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Zidane, Mourinho, Van Gaal: Ten football managers who went back

With Neil Lennon having recently been confirmed as the permanent Celtic manager for a second time, we look back at some of the football managers who went back to their former stomping grounds to recreate the magic.

The Northern Irishman led the Hoops for four successful years between 2010 and 2014, winning three Scottish Premierships. When Brendan Rodgers left mid-season for Leicester City, he stepped in to fill the void on a temporary basis. Now, after guiding the Glasgow outfit to the Treble Treble, he has been entrusted with the reins once more.

The question is: should you go back to an ex? And can Lennon learn anything from those who have trodden the same path?

Zinedine Zidane

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The Frenchman isn’t just one of the greatest Real Madrid managers ever. He’s one of the greatest in European football. Before him only Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti had won three European Cups as a manager. It took him less than three years to do the same, winning the Champions League in each of the three seasons he was in charge at the Bernabeu.

No one is quite sure what the secret to Zinedine Zidane’s success is. Unlike other successful managers of the modern era such as Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone, he doesn’t have a particular philosophy or set of tactical principles his players must adhere to.

Zizou is seen as a great facilitator, a man who can gently massage the egos of the club’s Galacticos and get the most out of them, but there is clearly more to him than that. Winning consecutive European trophies and a league title in between is not something a person who simply ‘gets the club’ could luck their way into.

His footballing intelligence was illustrated last summer when he told club president Florentino Perez that Cristiano Ronaldo should not be sold at any cost and that there was no need to replace Keylor Navas with Thibaut Courtois. When that warning was not heeded, he resigned, knowing that a great fall was on the way.

Zidane’s advice was prescient, as Real’s form fell off a cliff. Two managers and a first Champions League exit in four years saw him return to take charge of Los Blancos yet again. It hasn’t gone entirely smoothly thus far; they lost three of their final four games in LaLiga, one of which was to bottom dwellers Rayo Vallecano, and he has only won five of 11 in total.

This season was at least a washout and the one-time World Cup winner won’t be judged too harshly on these results, especially given the awful fare proffered by his two predecessors Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari. His second term will be judged on what happens after this summer, when they could buy one or more of Eden Hazard, Leroy Sane, Paul Pogba or Luka Jovic.

Louis Van Gaal

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So good he did it twice. The expressive Dutch coach was manager of Barcelona for the last three years of the nineties, winning two LaLiga titles during a successful spell at the Nou Camp, although his side missed out on a third consecutive title to Deportivo La Coruna in his last season.

From there Van Gaal went straight into the Netherlands hotseat, but his team failed to qualify for the World Cup. For a manager considered one of the brightest minds in coaching, it was a disaster. It was the first of his career, but it wouldn’t be the last.

The next summer he returned to Barcelona, but it was a desperate move by a club in crisis, and his comeback lasted just six months; when he left in January of 2003, the Catalan club were three points above the relegation zone.

Van Gaal revived his career at AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich, winning league titles at both clubs, before retaking the Netherlands throne ten years after stepping down from it the first time. On this occasion however, the return was an unmitigated success as he guided the European nation to third place at the 2014 World Cup.

With redemption secured at international level, Van Gaal returned to club football for one last hurrah, taking over at Manchester United in 2014, winning the FA Cup to complete his record of winning a trophy at every club he managed. He announced his retirement earlier this week.

See Also: The all-time Premier League Dutch XI

José Mourinho

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The man who succeeded Van Gaal at Old Trafford also returned to the embrace of an ex, rejoining Chelsea in 2013 after six years away from the south London outfit.

The Portuguese’ first stint at Stamford Bridge was a triumph, winning the Premier League title in two of the three full seasons he was there, although he left in odd circumstances at the beginning of the 2007-08 season.

When it was clear he would not be succeeding Alex Ferguson at Man United in 2013, Mourinho was welcomed back with open arms by the Blues faithful and he repaid their love with another league trophy in 2015.

It turned into a nightmare from then on however, with his bizarre press conference rants and jibes at his own players now becoming an apparent staple of his managerial style. He left before the midway point of the season, having overseen one of the worst title defences in living memory.

José almost made a sensational return to Real Madrid earlier this year, but it was vetoed by the powers that be, and with good reason.

See Also: The five managers with the most wins in Premier League history

Mick McCarthy

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From the man who succeeded Louis Van Gaal, to the man who doled out his most devastating defeat.

The former Sunderland, Wolves and Ipswich manager was in charge of the Irish national team when they beat the Dutch at Lansdowne Road in 2001, ensuring the Netherlands would not go to the 2002 World Cup. At that tournament McCarthy guided Ireland to the round of 16, where they valiantly fought against Spain before exiting via penalties.

The Barnsley native was forced out of the job following consecutive defeats to Russia and Switzerland in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, but his legacy was already cemented as one of the nation’s most successful coaches. In the time between his departure and return late last year, McCarthy gained a reputation for getting the most out of a squad on a shoestring budget, winning the Championship twice.

The ex-Celtic defender is yet to take charge of a game in his second spell, but it will be interesting to see if Captain Fantastic can bring Ireland to their third consecutive European Championship.

Matt Busby

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Three managers have tried and failed to follow Alex Ferguson since he left the Man United job, generally considered football’s hardest to follow. But the club’s current concerns are nothing compared to the disastrous decade that followed the retirement of Matt Busby.

