The New Crop of Former Footballers Turned Managers
From Zinedine Zidane to Johan Cruyff, the annals of football history are littered with men who achieved the pinnacle of success as players and managers. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at a few retired footballers who are making their first waves in the coaching industry.
After spells at Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Genoa, Thiago Motta would play a pivotal role in midfield as José Mourinho’s Inter won the treble in 2009/10, before joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 and emerging as a crucial fixture in the base of midfield alongside Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, as Les Parisiens commenced a domestic hegemony in France that has persisted to this day.
The Brazil-born Italy international would retire in 2018 and immediately moved into coaching, spending a year in charge of PSG’s U-19 side before returning to Genoa, lasting just two months in charge before taking charge of Spezia in July 2021.
Widely tipped for relegation following the departure of manager Vincenzo Italiano to Fiorentina, Motta navigated a difficult start and kept them up in Serie A, before heading for Bologna in September. Motta took charge in difficult circumstances with Bologna picking up three points in five matches under Siniša Mihajlović, but he has nevertheless led them to eighth in the table, 18 points clear of the drop.
Similarly to Motta, Paolo Orlandoni and other members of that epic Inter side, Dejan Stanković has also moved into retirement since his retirement, spending a year as Udinese’s assistant manager before taking charge of Red Star Belgrade in December 2019. He led them to three league titles and two Serbian Cups before returning to Italy and taking charge of Sampdoria in October.
In contrast to Motta, Stanković’s spell in Serie A has gone anything but swimmingly — four wins, six draws and 16 losses. Sampdoria sit rooted to the bottom of the league and are 10 points away from safety at the time of writing. Samp look all but guaranteed to suffer relegation for the first time in 12 years, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Serbian remains in charge as they prepare for life in the second tier.
One team who look set to take Sampdoria’s spot in Serie A is Frosinone, managed by Fabio Grosso. After a career that would see him win league titles with Inter, Lyon and Juventus as well as play an instrumental role in Italy’s victory in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Grosso spent brief spells at Bari, Hellas Verona, Brescia and Swiss side Sion before taking charge of Frosinone in March 2021.
It seems that, at 45 years of age, Grosso is finally finding his feet in management. Having narrowly missed out on a spot in the top eight and the promotion playoffs preliminary round in 2021/22, Frosinone currently sit atop Serie B, four points above Genoa, and they have already guaranteed automatic promotion to Serie A with three matches remaining.
Frosinone’s sole competitors for the Serie B title are Genoa, who sit six points above third-place Bari and are all but guaranteed to return to the top-flight. Genoa are managed by Alberto Gilardino, another player who, like Grosso, Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Cannavaro and plenty more, has dipped his toes into management after winning the 2006 World Cup with the Azzurri.
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Having retired in 2018, Gilardino enjoyed brief spells at Rezzato, Pro Vercelli, as well as two spells at Siena before taking charge of Genoa’s U-19 side in July 2022. He would take charge of the first team in December on an interim basis before being given the permanent job after an uptick in form. In their first Serie B campaign in 16 years, Genoa look set to make a swift return to the top-flight under Gilardino.
As a player, Massimo Oddo reached the pinnacle of success with club and country, winning the league and the Champions League with Milan as well as the World Cup with Italy, but he has had a rougher go of it as a manager. Oddo’s first managerial job would see him lead Pescara to Serie A and achieve 30 wins, 19 draws and 31 losses. Since then, he has failed to spend more than 24 matches at a club.
After spells at Udinese, Crotone, Perugia (twice), Pescara and Padova, Oddo replaced Daniele De Rossi as SPAL manager in February but has been unable to breathe new life into the struggling unit with two wins, five draws and four defeats so far. SPAL currently occupy the second-to-last place in Serie B and face an uphill battle as they look to avoid relegation to the third tier.
A central pillar of Manchester United’s domestic and international dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson with five Premier League titles and a Champions League to boot, Michael Carrick has made a swift adjustment to life in management.
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The self-assuredness and intelligence that he showcased in his brief caretaker spells at Old Trafford has translated into a stellar campaign at Middlesbrough. Having taken charge in October with the club one point above the relegation zone, Carrick has led Middlesbrough to the promotion play-offs thanks in large part to the form of Chuba Akpom, who leads the Championship with 28 goals.
“I think [Carrick is] the manager I’ve been dreaming of my whole career,” said Akpom. “Honestly, he’s just a pleasure to work with. I go out there and I give 110 percent and I want to fight for the manager because he’s shown so much trust and confidence in me.”
