10 Great football players who couldn’t succeed as managers


Following from Barcelona’s choice to sack one former player in Ronald Koeman and then appoint another in Xavi. I decided to look into some men who had legendary playing careers, but couldn’t hack it in the dugout

1. John Barnes

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John Barnes was one of the most talented players to be produced by England in the 1980s. The forward made 406 appearances for Liverpool and bagged 107 goals, 2 FA cups and 2 League titles. However, his managerial career didn’t produce quite as much success.

For the most part, newly retired players moving into a manager role will look for experience at a lower level. After hanging up his boots at the end of the 1998-99 season, Barnes stunned the football world by being announced as the new boss of Scottish giants Celtic. However, it soon became clear that he was out of his depth in Glasgow. Barnes was fired after just 29 games in charge, with the final straw being a 1-3 loss at home in the Scottish Cup to part-timers Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

It took him nearly a decade to find another job in management. But in 2008 he was appointed as the new boss of the Jamaica national team. This was probably his most successful managerial term as he led the team to a 2008 Caribbean Cup win.

That paved the way to Barnes taking a job as manager of League One side Tranmere Rovers – but once again, things ended in utter disaster. Barnes led his side to just 3 wins in 12 games. And it came as no surprise when he was fired after a horrific 5-0 loss to Millwall. The Liverpool legend has not taken a managerial role since.

2. Gary Neville

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Gary Neville is widely recognised as one of the best defenders of his generation and is now known as one of Sky Sports’ top pundits. The right-back made 599 appearances for Manchester United and helped the red devils win 12 Premier League titles and 2 UCL titles among other trophies. It’s easy to forget that Neville also had a disastrous stint in management a few years ago.

The former Manchester United legend first made a foray into coaching with the England national team. From 2012 he became Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson’s assistant manager, but even that stint ended in disaster. Hodgson’s England was eliminated during the group stage at the 2014 World Cup and then lost in embarrassing fashion to Iceland at Euro 2016. 

This was the end of his time as a coach, but he is more well known for his short managerial career. In December 2015 he was appointed as manager of La Liga side Valencia. It was an odd appointment, to begin with considering he had no managerial experience and couldn’t speak Spanish. Unsurprisingly, Neville lasted just a handful of months at the Mestalla.

During his time in charge, Valencia crashed out of the Champions League, went on a 10-game winless run in league competition and suffered a 7-0 thrashing in the Copa del Rey at the hands of Barcelona. It came as no surprise when Neville was fired in March 2016, after winning just three of 16 league games and keeping just one clean sheet. Since then, he hasn’t gone back into management.

3. Alan Shearer

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Still the Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer with a total of 260 strikes to his name with the likes of Blackburn and Newcastle, Alan Shearer is widely recognised as a genuine legend of the English game. However, it’s safe to say that his brief foray into management certainly didn’t contribute to his stellar reputation.

Shearer never really expressed any interest in coaching upon his retirement from the game in 2006. However, he was appointed as Newcastle’s new manager in April 2009 when health issues sidelined the club’s permanent boss Joe Kinnear.

With the Magpies in trouble in the Premier League and relegation a definite possibility, Shearer promised to do his best to salvage their season. Unfortunately, his skills in the dugout paled in comparison to those he showed on the pitch. His first match in charge saw his side slump to defeat Chelsea, and it quickly became clear that the former striker was out of his depth.

Newcastle ended up suffering relegation to the EFL Championship, with Shearer’s run as boss being one of the worst sequences of the club’s campaign. They won just one game and collected five points from a possible 24. Once the 2008-09 season was over nobody was shocked when Shearer was not given the job permanently. Instead, he moved back into television work where he has since remained.

4. Tony Adams

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A Premier League title-winning captain on two occasions with Arsenal, Tony Adams is still remembered as one of England’s greatest ever defenders. However, his attempts in the world of management leave much more to be desired.

After his retirement at the end of the 2001-02 season, Adams took a year away from football before resurfacing as manager of League One side Wycombe Wanderers. But his year in charge there saw dismal results. The club was relegated to League Two in his first campaign before he resigned four months into his second.

Adams became the full-time manager at Portsmouth following the departure of Harry Redknapp. But he was fired in February 2009 after a poor run of results saw the side pick up just 10 points in 16 games. After dismal displays at two English clubs, Adams went to try his luck abroad. The former defender had a strange stint in charge of Azerbaijani club Gabala FC from May 2010 to November 2011.

After some time away from the game, he resurfaced in April 2017 to take over at La Liga strugglers Granada. Despite the club already being in trouble at the time of his appointment, the Arsenal legend failed miserably in his attempt to turn things around. Granada lost all seven games they played with Adams in charge, and after their relegation, he was unsurprisingly fired. With his highest win percentage being 22.6% it’s probably fair to say he should probably stay away from management in the future.

5. Thierry Henry

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One of the Premier League’s greatest ever European imports, Thierry Henry became a legend at Arsenal after scoring over 228 goals for the club and helping the gunners to 2 Premier League titles. A move to Barcelona bought him two La Liga titles and the 2008-09 Champions League, and he eventually hung up his boots at New York Red Bulls in 2014. He is widely seen as one of the greatest French players in history, helping the national team win the 1998 World Cup.

