Managers are an interesting bunch, aren’t they? Sometimes we forget our favourite tacticians and touchline heroes were once players.
I mean, can you just imagine Sam Allardyce darting across the pitch in those retro short shorts, Roy Hodgson flying in studs up, or even a bucket-less Marcelo Bielsa gliding across the turf and getting stuck in?
Of course, not every manager reached the most illustrious heights during their playing days. For every Carlo Ancelotti lifting the Champions League trophy aloft (twice!), there’s a Jurgen Klopp just plodding along in lower-league obscurity.
But, whether it’s the glittering nights of elite European football, or the mud-laden turf of grassroots football, this is where managers are forged. Behind the scenes, knowledge is acquired, ideas are exchanged and leadership qualities are refined.
In fact, some of today’s leading coaches and modern technocrats have shared a dressing room at one time or another. Mikel Arteta and Mauricio Pochettino were on the books at PSG in 2001/02, for example, while Slaven Bilic and Frank Lampard played together at West Ham in the mid-90s.
And that got us thinking. What are some of the most manager-spangled dressing rooms of old? Football teams of a bygone era that contained not just a couple, but three, four, or even five modern-day greats all in one dressing room racking brains and sharing philosophies? Well, we wanted to find out…
- Pep Guardiola (Man City)
- Luis Enrique (Spain)
- Phillip Cocu (Derby)
- Xavi (Al Sadd)
- Frank de Boer (most recently Atlanta United)
- Michael Reiziger (assistant coach at Ajax)
- Mauricio Pellegrino (Velez Sarsfield, formerly of Southampton)
- Jose Mourinho (Tottenham)*
Of course our journey begins at the hallowed Camp Nou turf, a sacred breeding ground for fine footballers, and even finer managers. Conceptualised in the Netherlands, but accentuated in Catalonia, this is where Total Football really began to dominate the sport at club level.
First though Rinus Michels, then later Johan Cruyff and eventually Pep Guardiola with his offshoot tiki-taka doctrine. But, between those periods of success, there was a man who shunned the improvisation and fluidity of the concept, instead preferring a more pragmatic and structured approach. That man was Louis van Gaal.
During his first Barça stint Van Gaal became something of a polarising coach for what he expressed as a clash of cultures, but his managerial stardust obviously rubbed off on some of his former pupils, as many of them have gone on to thrive in the dugout.
Pep Guardiola is, of course, the standout name, winning two Champions League titles with the Blaugrana between 2009 and 2011, and further domestic silverware with Bayern Munich and now Man City. Luis Enrique, likewise, went on to manage Barça, and he too lifted ‘ol ‘Big Ears’ in 2015, as well as a hat-trick of Copa del Reys and two La Liga titles.
The ex-Barça and Real Madrid forward is now in the Spain hotseat. Phillip Cocu has followed in Van Gaal’s footsteps and is managing Wayne Rooney, only the expectations aren’t quite so large at Pride Park compared to Old Trafford. Xavi looks destined to take to the Barça dugout at one stage, but for the time being he is honing his craft in Qatar.
Frank de Boer’s ill-fated spells at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, in which he lasted a combined 19 matches, have now been compounded by his recent mutual goodbye with Atlanta in Major League Soccer. Mauricio Pellegrino hasn’t fared much better, leaving the continent after poor stints at Southampton and Leganes.
Reiziger meanwhile is part of the Ajax alumnus steering the ship in Amsterdam, working alongside Christian Poulsen and Richard Witschge to assist Erik ten Hag at the Johan Cruyff Arena. We’ve also thrown Mourinho in there for good measure, as well. Although he wasn’t technically a player, he was a prominent figure in the dressing room.
Unfortunately, Van Gaal never deployed all these greats together, but there was a Copa del Rey game, against Benidorm of all teams, in which six of the seven started. In a 1-0 win at the Estadio Municipal Guillermo Amor in mid-January 1999, this is how they lined up…
- Antonio Conte (Inter Milan)
- Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)
- Didier Deschamps (France)
The 90s were a magical time to be a Serie A fan. Calcio was the hub of elite football and “Golaccio” was on the tip of every commentator’s tongue with players like Diego Maradona, Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla producing the spectacular on a weekly basis.