At 16 years of age, Nuri Şahin became the youngest player to play in the Bundesliga (a record later surpassed by Youssoufa Moukoko 15 years later) and score in the Bundesliga (surpassed by Florian Wirtz 15 years later). At 22, he led Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title, earning the Bundesliga Player of the Season and a move to Real Madrid. At 31, the German-born Turkish international headed to Turkey and joined Antalyaspor in 2020 on a two-year contract.
He would last just one season before transitioning into management, leading Antalyaspor to a seventh-place finish. Today, they sit comfortably midtable in 12th place, with the 34-year-old currently boasting a record of 35 wins, 11 draws and 23 defeats.
It has been a dismal campaign for Ajax, who fell to a penalty shootout defeat to PSV in the Dutch Cup Final and who look set to miss out on the Eredivisie title for the first time in five years. Alfred Schreuder replaced Erik ten Hag at the helm but only lasted until January before being replaced by John Heitinga, who took charge on an interim basis only to be appointed as manager until the end of the season shortly after.
Having reached a World Cup Final with the Netherlands and won two league titles with Ajax, Heitinga retired in 2016 and began coaching Ajax’s U-19 side in 2017, working with Jong Ajax before taking the reins of his boyhood club’s first team, where he has led them to 12 wins, three losses and three draws.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
The man who defeated Heitinga’s Ajax in the recent Dutch Cup Final is none other than Ruud van Nistelrooy. Similarly to Heitinga, Van Nistelrooy would win two league titles at PSV before heading abroad and enjoying plenty of success at Old Trafford and the Bernabéu. He retired in 2012 and enjoyed spells in PSV’s academy as well as assistant spells with the Netherlands, and when Roger Schmidt departed for Benfica last summer, PSV turned to none other than the Jong PSV manager.
Van Nistelrooy opened his time in charge by beating Ajax in the Dutch SuperCup, following that up with another domestic trophy at Ajax’s expense. PSV currently sit eight points behind Feyenoord and three above Ajax, and with young stars like Xavi Simons and Johan Bakayoko, the future looks bright in Eindhoven.
Mark van Bommel
Having kicked off the 21st century with four league titles with PSV, Mark van Bommel left for Barcelona where he would win a league title and a Champions League in his solitary year before winning two league titles with Bayern Munich and a league title with Milan as well as reaching the World Cup Final with the Netherlands. He would return to PSV for one last year before retiring and working as an assistant coach with the Saudi and Australian national teams.
Van Bommel took charge of PSV in 2018 and lasted 75 games at the helm before being axed the following year. His spell at Wolfsburg would come to an end after 13 games, but it’s safe to say that his time in Belgium is going fairly better. In his debut campaign, Van Bommel has guided them to a top-four finish and a berth in the Championship playoff, as well as victory in the Belgian Cup.
As a player, Vincent Kompany was an instrumental cog in Manchester City’s domestic dominance and emerged as one of the greatest center backs in Premier League history. He left the Etihad in 2019, returning to boyhood club Anderlecht as player-manager but abandoning his coaching duties after a poor start and instead serving as captain. He took the managerial job in 2020, leading Anderlecht to 42 wins, 32 draws and 18 losses before returning to England this past summer.
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Despite losing key figures like Dwight McNeil, James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, Vincent Kompany has given Burnley a new lease on life since taking the reins in the summer. The Clarets have returned to the Premier League in stunning fashion, finishing atop the Championship and playing an attractive brand of football that has gotten the most out of players like Josh Cullen and Nathan Tella.
Jon Dahl Tomasson
To conclude our list, we go to yet another Lancashire club in Blackburn Rovers. The joint-top scorer in the history of the Danish national team with 52 goals, Jon Dahl Tomasson enjoyed a stellar career that would see him win the Eredivisie title with Feyenoord, the Scudetto and the Champions League with Milan, and play for the likes of Stuttgart, Villarreal and Newcastle.
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Brief spells would follow at Dutch clubs Excelsior and Roda JC, as well as a lengthy spell as an assistant for the Danish national team, before Tomasson headed for Swedish side Malmö. He led them to back-to-back league titles and guided them to the Champions League group stage before departing and taking charge of Blackburn Rovers in June 2022.
Despite a bright start, Blackburn Rovers face an uphill battle as they look to advance to the promotion playoffs. They sit ninth in the table, level on points with West Brom and Sunderland, two behind sixth-placed Millwall and three behind Coventry City. They need to beat Millwall in their final game and hope Preston and Swansea beat Sunderland and West Brom if they are to advance to the playoffs.
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Man United