Do All Top Players Become Great Managers?
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. It’s out of George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims For Revolutionists, and also a line in his play Man and Superman.
It is disparaging, if you’re a teacher, but invites much philosophical debate, predicated on the notion that in order to “teach”, you have to know how to “do”, otherwise how are you able?
The football world is a brutal one, and going from hero to zero can be achieved in the blink of an eye. With so much money involved these days, success is the most important factor when it comes to the balance sheet. Investors are always keen to get into what is considered to be a glamorous industry – who wouldn’t want to own a football club if they have the wherewithal and at least a passing interest in the game?
This is why managers are so important and having the right one so crucial in the success and/or development of a club. But one thing’s for sure, having been a great player does not make a great manager, and while I was happy enough to put the spotlight on Diego Maradona and Osvaldo Ardiles, they are far from the worst former stars who’ve nosedived into the muddy pitch of spectacular ineptitude and failure.
Top players who failed spectacularly as managers
I could mention a couple of Pauls – Gascoigne and Merson – both excellent players, the former one of the most talented England has ever produced – whose execrable management skills meant their tenures at clubs were shorter than the question, “can I be a television pundit, please?”
Taking the gold medal though, has to be Tony Adams. Never everyone’s cup of tea, either as a person or a player, when in his pomp, he was a massive presence for Arsenal FC, and has the unique distinction of having captained a side to league titles in three different decades.
He was a great player, and a very good captain – the ultimate “bollocker” when required, but a great in-game motivator who didn’t allow his teammates to get away with anything.
You would have thought that he had the perfect credentials to continue his footballing career in management, but short stints with Wycombe Wanderers (a disaster), followed by Portsmouth (a disaster) and then Granada in Spain (by way of Azerbaijani club Gabala – no, you couldn’t write it, could you?) …yes, that was also a disaster.
Adams said that Arsene Wenger couldn’t “coach his way out of a paper bag” which begs the question of what Wenger was doing as he guided Arsenal to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups and has often been described as the “man who changed the face of English football”.
In his playing days, Wenger looked like Bambi on ice wearing roller skates, but clearly he had the touch when it came to tactics on the field and squeezing the potential from his playing staff.
Current dilema: Can Frank Lampard reverse the trend and do a ‘Guardiola’?
The current experiment cum litmus test is happening at Chelsea FC, as I write. Frank Lampard, after only one moderately successful season with Derby County in English football’s second tier, was given the top job at the club where he spent 14 years as a player. It was something of a punt as far as Chelsea’s owner was concerned, but it seems to be going swimmingly.
One of the reasons for this is that Lampard carries so much goodwill into the job – he was an excellent player, a crowd favourite, and departed the club as its record goal scorer – along with a reputation for excellence. Unlike many football managers these days, he will be given as much time as he needs, and in management, time is a precious commodity.
Lampard would laugh in the face of Bernard Shaw’s assertion. He showed the world that he could, and is now teaching others what he has learnt, and that’s the kind of combination that should have success written all over it.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s December 2019 issue from the article THOSE WHO CAN, DO. THOSE WHO CAN’T, MANAGE.