Football Features

What happens when your old star teammate becomes your boss?

By Ben Green

Published: 18:15, 13 January 2022

Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho have reunited at Villa Park of all places, but the dynamic is slightly different. They once shared the dressing room at Anfield as equals, but now, Gerrard is Coutinho’s superior.

However, this is not an uncommon occurrence in football as some may think, with clubs now seemingly hell-bent on appointing former players and icons to uphold tradition and maintain standards, or as most players-turned-pundits will tell you: ‘because they just get the club ethos’.

There are many examples over the years of players sharing dressing rooms only for one to turn tactician and the other to still be knocking about, too many to count. But, here we’ve highlighted some of the most high-profile cases of former teammates who went from student and student, to student and teacher.

Pep Guardiola: Xavi & Carles Puyol

Pep Guardiola had a trophy-laden and storied career as a Barcelona player, shining in Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, captaining Louis van Gaal’s title winners, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Xavi and Carles Puyol.

The latter two were up-and-comers during the dotage years of Guardiola’s career, but their relationship would not be short-lived. When Guardiola was famously appointed Barça manager in 2008, Puyol and Xavi were in the prime years of their respective careers, establishing themselves as Camp Nou legends.

Together, the trio went on to form one of the greatest teams world football has ever seen. The halcyon days of Guardiola’s tenure saw the Catalan giants win three La Ligas, two Champions Leagues, two Cope del Reys and a collection of less-important trophies across just four years. It was a beautiful sight for everyone except Real Madrid fans.

Xavi: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets & Sergi Roberto

The prodigal son has returned! Just as Guardiola went away, returned and conquered, Barça will be hoping history repeats itself with another midfield immortal. Having earned his managerial stripes out in Qatar, Xavi has made his inevitable Camp Nou return, looking to steady a ship pockmarked by a number of concerning holes. Barça are having financial difficulties (to put it mildly), have endured a period of stasis for some time now and are without Lionel Messi.

Xavi, who played alongside Guardiola, and under him as a player, will be hoping some of his managerial stardust can rub off on him. He reunites with a number of former colleagues having only bowed out a few years ago, including Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Sergio Busquets, and now, quite incredibly, Dani Alves, who will turn 39 in just four month’s time.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Cristiano Ronaldo

From a tale of success to a tale of travesty. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Cristiano Ronaldo met at differing stages of their respective careers nearly two decades ago. Solskjaer was winding down as a stalwart and seasoned pro when Ronaldo rocked up at Old Trafford as a gangly, cocksure trickster ready to take on the world.

By the time Solskjaer hung up his boots in 2007, Ronaldo was on a fast track to becoming one of the greatest ever, now a bulked-up athlete with magic in his boots, and a matinee-idol appearance. Fourteen years later their paths would meet back on sacred soil, only this time as manager and player.

Of course, we know how this story plays out, with Solskjaer sacked just three months after their reunion, a tale as epic as it was ephemeral.

Andrea Pirlo: Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci & Alvaro Morata

Another example that didn’t quite work out. When Andrea Pirlo was bossing the midfield as Juventus’ esteemed pace-setter, they were in the midst of monopolising Serie A and had a seemingly unbreakable stranglehold on the Scudetto, but as the man in the dugout, The Old Lady went from venerable to vulnerable.

The Turin club were on a gradual decline prior to Pirlo’s appointment, though they had not yet been usurped for the Serie A title. Under his tutelage, Inter pipped them to the post and he was ultimately relieved of his duties. His teammates-turned-cadets were unable to save him from the chopping block.

Antonio Conte: Gianluigi Buffon & Alessandro Del Piero

While we’re in Turin, here’s one that did work out in both scenarios. As a player, alongside Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero, Conte won two Serie A titles, two Supercoppa Italiana and reached the 2003 Champions League final. As a manager, the now-Tottenham boss won the 2011/12 Scudetto in unbeaten fashion, an ‘Invincible’ season with the help of Buffon and Del Piero. Capitano left Juve that summer, but Conte and Buffon continued to mop up silverware at an absurd rate.

