Legends In Management: Why Coming Back Never Works

Zinedine Zidane managing Real Madrid, 2019.

Returning to a football club as a legend and taking the helm as a head coach is supposed to be the ultimate sporting fairy tale. Football history is littered with great players taking the reigns at their beloved clubs, all believing themselves to be the perfect saviours and on the cusp of ushering in a new golden era for their sides.

However, history has also shown that ‘never go back’ is one of the wisest parables a professional can adhere to, with the game showcasing countless examples of former stars doing damage to their legacies with failed stints as managers. Here are our takes on some of the most shocking, unfortunate and damned displays of management from the biggest legends in the game.

Clarence Seedorf — A.C. Milan (2014)

Seedorf would cut short his time in Brazil with Botafogo to manage the Rossoneri

Dutch hero Clarence Seedorf was an absolutely majestic player. Composed and classy on the ball, he remains the only player to have won the Champions League with three different sides having triumphed with Ajax in 1995, Real Madrid in 1998 and A.C. Milan in 2003 and 2007.

He also holds the record amount of appearances for the Rossoneri by any foreign player, having racked up over three hundred appearances over ten seasons.

With his beloved Milan side facing the unthinkable in failing to qualify for Europe in 2014, Seedorf was drafted in as manager, replacing Massimo Allegri in January.

Taking charge for the remainder of the season, Seedorf oversaw a run of 11 wins, 2 draws and an alarming 9 losses, leaving his Milan side outside of all European places in 8th. The follow-up from the club was swift, with club president Silvio Berlusconi sacking the Dutchman just four months into his two-and-a-half year contract.

Filippo Inzaghi — A.C. Milan (2014–15)

Inzaghi continued to oversee Milan’s dramatic downturn in form

Clarence Seedorf was almost immediately replaced by former teammate Flippo Inzaghi, a hugely respected and accomplished figure in his own right. The Italian striker registered 57 goals in 120 games for Juventus, before moving over to A.C. Milan in 2001. Inzaghi would play over 200 times in eleven seasons for the Rossoneri, registering 73 goals and winning two Champions Leagues.

He took over an A.C. Milan side that, for the first time in living memory, was no longer dining at the top tables of European football but never looked like a manager fit to turn those fortunes around.

Milan’s policy of signing increasingly aged players on the cheap played a massive role in Inzaghi’s dismal record across the 14/15 season, finishing his year in charge with a record of 14 wins, 13 draws and 13 losses as Milan slumped from 8th to 10th in the table. Inzaghi was promptly sacked following the close of the season.

Santiago Solari — Real Madrid (2018–2019)

The second of three Real Madrid managers during 2019, Solari’s record was actually the best of the season

Argentina midfielder Santiago Solari was a technically gifted winger during his career, playing for giants River Plate and Atletico Madrid before switching to Real Madrid in 2000. Solari would play for Los Blacos between 2000 to 2005, registering 131 appearances and scoring 10 times.

Following spells coaching the Real Madrid Youth and B sides, Solari was appointed as the first team’s caretaker head coach following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui in October 2018, just three months into his reign.

Solari was given the permanent job just fourteen days later and actually enjoyed a far more healthier win percentage than most of the coaches on this list, sitting at just over 68% after 22 wins, 2 draws and 8 losses in his 32 games in charge.

However, the shadows cast by the departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane were clearly too much for any manager or club to handle, and several embarrassing and high-profile losses would pile the pressure on Solari: Two 3–0 losses to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League and Eibar in La Liga, two consecutive losses to Barcelona in a single week knocked Real out of the Copa Del Rey and any hopes of a title push and the damning 4–1 loss at the Bernabéu against Ajax that defied football predictions across the land proved to be the Argentine’s final straw.

Solari was sacked in March 2019 and replaced by the returning Zinedine Zidane.

Kenny Dalglish — Liverpool (2011–2012)

Dalglish’s much-hyped re-arrival at Anfield was arguably the chief reason for Roy Hodgson’s firing

Very few individuals in the world of football can point to the amount of respect, success, love and appreciation that Kenny Dalglish possesses even now, particularly around Merseyside. One of the most enigmatic and rawly talented individuals ever seen on a football pitch at the time, Dalglish racked up over 350 appearances for Liverpool between 1977 and 1990, scoring 118 times and winning five league titles, three European Cups, a European Super Cup and four League Cups.

Dalglish replaced Joe Fagan as Liverpool manager in 1985 and continued to find success, winning two league titles and two FA Cups between 1985 and 1991.

Following a poor run of results produced by then-manager Roy Hodgson throughout 2010, talk of a sensational Dalglish return began to surround Anfield, with the Liverpool legend eventually being appointed in January 2011, initially on a temporary basis.

Dalglish’s return to Liverpool management proved to be a controversial and largely unsuccessful period however, with on-field regression (Liverpool never sat higher than 6th under the Scot) coupling with Dalglish’s public and controversial backing of Luis Suarez following his eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra souring what had been a legendary legacy somewhat.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — Manchester United (2019-)

Will Solskjaer be given the time to turn United’s fortunes around?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a living, breathing Manchester United legend, and there’s plenty of evidence to believe that he has all the acumen needed to make a success of himself as a manager. Not only has he had stints as Manchester United reserves and Molde manager, but his nature as impactful ‘super sub’ means that he has had a career filled with analysing and understanding the mechanics of the game.

Following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho in December 2018, Solskjaer was given the role of head coach at Manchester United on a temporary contract. 14 wins in 19 games, including that scarcely believable comeback in Paris, earned the Norwegian the top job.

That was followed by what can only be described as a serial relegation run and, with United now facing another identity crisis this season, the pressure is continually mounting for Solskjaer and his plan for the team.

Solskjaer’s win percentage is currently amongst the worst of any full time manager and, whilst there have been some signs of improvement that could save the Norwegian’s position, fans are increasingly becoming dubious over whether their legendary super sub is the right man for the job.

Time will only tell whether or not the Norwegian can break the mould and keep his legendary legacy in tact.

The guardian of Stamford Bridge. #GloryHuntingDays. Will forever be haunted by the Shevchenko signing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store