The French striker’s coaching career began at Arsenal in 2015. And by the summer of 2016, he’d taken over as assistant manager with the Belgium national side, who went on to reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Following that, Henry made the decision to move into management and was shockingly announced as Monaco’s new boss in October 2018.

The Arsenal legend lasted just three months in charge of his boyhood side and was fired in the final week of January 2019. His record at the club stands out as one of the worst managerial stints of all time. Henry oversaw 20 games, winning just four and losing 11. Along the way, his Monaco side scored 15 goals – but somehow conceded 36.

After months away from the game, the French World Cup winner resurfaced, taking charge at MLS side Montreal Impact in 2019. He later resigned in 2021 and once again joined Belgium as Assistant manager for the 2020 Euro’s and is still with the team. With a total win percentage of 31%, it would seem Henry is more suited to the backroom staff than the front office.

6. Diego Maradona

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Undoubtedly one of the most talented players of all time, Diego Maradona did it all during his on-pitch career. He led Argentina to their second World Cup triumph in 1986, carried them to the final of the 1990 tournament, and won major trophies in Spain and Italy with Barcelona and Napoli. However, the fact that Maradona’s playing career was beset with plenty of personal problems, from disciplinary ones to issues with drug abuse, should have been a slight flag to dissuade him from a career in management.

Instead, despite a couple of failed stints with smaller Argentine clubs, El Diego was handed the reins as boss of his national team in late 2008. Despite some early struggles – including a 6-1 loss to Bolivia – Maradona led La Albiceleste to the 2010 World Cup, and responded to his critics in the press by telling them to “s*** it”.

At the tournament itself, Argentina won all three of their group games thanks to attacking talents such as Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. But it soon became clear that Maradona was tactically naive following a 4-0 quarter-final loss to Germany. It came as no surprise to see the legend relieved of his duties after the World Cup, and his managerial stints since have failed to help his reputation too.

He went onto be the manager at multiple teams including Al-Fujairah, Al-Wasl, Dorados de Sinaloa and Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata. Maradona sadly died on 20th November 2020. Despite a poor managerial career, he will forever be remembered as one of the games greatest icons.

7. Ruud Gullit

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Dutch midfielder Ruud Gullit won two European Cups and numerous other major honours in a glittering career as a player with clubs such as Feyenoord, AC Milan and Chelsea.

The 1987 Ballon d’Or winner started his coaching career when he took over as player-manager at Stamford Bridge in 1996, winning the FA Cup in 1997.

That’s where the success began and ended for Gullit as a manager, who was controversially sacked by Chelsea in 1998 before presiding over trophyless spells with Newcastle United, Feyenoord, LA Galaxy and Russian side Terek Grozny.

The Dutchman was most recently the Netherlands assistant manager between June 2017 and November 2017. He has since kept his head low in the managerial game and has occasionally made appearances as a pundit.

8. Paul Ince

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Paul Ince was one of the most prominent midfielders during the 90s and early 2000s. The Englishman played for the likes of Inter Milan, Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wolves; but most prominently made 207 appearances for Manchester United and helped them win 2 Premier League titles.

The former Manchester United and Liverpool midfielder got off to a positive start when he saved Macclesfield Town from League Two relegation in 2007 before leading MK Dons out of the same division in 2008.

Ince was then given a go in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers the following season. However, it was soon realised he was out of his depth and was sacked after just six wins from 21 games.

He has since held brief roles at Notts County and Blackpool, whom he saved from Championship relegation in 2013 before getting the sack in 2014. Since then he has stayed out of the managerial world and turned to the realm of television.

9. Lothar Matthaus

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Lothar Matthaus is seen as one of Germanys’ greatest players in the country’s history. The midfielder is Germany’s most capped player of all time with 150 and helped guide them to a 1980 European Championship and 1990 World Cup. The Ballon D’Or winner played for the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Inter Milan and New York Red Bulls. But he really made his name in Bavaria with Bayern Munich, for whom he made 410 appearances and won 7 Bundesliga titles.

However, Matthaus struggled to cut it as a manager with a range of clubs, including Partizan Belgrade, Atletico Paranaense and Red Bull Salzburg.

He also attempted two stints as an international coach, leading Hungary between 2004 and 2006 and Bulgaria from 2010 to 2011, but he failed to qualify for either the 2006 World Cup or Euro 2012 respectively. 

His departures were often acrimonious, leaving Atletico Paranaense, Partizan, Hungary and Bulgaria in controversial circumstances. Since leaving Bulgaria in 2011 he has stayed out of management and devoted himself to being a club representative for Bayern Munich.

10. Michael Laudrup

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Michael Laudrup has a prestigious playing career as he turned out for the likes of Juventus, Lazio, Real Madrid and Barcelona before hanging up his boots with Ajax in 1998. The Danish midfielder won a number of trophies including 5 La Liga titles and 1 Champions League.

Michael Laudrup’s managerial career started well, with four trophies in three years with Brondby followed by jobs with Getafe, Spartak Moscow and Mallorca.

Relative success in these roles earned Laudrup a move to the Premier League with Swansea City, with whom he won the Capital One Cup in 2013.

But things went downhill fast in south Wales, where the former midfielder received the sack with the club threatened by relegation in February 2014. He has since managed Al-Duhail and last managed Al-Rayyan in 2018. He has not managed since.

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