The old saying “never go back” often gets quoted in football, but some coaches just can’t seem to stay away from the club they made their name at as a player. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the latest casualty of legends returning to manage their clubs, and there have been many occasions where it hasn’t worked out for either party.
However, some managers have achieved greatness at the club they played for while in the dugout and Barcelona will be hoping their recent appointment of Xavi Hernandez will be no different. Indeed, Barcelona have had success with this model in the past, with Pep Guardiola turning a struggling side into arguably the greatest club side in history.
Betting sites will often follow previous players closely to see if any trends can be spotted in terms of those likely to succeed, and those doomed for failure. We look at some of the hits and misses from clubs hiring legends to manage them in recent history to see if a player should really never go back as the saying goes, and to see how Xavi may get on.
As previously mentioned, one of the greatest decisions Barcelona have ever made was hiring a club legend in Pep Guardiola to lead the Basque side. When he was hired in 2008, many fans were disappointed they had not chosen Jose Mourinho, who was available and was at his peak. Guardiola, who was a legend of Barca football, playing 479 times and winning 12 trophies in his 12 years playing for the club had very little experience to speak of, only managing the Barcelona ‘B’ team.
In his four year stint in charge of the Blaugrana, they won two Champions League titles and three La Liga’s. His ‘tiki taka’ style was famed for being some of the best football ever played, highlighted by their famous swashbuckling 3-1 victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final
Another undoubted success of a club hiring a legend to manage them was Zinedine Zidane taking the reins at Real Madrid in 2016. Like Guardiola, Zidane had only had experience of managing the ‘B’ team at Real Madrid before taking one of the biggest jobs in world football. When he replaced Rafael Benitez, expectations were hardly sky-high, but he gave Los Blancos success immediately.
They won the Champions League in just his first season, and then remarkably they went on to win it in the next two seasons, completing a majestic treble. Zidane also won two league titles in his time at the helm. While his second stint at the club was nowhere near as successful as the first, no one can argue they made the correct decision the first time around.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
In November, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as manager of Manchester United came to and end with the club sitting in 7th place in the league after a terrible run of results. It started so well for the Norwegian when he took the Manchester United job as a Caretaker Manager after a period of turmoil with Jose Mourinho in charge, winning 14 of his first 19 games in charge, including a famous 3-1 win over PSG at the Parc Des Princes. He was given the job on a permanent basis after that incredible run, and it could be argued it went downhill ever since. United finished 3rd in his first full season as manager, which Solskjaer called “a massive achievement”, but were 33 points behind title winners Liverpool.
In his second full season, they finished second, but once again were a long way from the title in reality, finishing 12 points behind cross-town rivals Manchester City. By the time he was fired in November of this year, it had become clear that Solskjaer was not capable of leading one of the biggest clubs in football, with his side looking devoid of ideas in attack and lacking discipline in defence.
‘Super’ Frank Lampard is beloved by Chelsea fans for his time there as a player. When he was hired by the club in 2019, they were in the midst of a transfer embargo and Lampard was seen as the perfect man to guide them through it by elevating the club’s talented youngsters and giving them a chance. His only previous experience was a somewhat successful campaign at Derby in the Championship where he guided them to a playoff berth and his first season at Chelsea was solid, if unspectacular.
He gave academy graduates such as Mason Mount and Reece James a chance to shine and they achieved a fourth place finish in the Premier League. However, the next season the board backed him with acquisitions of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy and Kai Havertz and he failed to perform. He was sacked in January with the club floundering in ninth place and his replacement Thomas Tuchel immediately turned the Blues into a juggernaut, going 14 games unbeaten and winning the Champions League.
Andrea Pirlo replaced Maurizio Sarri as Juventus coach in August 2020, with no previous experience in management. It’s hard to say it was even a remotely successful appointment for the Old Lady, as they only finished fourth in Serie A after Juve had won the previous nine league titles, and suffered elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Porto in the round of 16. He was sacked at the end of the season, and replaced with Massimiliano Allegri, who had won the league every year in his reign from 2014-2019.
Alan Shearer is arguably Newcastle’s biggest club legend, scoring a club record 206 goals in 395 appearances for the club. On April 1 2009, Shearer was appointed as manager for the remaining eight games of the season to save the club he loved from relegation. It was seen as a shock move by the Magpies, given his lack of any managerial experience and the fact he was working for BBC as a pundit for Match of the Day when he was given the job.
Needless to say, the experiment didn’t work as his side won one, drew two and lost five of his eight games in charge, and he was unable to save the club from relegation. He swiftly returned to punditry, and hasn’t been touted for any managerial roles since.