Sloppy seconds: 6 playing legends who returned to manage their clubs

It doesn't always work out, tbf.


With Freddie Ljungberg taking the Arsenal hot seat, we ask whether beloved players can ever make the transition to beloved manager.

Arsenal’s hierarchy finally lost patience with Unai Emery, about a year after the Gunners fans did, and after 18 months that seemed like 18 years the Spaniard leaves to become the answer to a trivia question that nobody gets right (who followed Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager?) in a few decades’ time.

Freddie Ljungberg becomes yet another underwear model turned Premier League manager, following the likes of Sam Allardyce and Neil Warnock in turning down lucrative offers to strut in his pants to instead prowl moodily on the sidelines.

While Freddie has a large store of goodwill saved up from his playing days, Arsenal fans aren’t exactly famed for their patience, in fact many started drawing their ‘Emery Out’ signs before he was even unveiled just to get a jump on the workload.

Many players have returned to former stomping grounds as managers. Some have gone on to cement their place in club legend, others have undone all their hard work as a player.

So who are the most notable examples for Freddie to try and emulate and avoid?

Kevin Keegan

1. Kevin Keegan (Newcastle United)

It’s easy to forget that Keegan only played two seasons for Newcastle. He actually played more games for Hamburg where he improbably inspired a generation of German parents to name their children Kevin.

However, Keegan ended his playing career on a high on Tyneside, firing 48 goals in two seasons and getting the Toon promoted to the top flight, securing hero status.

Keegan returned as manager eight years later with Newcastle struggling in the Second Division and immediately worked wonders, guiding them into the Premier League.

But what will never be forgotten is the 1995-96 title race when Keegan inspired Newcastle supporters to believe in the impossible and unseating Sir Alex’s Manchester United, which proved to in fact be impossible, culminating in the ‘I will love it’ meltdown, one of the greatest TV interviews in history.

2. Thierry Henry (AS Monaco)

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A lethal striker beloved by everyone but Irish fans, a disarmingly cool pundit, what could possibly go wrong when Henry got the chance to manage Monaco, the club where he’d made his name?

Pretty much everything, as it turned out.

Henry took over a floundering side after they axed Leonardo Jardim and things went from bad to worse with the former European giants languishing in the relegation zone.

To make matters worse, Henry told a Strasbourg player that his ‘grandmother’s a whore’ (you have to love French insults) when he time-wasted during a game Monaco eventually lost 5-1. Maybe Henry should’ve been thanking him for running down the clock.

In the end Monaco sacked Henry, reinstated Jardim and promised to pretend on point of death that the whole episode had ever happened. Presumably Henry did the same when he applied and got the Montreal Impact job.

3. Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)

In a parallel universe, Alan Shearer is that uncle who turns up to Christmas at your house and spends the entire afternoon talking about the state of the traffic with everyone fighting to avoid being stuck with him.

Shearer was gifted with a superhuman ability to put a ball in a net, but that didn’t quite translate to management, or coming up with an interesting goal celebration.

Admittedly, stepping in to try and save his beloved Toon from relegation with eight games left in 2008-09 was a baptism of fire and he did even get Newcastle out of the relegation zone after beating Middlesbrough, but just five points from 24 was not good enough, as Shearer would certainly have pointed out on Match of the Day.

The whole experience seems to have been so scarring that Shearer has never put his head above the parapet again. He only had to watch Henry and Gary Neville to remind him that his punditry gig isn’t so bad after all.

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4. Graeme Souness (Liverpool)

Having begun his managerial career with there Scottish titles at Rangers, Souness understandably felt he was ready to take over the Liverpool job in 1991, assured of a warm welcome as a club legend.

Souness inherited an ageing squad and his famous temper didn’t exactly help him win the dressing room, while his decision to give an interview to The Sun ostracised the fan base.

On the field, two sixth-placed finishes are hardly the stuff of Anfield legend and Souness’s time is best forgotten.

Souness went on to manage Galatasaray where he would plant his club’s flag on the pitch of bitter rivals Fenerbahce, an act akin to punching the hardest person in a rough pub and getting away with it because everyone else presumes you must be seriously dangerous.

He signed fake footballer Ali Dia while at Southampton, squandered £50m taking Newcastle down and famously told Deco he wasn’t up to playing for Benfica, choosing to bring in Mark Pembridge instead.

These days Souness has found his calling as professional angry man.

5. Johan Cruyff (Barcelona and Ajax)

It’s rare to find someone whose playing and managerial career are almost equally stellar, but Cruyff fitted the bill.

Cruyff played for and managed Barcelona and Ajax and is responsible for the entire philosophy that revolutionised football at both clubs and created some of the greatest talent in football history.

A brilliant player, a visionary manager and a gifted smoker, Cruyff was good at everything apart from music.

Cruyff had his own Hoddle & Waddle moment when he released a single called ‘Oei Oei Oei (Dat Was Me Weer Een Loei)’ (Dutch is the most beautiful language) meaning ‘Oh, oh, oh, yet another blow’ and it was truly dreadful.


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6. Ossie Ardilles (Spurs)

As a player, Ardilles became a cult hero during 10 seasons at Tottenham, winning the FA Cup and spectacularly butchering the club’s name in Chas & Dave’s ‘Ossie’s Dream’.

When Ardilles returned to White Hart Lane as manager in 1993, things didn’t work out quite so well.

The main problem seemed to be that Ardilles had no grasp of football tactics at all. His side tried to play football that would be laughed at on Pro Evolution Soccer and on occasion he even fielded five strikers and zero midfielders, which unsurprisingly left his team somewhat vulnerable to the counter-attack.

He never did master the word Tottenham.

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