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Insight

Old boy network

Coaches returning to clubs where they played risk spoiling their legacy, but history shows that it’s a gamble worth taking

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Raj Dhunna

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

Read the full story
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“It depends on the situation at the club and the identity of the club,” he says. “Do they follow one philosophy or do they change many times? If you have a clear philosophy of play and what you stand for, it’s a good situation if you played for the club because then you know the mentality and the direction they want to go in. But if it’s changing every few years and a new coach comes in and does something else, then this connection doesn’t matter.”

Another point of intrigue is how the player-turned-coach handles former team-mates. Xavi, for instance, has promised to push his old colleagues the hardest. A member of Liverpool’s 1984 European Cup final-winning side, Mark Lawrenson offers the example of how Kenny Dalglish changed on becoming player-manager at Anfield the following year – and not just because he no longer joined Lawrenson, Alan Hansen and Ronnie Whelan on the car ride into training from Southport each morning. “There was this partition screen that came up most of the time,” says Lawrenson. “He only had to look at you and it was, ‘Do not take any liberties with me.’”

Later, as part of Kevin Keegan’s coaching staff at Newcastle United in the 1990s, Lawrenson witnessed the two-time Ballon d’Or winner’s impact on a club that he had previously illuminated as a player. As with Dalglish, Keegan “knew what the demands from the supporters were”, says Lawrenson. “The great thing for those outstanding players is you listen to them when they speak to you. It’s like when the headmaster comes into class: they’d all sit up straight.”

A more recent example in the Champions League is Zinédine Zidane, who scored one of the greatest final goals to win Real Madrid the 2002 final. Then, as coach, he oversaw their hat-trick of titles between 2016 and 2018. He was following a long line of coaches who collected football’s biggest prize with clubs they had once played for – beginning with an earlier Madrid great, Miguel Muñoz, who led the Merengues to the crown in 1960 and 1966. The list goes on, with Jock Stein (Celtic 1967), Rinus Michels (Ajax 1971) and Bob Paisley (Liverpool 1977, 1978, 1981), followed by further old-boy feats in the 1980s from Emerich Jenei (Steaua Bucureşti 1986), Artur Jorge (Porto 1987) and Guus Hiddink (PSV Eindhoven 1988), before Johan Cruyff’s 1992 victory with Barcelona.

The Champions League era has brought other such triumphs: Fabio Capello (Milan 1994), Vicente del Bosque (Real Madrid 2000, 2002), Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan 2003, 2007), Pep Guardiola (Barcelona 2009, 2011), Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea 2012), Luis Enrique (Barcelona 2015) and Hansi Flick (Bayern 2020), as well as Zidane. That makes 13 wins from 29 Champions League seasons by coaches working at clubs where they once graced the first team. That 44.8% success rate spells hope for Xavi and the rest.

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

Old boy network
Insight

Old boy network

Coaches returning to clubs where they played risk spoiling their legacy, but history shows that it’s a gamble worth taking

WORDS Simon Hart | ILLUSTRATION Raj Dhunna

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!

“It depends on the situation at the club and the identity of the club,” he says. “Do they follow one philosophy or do they change many times? If you have a clear philosophy of play and what you stand for, it’s a good situation if you played for the club because then you know the mentality and the direction they want to go in. But if it’s changing every few years and a new coach comes in and does something else, then this connection doesn’t matter.”

Another point of intrigue is how the player-turned-coach handles former team-mates. Xavi, for instance, has promised to push his old colleagues the hardest. A member of Liverpool’s 1984 European Cup final-winning side, Mark Lawrenson offers the example of how Kenny Dalglish changed on becoming player-manager at Anfield the following year – and not just because he no longer joined Lawrenson, Alan Hansen and Ronnie Whelan on the car ride into training from Southport each morning. “There was this partition screen that came up most of the time,” says Lawrenson. “He only had to look at you and it was, ‘Do not take any liberties with me.’”

Later, as part of Kevin Keegan’s coaching staff at Newcastle United in the 1990s, Lawrenson witnessed the two-time Ballon d’Or winner’s impact on a club that he had previously illuminated as a player. As with Dalglish, Keegan “knew what the demands from the supporters were”, says Lawrenson. “The great thing for those outstanding players is you listen to them when they speak to you. It’s like when the headmaster comes into class: they’d all sit up straight.”

A more recent example in the Champions League is Zinédine Zidane, who scored one of the greatest final goals to win Real Madrid the 2002 final. Then, as coach, he oversaw their hat-trick of titles between 2016 and 2018. He was following a long line of coaches who collected football’s biggest prize with clubs they had once played for – beginning with an earlier Madrid great, Miguel Muñoz, who led the Merengues to the crown in 1960 and 1966. The list goes on, with Jock Stein (Celtic 1967), Rinus Michels (Ajax 1971) and Bob Paisley (Liverpool 1977, 1978, 1981), followed by further old-boy feats in the 1980s from Emerich Jenei (Steaua Bucureşti 1986), Artur Jorge (Porto 1987) and Guus Hiddink (PSV Eindhoven 1988), before Johan Cruyff’s 1992 victory with Barcelona.

The Champions League era has brought other such triumphs: Fabio Capello (Milan 1994), Vicente del Bosque (Real Madrid 2000, 2002), Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan 2003, 2007), Pep Guardiola (Barcelona 2009, 2011), Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea 2012), Luis Enrique (Barcelona 2015) and Hansi Flick (Bayern 2020), as well as Zidane. That makes 13 wins from 29 Champions League seasons by coaches working at clubs where they once graced the first team. That 44.8% success rate spells hope for Xavi and the rest.

“Somos el Barça” (“We are Barça”) was uttered more than once by Xavi Hernández during his unveiling as coach of Barcelona on 8 November. For the 10,000 fans gathered to greet him, that phrase must have carried reassuring heft when delivered by a man who, with 767 appearances for the club and four Champions League titles, is more Barça than just about anybody else on the planet.

Xavi’s return as coach, six years after his departure as a player, will be intriguing to follow. Will he create more golden memories? Could he risk scuffing his legacy? The fact that he replaces Ronald Koeman, the man whose Wembley goal won Barcelona their first European Cup, highlights that a glowing past counts for little in the here and now.

Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo offer other recent cautionary tales. The former, a Stamford Bridge favourite, overcame the obstacle of a transfer ban as Chelsea manager to secure Champions League qualification but was gone after 18 months. Pirlo lasted just one season as Juventus coach.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Manchester United supersub-turned-manager, arguably earned more patience than most prior to his November dismissal. That left six members of the old boys’ club still standing from the start of this season’s competition: Diego Simeone (Atlético de Madrid), Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain), Philippe Clement (Club Brugge), Sergio Conçeicão (Porto), Sergei Semak (Zenit) and Sergen Yalçin (Beşiktaş).  

Such a connection has its pros and cons according to Thomas Schaaf, a member of UEFA’s group of technical observers who knows the perils of this path better than most. He spent his entire playing career at Werder Bremen and won five major trophies, including the 1991/92 European Cup Winners’ Cup. He then coached the club for 14 years, leading them to a Bundesliga title, three German Cups and the 2009 UEFA Cup final. Did his playing past help?

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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