It wasn’t quite the one-horse race we know these days, but back then it was a pretty special time for the Old Lady. That golden decade saw Giovanni Trapattoni, Marcello Lippi and Carlo Ancelotti all occupy the dugout, while players like Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi graced the Turin turf.
But, there can be no denying that amid all that star quality, their 1996/97 squad was the most esteemed. They famously reached the Champions League final that season, having lifted the title the year prior, but lost out to a Paul Lambert-inspired Borussia Dortmund with that famous Lars Ricken chip.
It was one of the great European nights, and we all doff our caps to Ottmar Hitzfeld, because Lippi’s XI was simply ridiculous. Under the Italian’s tutelage was Conte, Zidane and Deschamps, three coaches who have gone on to define the modern era and entered the managerial Hall of Fame.
Collectively they have lifted three Champions Leagues, one World Cup, one Premier League title, three Serie A scudettos, two La Ligas, a Ligue 1 medal, as well as a handful of other domestic titles such as the FA Cup and a Coupe de la Ligue. Not a shabby trophy cabinet.
- Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
- Roberto Mancini (Italy)
- Simone Inzaghi (Lazio)
We’ve had Van Gaal managing Barça, Lippi at the Juve helm, and now, Sven-Goran Eriksson. The ex-England manager was forming quite the burgeoning reputation in Italian football during the 80s and 90s, winning titles at Roma and Fiorentina before eventually pitching up at Lazio.
Despite previously managing in the Eternal City, it was at Roma’s arch-rivals that he really cemented his status as one of world football’s leading tacticians. His 1999/00 side was quite breathtaking, a who’s who of international stars and household names. But, it was the diversity of his squad that really greased the machine.
For every rampaging hatchet-man in Diego Simeone, there was an elegant playmaker in Juan Sebastian Veron. Throw the likes of Alessandro Nesta, Pavel Nedved and Dejan Stankovic into the mix and you can probably see why they won Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Super Cup that season.
It’s quite the postcard, picturing Simeone, Mancini and Eriksson all in one dressing room together — oh, to be a fly on the wall — but perhaps explains why the latter duo went on to build successful careers. There was a broad spectrum of ideas, playing styles and cultures there.
Simeone’s pragmatism has revolutionised Atletico Madrid and established the club in the elite circle, while Mancini will always be remembered for that ‘Agueroooo’ goal and winning Man City a first-ever Premier League title. He actually went on to become Eriksson’s No. 2 at Lazio as well.
Talking about Mancini’s relentless work ethic, the Swede said: “I took him to Lazio with me and he wanted to be a manager even while he was a player. He was the coach, he was the kit man, he was the bus driver, everything.”
And, of course, Simone Inzaghi is now the head coach at Lazio, helping the club to a Champions League place for the first time in 13 years.
- Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
- Mauricio Pochettino
- Marcelo Gallardo (River Plate)
Close your eyes and imagine this: it’s 2001 and Argentina are playing Venezuela in a World Cup qualifier, no biggie.
Now, imagine Hernan Crespo, Javier Zanetti and Veron all gracefully tearing up the turf. Next, Simeone, like a bull to a red rag, is spotted marauding across the pitch, Pochettino then enters your peripheral vision, and so too does former PSG forward Gallardo.
Now, look to the dugout. This crescendo of talent mixed with madness is being led by none other than Marcelo Bielsa.
Described as “one of the world’s best managers” by Pochettino, and heralded as the coach who “taught me the most” by Simeone, ‘El Loco’ certainly leaves a lasting impression wherever he steps. So, it’s no surprise to see three of his former pupils all go on to prosper in the dugout.
Simeone, as mentioned, has transformed Atleti into a European powerhouse, Pochettino produced something similar at Spurs, reaching the Champions League final last season, and Gallardo has also exceeded expectations at River Plate in Argentina, winning the Copa Libertadores twice, in 2015 and 2018. To put that in context, the club (one of the ‘Big Five’ in Argentina) had only won the competition twice in their entire history before ‘El Muñeco’ took charge.
Gallardo is now one of the most sought-after managers in world football, which is a rarity coming direct from an Argentine dugout, but with two South America Coach of the Year awards to his name, he is hot property.
- Roberto Di Matteo
- Gianfranco Zola
- Jody Morris
- Steve Clarke
- Mark Hughes
- Ruud Gullit
- Gianluca Vialli
- Eddie Newton
Six on the above list either went on to manage Chelsea or worked as a coach for the club in some capacity. In fact, that 1996/97 season was a real boom of foreign imports for the Blues, with Ruud Gullit stepping into the dugout as a player-manager after Glenn Hoddle left to become England manager.
