Football Features

Seven assistant coaches who couldn’t quite cut it as managers

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:05, 20 November 2020

Every successful manager has their right-hand man to guide them along the way.

While the manager will receive most of the plaudits along with his players, in some teams the assistant is just as important, taking care of the smaller but vitals tasks and relaying information to the squad.

Sometimes assistant managers will leave their roles to test themselves as a no.1 with the likes of Jose Mourinho showing the jump can be made.

However, not every good assistant manager is cut out for the senior role no matter how hard they try. But who are these assistants?

Read on to see seven assistant coaches who couldn’t quite cut it as managers.

Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!

Steve McClaren

Assistant at: Oxford United, Derby County, Manchester United, England, Queens Park Rangers
Manager of: Middlesbrough, England, FC Twente, Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Newcastle United, Queens Park Rangers

Making a name for himself as Sir Alex Ferguson’s no.2, Steve McClaren has unfortunately tried and failed to become a manager on many an occasion.

Things didn’t start too badly for McClaren with his first managerial role at Middlesbrough, leading the club to the Uefa Cup final – though they would lose 4-0 to Sevilla in his final game. FC Twente brought good moments too, including an Eredivisie title, but the gaps in between have left a lot to be desired.

In England, however, McClaren will mostly be remembered as the ‘Wally with a Brolly’ as he watched the Three Lions fail to qualify for Euro 2008 (missing their first major tournament since 1994) confirmed by defeat a rainy night at Wembley against Croatia, when he stood under the shelter of an umbrella.

The ‘wally with a brolly’ headline was run by the Daily Mail the following day but, over 10 years later, they revealed the true source of the line coming from the wife of former Ireland international Andy Townsend.

“I was watching the game and I could not believe what I was seeing,” he recalled in 2018.

“My wife was in the kitchen. I called out to her: ‘Jackie, come and look at this.’ She came into the room and said: ‘He looks a right wally with that brolly!’ I laughed and said: ‘I know someone who would like that!’ So I called my friend [Daily Mail’s then-Head of Sport, Lee Clayton].”

McClaren also failed to impress at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Newcastle United, while his most recent spell came at Queens Park Rangers, where he was sacked at the start of April 2019 having overseen a run of three wins in his final 19 games.

Roberto Di Matteo

Assistant at: Chelsea
Manager of: MK Dons, West Brom, Chelsea, Schalke, Aston Villa

Yes, Roberto Di Matteo has won a Champions League and FA Cup, but the Italian has really struggled to make it as a first-team manager at the highest level.

The former Chelsea midfielder started his career as a manager with MK Dons, and led them to the League One play-offs in his only season, earning a move to West Brom.

At the Hawthorns, Di Matteo oversaw West Brom’s return to the Premier League but could not get rid of the club’s reputation of yoyo-ing between the two divisions and was sacked midway through his second season.

He then turned assistant at Chelsea for Andre Villas-Boas, eventually becoming caretaker manager when the Portuguese was sacked – leading the Blues to the Champions League and FA Cup.

But his career peaked there, on May 19th 2012. Handed the permanent managerial role, Di Matteo was sacked in November 2012 and went on to have disappointing spells with Schalke and Aston Villa, the latter being his most recent job ending in 2016.

Gary Neville

Assistant at: England
Manager of: Valencia

Gary Neville may not be looked at as an assistant manager to have failed in the top role, as people often view him as the pundit who couldn’t make it.

But the former Manchester United defender did spend four years as Roy Hodgson’s assistant manager at England.

Towards the end of his England tenure, Neville tested himself in Spain with Valencia but lost 11 of his 33 games, lasting just 119 days before being sacked. Neville has not returned to management since being let go by England after Euro 2016, sticking to media work and owning Salford City.

John Carver

Assistant at: Newcastle United, Leeds United, Luton Town, Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion, Scotland
Manager of: Newcastle United, Leeds United, Toronto FC, Sheffield United, Omonia Nicosia

The journeyman of assistant managers, John Carver has been around the block as a no.2 across the levels of English football.

Carver started off at Newcastle under Bobby Robson and had one game in caretaker charge with the same happening at Leeds under Kevin Blackwell.

The Englishman finally got his chance as a no.1 with a move to MLS, taking charge of Toronto FC. But things did not work out with Carver winning just 12 of his 40 matches before being sacked.

Further assistant roles at Plymouth, Sheffield United and Newcastle followed before Carver got another chance with the latter as manager. Just three wins came from his 20 games in charge and Carver was sacked. Some minor success in Cyprus followed before Carver once again dropped to no.2 at West Brom, and he is once again assistant to Steve Clarke for Scotland.

Sammy Lee

Assistant at: Bolton, Liverpool, Southampton, England, Crystal Palace, Everton
Manager of: Bolton

Sam Allardyce’s right-hand man, Sammy Lee has followed the one-time Three Lions manager across the country from Bolton to Everton, via the England national team and Crystal Palace.

Lee has also had spells at Liverpool and Southampton, only venturing as a first-team manager once. Replacing Sam Allardyce at Bolton in 2007, Lee took charge of 14 games but won just three matches – with only one of those coming in the Premier League.

Tony Adams

Assistant at: Portsmouth
Manager of: Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth, FK Qabala, Granada

Portsmouth-AC Milan

An Arsenal great, Tony Adams had his first foray into football management with Wycombe Wanderers, winning just 10 of his 48 games in charge – lasting just over a year.

After spells with Feyenoord’s academy and scouting for Arsenal, Adams moved down a step to become assistant manager at Portsmouth under Harry Redknapp, helping the club win the 2008 FA Cup.

Adams returned to first-team management with Portsmouth in October 2008 but lasted just 21 matches, winning four as the FA Cup holders struggled. An obscure spell in charge of Azerbaijani side FK Qabala followed between May 2010 and November 2011 before Adam’s most recent role at Granada which brought seven defeats from seven games.

Mike Phelan

Assistant at: Norwich City, Blackpool, Stockport County, Manchester United, Norwich City, Hull City, Manchester United
Manager of: Hull City

Mike Phelan is a wonderful assistant manager, potentially one of the best in the game. Another of Sir Alex’s no.2s at United, Phelan helped the Scot control English football for five years, ultimately becoming the country’s most successful club in terms of league wins.

He left United when Sir Alex retired and was assistant at Norwich City and Hull City, eventually becoming first-team manager at the latter in 2016.

Things actually started well for Hull as they won two of their opening three Premier League games for the 2016/17 season, earning Phelan Manager of the Month. But that would be as good as it got with Phelan eventually sacked in January 2017 with Hull is serious relegation trouble.

Phelan is now back at United, providing directions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the Norwegian at the wheel.