Zinedine Zidane: Sergio Ramos

When Sergio Ramos signed for Real Madrid in 2005 as a 19-year-old, he walked into a dressing room containing Roberto Carlos, Raul, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Guti, Iker Casillas and Zinedine Zidane. That 2005/06 campaign would prove Zidane’s last, meaning they got to share the dressing room as equals, even if only brief; one legend calling time on his glittering career, another just starting out.

Ramos would go on to spend another decade-and-a-half at the Bernabeu, linking up with Zidane again in 2016 when the latter was appointed manager to succeed Rafa Benitez. A world-class player turned out to be a world-class manager, and together Ramos and Zidane conquered Europe for three years straight, winning the Champions League in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I can imagine their shoulders still hurt. Ol’ ‘Big Ears’ is certainly no Ashes urn.

Diego Simeone: Fernando Torres, Antonio Lopez & Luis Perea

Diego Simeone was part of Atletico Madrid’s famous double in 1995/96 in which they won La Liga and the Copa del Rey. He had a brief sabbatical from the Spanish capital when he signed for Inter Milan in 1997, but he returned in 2003, and by that time a fresh-faced Fernando Torres was tearing up the scene.

Incredibly, at the age of just 19 Torres was the captain of Atleti so was technically Simeone’s superior for a brief period, but we all know who wore the trousers when the Buenos Aires-born coach arrived at the Vicente Calderon in 2011. At that time Torres was turning out for Chelsea, but he would also return to familiar pastures.

In 2015, Torres and Simeone reunited and together they won the 2018 Europa League and ushered in the Metropolitano era.

Carlo Ancelotti: Alessandro Costacurta & Paolo Maldini

At the Camp Nou in 1989, Milan beat Steaua București 4-0 to win the European Cup under Arrigo Sacchi. A year later they repeated that feat, winning the 1990 European Cup after beating Benfica 1-0 in Vienna. On both occasions, Carlo Ancelotti orbited the midfield with Frank Rijkaard, while Alessandro Costacurta held fort at centre-back with Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini dominated the flanks with full-back partner Mauro Tassotti.

It’s a hall-of-fame side forever immortalised in San Siro history. And together, Ancelotti, Costacurta and Maldini would bring further silverware to the Rossoneri. Now manager, Ancelotti’s men won the 2003 Champions League final at the expense of Juventus at Old Trafford, with Costacurta playing at full-back and Maldini at centre-back. Roles reversed, but equally as defensively devastating.

Maldini and Ancelotti would also win the 2007 Champions League, concluding an epic era in Milan’s fabled timeline.

Mikel Arteta: Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin, Mohamed Elneny & Emiliano Martinez

Mesut Ozil and Mikel Arteta spent three seasons together as players under Arsene Wenger, winning the FA Cup in consecutive campaigns (2013/14 and 2014/15). It was a highly-fruitful three years. Their relationship as manager-player, though, wasn’t quite so successful. Ozil was ultimately frozen out by Arteta as he preferred the emerging talent of Emile Smith Rowe, leading the former Germany international to terminate his contract prematurely and join Fenerbahce on a free transfer.

Frank Lampard: Willian & Cesar Azpilicueta

Cesar Azpilicueta joined Chelsea 10 years ago at a time when Frank Lampard was just beginning to wind down his career, though in his last two seasons at the Bridge with the colloquially known ‘Dave’, he notched 25 goals, so ‘winding down’ may be a tad harsh here. Unfortunately for Lampard, his career in the dugout at Chelsea wasn’t quite as successful. Together with Azpilicueta, and William, whom Lampard also played alongside, they reached an FA Cup final but couldn’t stop the rot last year before Thomas Tuchel came in and worked miracles.

Johan Cruyff: Marco van Basten & Frank Rijkaard

Finishing up with a throwback. Johan Cruyff was a creative virtuoso as a player, a forward with dazzling imagination and a perception of the pitch that not many had the intelligence or foresight to see. After putting Ajax on the map as a European powerhouse in the 70s, Cruyff returned to Amsterdam in 1981 at a time when the latest crop of emerging stars were beginning to make a name for themselves, chiefly Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.

The tactical firebrand would play alongside Rijkaard and Van Basten for two seasons before returning as coach in 1985. Together they won the 1987 European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating Lokomotive Leipzig 1-0 in the Athens showpiece, before they disbanded and went on to reach even greater heights away from the Dutch capital.