Using his influence on the global market, Gullit brought in a number of international names, including Vialli, Di Matteo, Zola and Frank Leboeuf. And what a maiden campaign it was for the Dutchman, ending Chelsea’s 26-year trophy drought with an FA Cup win over Middlesbrough, in which Di Matteo scored within 43 seconds (the second-fastest ever goal in FA Cup Final history).
Zola also clinched the FWA Footballer of the Year award while there was a double over Tottenham and a win over Man Utd along the way. Things eventually turned sour for Gullit at Stamford Bridge, but the 96/97 season was certainly one to cherish for those of a Blue persuasion.
And that side has gone on to achieve some pretty incredible feats in managerial football, particularly for Chelsea. Di Matteo famously lifted the Champions League in 2012 after stepping in for Andre Villas-Boas. Eddie Newton, his assistant coach at the time, recently became Trabzonspor’s caretaker head coach. They won the Turkish cup final in his second game in charge.
Meanwhile, Zola was second-in-command to Maurizio Sarri last season as the club scooped the Europa League. Jody Morris is now assistant to Frank Lampard, while Steve Clarke, now manager of Scotland, held a similar position during the glory days under Jose Mourinho in the early 2000s. Vialli, who succeeded Gullit, also shone in west London, lifting the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, as well as the FA Cup and the League Cup.
Mark Hughes has never coached Chelsea in any form, but he didn’t fare too badly at Blackburn and had the task of heralding the new Sheikh Mansour era at Man City. He most recently managed Fulham, QPR, Stoke and Southampton.
Crystal Palace 1991/92
- Gareth Southgate (England)
- Alan Pardew
- Chris Coleman
Let’s move away from the Lippi disciples and Champions League winners to the hustle and bustle of Selhurst Park. Steve Coppell’s first of four spells at Crystal Palace saw him preside over a dressing room fraught with managerial potential, with Southgate, Pardew and Coleman all sharing the half-time oranges in south London.
That season they finished 10th in the old First Division (now our holy Premier League), reached the League Cup quarter finals and the semi-finals of the Full Members Cup, whatever that is. Along with that trident of future dugout-occupants, Coppell also had a young Ian Wright doing the business up-top and Stan Collymore.
Southgate has, of course, gone on to reach great heights in the managerial sphere, but it was quite the baptism of fire he received at Palace. During his formative years, former Eagles manager Alan Smith told Southgate to become a “travel agent” instead of a footballer because he shook hands and thanked the opposition after a match. He was also bestowed the nickname “Nord” in reference to TV presenter Denis Norden because of “the precise way that he spoke”.
That gentlemanly aura is certainly still prominent with our great waistcoat-wearing leader. Pardew, of course, went on to manager Palace and will always be remembered for that dance in the FA Cup final (apologies for the reminder) and Coleman made a pretty good go of Euro 2016 with Wales.
Man Utd 1991/92
- Steve Bruce (Newcastle)
- Ryan Giggs (Wales)
- Mark Hughes
- Mike Phelan (Man Utd assistant)
Sir Alex Ferguson has imparted much of his wisdom on his players over the years. Starting from Aberdeen with Alex McLeish to the late 90s with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But, at the start of that decade he had a shrewd quartet of future dugout dancers.
Bruce, a free-scoring but strangely uncapped centre-back, soaked up Fergie’s wisdom like a sponge and has enjoyed successful stints at Birmingham, Wigan and now Newcastle. The latter of which he has done superbly to dispel misgivings about his initial appointment amid the backdrop of growing uncertainty with the club’s ownership.
Giggs worked under Van Gaal for a period as assistant coach and is now having a crack at the international scene, trying to establish a ‘young talent’ mantra at Wales. Hughes, meanwhile, hasn’t been in the dugout since leaving the Saints in 2018, but he’s sure to find a new club when Watford are struggling next season and running out of managers to appoint.
Meanwhile Phelan has made more of a name for himself as a coach rather than a player for the Red Devils. He served his old manager Ferguson for many years, before embarking on his own managerial journey, and when that came to a halt, he returned to Old Trafford, where he is now helping out Solskjaer.