The general message seems to be that a club legend doesn’t always make a great manager, but equally a club legend can’t necessarily improve the fortunes of a club that’s already failing. If Lampard and/or Terry do wind up with the Chelsea job, we wish them luck. They’re going to need it!
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