Should Ex-Players Walk Straight into Managerial Roles?

An opinion piece on whether the trend of ex-players being given the reigns at some of Europe's biggest clubs is promising or worrying.

Josh Gregory
29th October 2018
Image- Flickr

With so many ex-players walking into desirable managerial roles despite lacking in considerable experience, some of our writers debate whether the likes of Monaco, Rangers and Derby County have made the right decision to place their confidence in Thierry Henry, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

No: Josh Gregory

World Cup winner and Arsenal legend Thierry Henry will no doubt be delighted with his appointment as head coach of AS Monaco, the club where he began his professional career, a bold move by the club and by the Frenchman himself. But the first step can often be the trickiest; as there are countless, more-than forgettable incidences of high-profile former players being humbled by their first foray into top flight management.

One prime example is Gary Neville’s brief and mildly disastrous tenure as head coach of Valencia, replacing Nuno Espirito Santo and joining his brother Phil in the process. On his arrival, Valencia sat in 9th in La Liga and remained in both the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League. Neville’s first game came with the unenviable task of keeping it that way.

Unfortunately for Gary, beginners luck eluded him, and his side slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Lyon, dumping them out of the Champions League. Not a great way to introduce yourself to the home fans. It did not get much better from there. In fact, his only wins in his first 15 games in charge came in the Copa Del Rey, arguably his only degree of success in his short stint in Spain, although I doubt the Valencia faithful would see it as such. They were unceremoniously thumped 7-0 by a rampant Barcelona in the 1st leg of the semi-final, making the 2nd leg a mere formality and sending Valencia crashing out of the cup in spectacular style.

Much like the 2nd leg of the cup, the rest of Neville’s time at Valencia was more or less a formality, giving him 2 months to arrange his affairs and get all the paperwork signed before his inevitable sacking on 30th March. By this point Valencia were just 6 points above the relegation zone, having won just 3 of Neville’s 16 league games in charge, and keeping a clean sheet in none of them.

So just a cautionary tale for the wise Thierry, it may not be the dream job you think it is…


Yes: Sesha Subramanian

In the last few years, there have been a spate of former professional footballers getting into management. Some of them have had stable starts, like Frank Lampard at Derby County and Steven Gerrard at Glasgow Rangers, while others have failed (sometimes spectacularly like Gary Neville at Valencia). With decorated former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry now taking over at struggling AS Monaco, football clubs are increasingly leaning toward former footballers to fulfil a managerial role – and with good reason.

A lot of footballers who have played at the highest level with much success were able to achieve that not just because they were good with their feet but also because they also played cerebrally. Players like Lampard, Gerrard and Henry were able to see things and visualise plays before they actually happened. It is that ability to look at a game of football and identify things that they can use to their advantage which makes them capable of being good managers.

Players like Ryan Giggs have had longevity at the very top of the game and have been through every stage of a footballer’s life – from youngster trying to break in to a veteran tasked with mentoring and coming off the bench. Such experience is invaluable in modern day football and they can help current players deal with the pressures of the modern game.

Finally, it is important that former players enter management because, having played through decades of football in which the game has evolved tactically, they are best coped to make advances and innovations within the game. Pep Guardiola was able to do so building on the principles of Johann Cruyff, and there’s no reason why Thierry Henry should not be able to do something similar.


The middle-ground: Dominic Lee

“But I’m Sol Campbell! I’m one of the greatest minds in football!” The former Arsenal and Tottenham (controversial yes, but for another time) defender held initial talks for the Oxford United managerial role back in February but was rejected. However, Campbell has again thrown his hat into the coaching ring, being earmarked for a role within the England under-21 team.

However, with Campbell having no previous coaching or managerial experience, this begs the question of whether he is ready for the role. Former players walking straight into jobs has become increasingly common in recent months with the appointments of Frank Lampard at Derby, Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Thierry Henry at Monaco. But what does this mean for Campbell?

Campbell has never been short of confidence. It takes some considerable guts to make the move down the Seven Sisters Road from Tottenham to North London. Campbell was similarly full of confidence after being rejected for the Oxford job, insisting he is “intelligent enough” for the role and that running a football club is not like “rocket science”. While we are yet to see whether Campbell will be as successful on the touchline as he was on the pitch, it’s hard to look past the various great players who have made terrible managers. The best example of this is Diego Maradona, who failed to guide Argentina to the 2010 World Cup. Or how about the Geordie messiah Alan Shearer? He got the Magpies relegated back in the 08/09 season. And who could forget Gary Neville’s stint at Valencia? There are some cases where former players have walked straight in and succeeded, with Zidane’s silverware-laden spell at Real Madrid coming to mind, but these instances are few and far between.

Campbell’s move into coaching isn’t all bad, as it represents a step in the right direction for establishing more equality within the beautiful game. The move is part of the FA’s plan to create Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) coaching placements “across all England teams”, which is a definite positive for the FA, who could do with some good press. However, whether Campbell follows in the footsteps of Zidane or Maradona is yet to be seen, and the only thing we do know for certain is that he’s not going to be shy in press conferences.

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