The Scot retired from management the season following his greatest accomplishment, guiding United to European Cup glory in 1968. He shuffled into the background as a club director, but his presence loomed large over the club.

Busby’s successor Wilf McGuinness was sacked halfway through the 1970-71 campaign, and the former manager was back in the job almost as soon as he had left it. He steadied the ship, winning 11 of 21 games as United finished eighth for the second year running.

With no suggestion of him returning on a permanent basis, Busby picked former wing half Frank O’Farrell to take over, but the Irishman could not get out of his predecessor’s shadow. Although his time in charge was afflicted by other problems as well — George Best’s decline on and off the pitch, O’Farrell’s poor man management —Busby’s influence weighed too greatly, and the manager was gone after 81 games.

Busby continued as a director and later club president, but his brief return to the dugout may not have helped United in the long run.

Read: Players versus Managers: Fall outs, fights, and frenzies

Walter Smith

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The second most successful manager in Rangers’ history, few can match the success Walter Smith brought to the Glasgow outfit in the nineties; 13 major trophies in seven years, seven consecutive league titles, and one win away from a Champions League final.

In 1998 the Scot took over at Everton, but after four years of struggling in the lower half of the table, he was sacked and replaced by compatriot David Moyes. Two years later he took over the Scottish national team, but resigned in January 2007, despite doing quite well in the job, so he could return to Ibrox.

Could Smith really replicate the achievements of his first spell in charge? As it turned out, yes. The Gers won three league titles in a row and reached the Uefa Cup final in 2008, before Smith retired in 2011. In 2012 the club went in liquidation and they haven’t tasted anything like that success ever since.

Kenny Dalglish

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‘King Kenny’ was a hugely successful manager back in the day, winning multiple league titles with Liverpool and a Premier League with Blackburn Rovers in 1995, his last major success. It’s a bit odd then, that Dalglish was given the Liverpool job for a second time in 2011, so long after he had been at his peak in management.

Aside from a brief turn as Celtic caretaker in 2000, it had been 13 years since he was last in permanent employment. At the time he was only meant to act as a stop gap following the dreadful tenure of Roy Hodgson, but, as is the risk with caretaker managers, his short-term results were impressive and as a club legend the owners found it difficult to dismiss his allure.

By the next season however, it was clear that modern football had passed the once incredibly talented player by, and his tetchiness in press conference and interviews went down like a led balloon. Despite winning the League Cup and reaching the FA Cup final, the Scot was let go in May 2012.

See Also: Five great Premier League players who flopped as managers

Graham Taylor

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Graham Taylor earned a reputation for Route One football during his managerial career, using POMO (position of maximum opportunity) — a tactical innovation influenced by statistical analyst Charles Reep — as the bedrock of his strategy. It wasn’t pretty, but it was damn well effective.

The late Taylor was at the wheel during Watford’s golden age, lifting the club from the fourth tier of the English football league all the way up to the First Division, and the Hornets even finished runners-up to Liverpool in the league in 1983 and to Everton in the FA Cup final the year after.

In 1987 he took over at Aston Villa, getting them promoted to the first tier at the first go, and within two years of that they finished second in the league. Once again it was Liverpool who pipped him to the title.

In the nineties Taylor would end up back at Watford, via an infamously bad England reign and short spell with Wolves, winning both the Division Two title and the Division One playoffs in his four and a half years back at the club. He did not have such a happy return to Villa though, lasting just over a year at the club in the early noughties after winning just 31% of his games.

Fatih Terim

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At 65 years of age Fatih Terim has been around football for a long, long time. His managerial career began in 1987 and it is still going today, running affairs at the biggest club in Turkey: Galatasaray. Incredibly, this is his fourth time in charge of the club.

The Turkish coach has won seven Super Lig titles across three different decades, but his greatest achievement has to be claiming the Uefa Cup trophy in 2000, defeating Arsenal on penalties in Copenhagen. There seems to be no signs of diminishing returns, as Galatasaray won the title last season and are currently second in the table at the time of writing.

Terim has also taken charge of the Turkish national team on three different occasions, again in three different decades. Under his charge the side have qualified for Euro 96, reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008, and were desperately unlucky not to advance to the knockout stages of Euro 2016. Someday he’ll surely come back to try and bring his native country to a World Cup finals.

See Also: Five of the shortest managerial reigns in Premier League history

Luiz Felipe Scolari

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When ‘Big Phil’ Scolari first took over the Brazil team in 2001, they were in disarray and at serious risk of not reaching the finals for the first time ever. Somehow he not only turned things around, but the Seleçao even ended up winning the whole thing, the fifth time they had done so.

So it’s a bit sad then, that Scolari piddled on his own legacy by coming back to the role in 2012 to have a go at winning it again. Brazil reached the semi-final in their home tournament, but they suffered arguably the worst humiliation in the sport’s history, losing 7-1 to Germany in Belo Horizonte.

Scolari has also managed Palmeiras on three different occasions, guiding the Brazilian outfit to the Serie A title earlier this year, so he’s probably consoled himself by now.

Is there anyone we missed? Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook and Twitter. 

A version of this article was originally published on 14 March 2019.

Read: Premier League dominates list of managers with most wins in top five European leagues