Whatever Happened to the Player-Manager?

So Swansea have sacked Michael Laudrup, and placed long time club captain Garry Monk in temporary charge of the Swans. This got me thinking, what’s happened to the once popular trend of player-managers?

I’m sure Monk will never put a Swansea shirt on again, but he’s still contracted as a player at the South-Wales side. But other notable examples before this are few and far between. Nicolas Anelka’s short-lived stint as a striker and a coach at Shanghai Shenhua? Edgar Davids at my local club Barnet? Whatever happened to the player-manager?

Whilst on paper it seems an odd idea, ‘playagers’ actually have a strong history of success. Few have been more successful than Kenny Dalglish. Becoming Liverpool’s player manager in ’85/’86, Dalglish immediately led the Reds to the double, including scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final over Chelsea. He won another League title in ’87/’88, and groomed a plethora of young talent into a title winning side. Dalglish went against the common thought that a player-manager would simply select themselves for every game. Instead he made just 21 appearances in his first season and slowly let a new generation take over.

Grahame Souness was equally as successful in the same time frame, when in 1986-87 he joined Glasgow Rangers (ironically leaving Liverpool to join the Scottish side). In his initial season he won the League and League Cup double, beating Old Firm rivals Celtic in the cup final. Back to back championships followed in 1989 and 1990, not to mention two more cup victories in ’89 and ’91.

Image: liverpoolfc.wikia.com

Whereas Dalglish’s success came through cultivating a team mixed with veterans and young blood alike, Souness’ strategy focused on attracting quality players back to the Scottish league. The ‘Souness Revolution’ revolved around signing players like Ray Wilkins, Terry Butcher and Trevor Francis. If Kenny wasn’t afraid to let the kids take his place, Souness didn’t mind sharing the limelight with established footballing stars.

The point I’m trying to make is the player side of being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier; playagers have first hand experience playing with their team mates and a hands-on view of the tactical battle on the pitch.

“Being a player manager actually rarely gets in the way of managerial duties. It can in fact make things like team selection and tactical changes easier”

But probably the most famous examples of playagers in the Premier League was the trio of appointments at Chelsea in the ’90’s.

In Summer 1993, Chelsea made Glenn Hoddle player-manager, and he didn’t do a bad job. The Blue’s had a few years of mid-table finishes, but highlighted with impressive cup runs including the FA Cup Final during Hoddle’s first season with managerial duties. He also signed Ruud Gullit, who would take Hoddle’s place as player-manager in summer 1996 when The Hod left to become England manager. Gullit went one step better than Hoddle, and actually won the FA Cup in his first year in charge – Chelsea’s first major silverware for 26 years.

Gullit was the first foreign manager to win a trophy in England, but soon fell out with the Board during the ‘97/’98 season. As a tangent, this began Chelsea’s history of sacking successful managers, as the West London outfit were second in the League and in two cup quarter-finals. In a strange case of things coming full circle, Gullit was replaced by Gianluca Vialli, someone he helped bring in to The Pensioners.

SOCCER N'castle v Chelsea5

Image: thefootballweek.net

Vialli was hugely successful, winning a League Cup, Cup Winner’s Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup and coming just 4 points behind eventual champions Manchester United in the Premier League Season ending in ’99.

What does all this mean? It means player-managers, even when given relatively short stints in charge, can be massively successful. Chelsea had not seen this type of success, barring some cup wins in the early 1970’s, for 40 years. And they’ve grown ever bigger since.

So if player-managers can positively affect the management of the team, and be a success, why have they died a slow death? I think the perceived notion that they’re bad for business wins out over the actual facts – player-managers can be brilliant. Of course there are flops (Lombardo, Romario and Gascoigne come to mind), but also many success stories.

And perhaps even more importantly for us fans, they can be hugely entertaining. Football often needs more personalities, and a manager putting himself on and scoring a 87th minute winner is the stuff footballing dreams are made of.

After years of being a footballing joke, it’s time. Bring back the player-manager!

What are your thoughts about player-managers? Did you think you could possibly read an article that says ‘player-manager’ so many times? Sound off in the comments!

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