Football Features

Manager-player combinations you probably don’t know were a thing

By Muhammad Butt

Manager-player combinations you probably don't know were a thing

Published: 11:50, 22 July 2020

Certain managers and players just go together, they feel right.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Ryan Giggs, Arsene Wenger and Thierry Henry, José Mourinho and Didier Drogba, Pep Guardiola and Leo Messi, Zinedine Zidane and Sergio Ramos, Harry Redknapp and Peter Crouch, Harry Redknapp and Niko Kranjcar, Harry Redkn — okay, you get the picture.

However what about the manager-player combinations you don’t know about? The notable managers and players you had no idea worked together? We’ve had a look and come up with some amusing combinations you probably didn’t realise were a thing.

Arsene Wenger and Glenn Hoddle

Wenger is so closely associated with the late 1990s/early 2000s and Arsenal that no one would ever imagine that he could coach an older generation of players, never mind Glenn Hoddle, a man whose only job these days is to offer punditry that veers wildly between genuine insight and complete drivel.

Yet in his days as a player, Hoddle was a magician. Think David Silva, but English. He starred for Spurs in the late 1970s and early 1980s before a sojourn to Monaco in his later years. There he played under a young coach by the name of Wenger, who was just eight years older than Hoddle.

Together they won Ligue 1 in 1988 (yes that’s right, Arsene “specialist in failure” Wenger was winning trophies back when Mourinho was still studying sports science) and made the European Cup quarter-final in 1989, with Hoddle being voted best foreign player in France. Injury brought his time in the Principality to an end, however, and he returned to England in 1991.

Marcelo Bielsa and Mauricio Pochettino

Marcelo Bielsa is back in the Premier League but the great shame is that Mauricio Pochettino isn’t. You would be forgiven for forgetting that that Pochettino, now firmly established as a coach, was once a player. And not just any player, but a phenomenal centre-back.

Bielsa coached Pochettino for four different sides, most recently for Argentina (go watch their match with England from the 2002 World Cup and have a look who fouls Michael Owen for England’s penalty) but also for Espanyol, Newell’s Old Boys and first of all, way back in the late 1980s for Newell’s Old Boys youth sides where Bielsa himself scouted and recruited a teenage Pochettino.

When you look at the style of football Pochettino‘s sides play as well as his own intensity, you can see the influence Bielsa has had on him.

Louis van Gaal and Mousa Dembélé

Mousa Dembélé was a Premier League phenomenon. An absurd combination of pace, power and a seemingly superhuman dribbling ability. You just couldn’t get the ball off him and he could just as easily dance around you as run through you.

Louis van Gaal, meanwhile, is so closely associated with his time at Ajax and Barcelona that no one would imagine him having anything to do with Dembélé. Except this midfield maverick got his big break with Van Gaal’s AZ, where the Belgian was the dynamic no. 10 driving through the heart of opponents as Van Gaal coached the unfancied Dutch side to an incredible title win in 2009.

Az Alkmaar Eredivisie title winners Louis van Gaal

READ MORE: Where are they now? Louis van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar that won the 2008/09 Eredivisie title

Fabio Capello and Pep Guardiola

Guardiola is the best coach in the world and certainly the most influential manager of the last decade. He changed football in 2008/09 with his Barcelona side and the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to him a decade later (some would argue a certain German has managed it, and indeed it’s hard to argue with the records involved).

Basically no one really remembers Guardiola‘s time as a player and if they do it’s all a bit hazy and to do with Barcelona. What they don’t realise is that Pep played well into this century and in other countries besides Catalunya. In particular he went to Italy so he could learn from coaches there, first from Carlo Mazzone at Brescia, but then from Fabio Capello at Roma.

Yes, the grumpy Italian who once coached England (or at least went through the motions of coaching England) was in charge of Guardiola back in 2002, and although the union didn’t last long you can be sure Guardiola picked up some tips from Don Fabio.

Sam Allardyce and Fernando Hierro

Fernando Hierro was and is one of the greatest defenders and captains in Real Madrid and Spanish history. His genius has been somewhat overshadowed by Spain’s golden era, but in his day Hierro was magnificent and lifted two European Cups as captain back when the first Galacticos were in full swing. In fact him being forced out of Madrid is what collapsed the whole project.

Sam Allardyce is a butcher of a manager, a ruthless carver of talent and also a man who assembled an incredibly cosmopolitan squad at Bolton Wanderers. Everyone knows about Jay-Jay Okocha, but Allardyce also recruited luminaries like Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo and, yes, Hierro. The great Champions League-winning captain of Real Madrid, spent the last season of his illustrious playing career at the Reebok Stadium.

Pep Guardiola and Chico Flores

Everyone knows about Guardiola‘s feats with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, but what they don’t know is that he proved his worth for the Barcelona job by spending a year coaching the B-team down in the fourth division of Spanish football.

This side was mostly composed of young talent from the club’s famed La Masia academy, notably future superstars Sergio Busquets and Pedro, but also some quality talent specifically brought in to be part of the side and help them win promotion.

Chico Flores, a journeyman Spanish defender with little in the way of glowing reputation, was one of those players brought in by Guardiola. The Catalan requested him and he was signed on loan for the second-half of the season, helping them win promotion.

Roy Hodgson and Roberto Carlos

When you think Roy Hodgson, you think of defenders defending. You may also think of Wilf Zaha flying down the wing or Bobby Zamora holding the ball up, but primarily you think of defenders. Even the hot young full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, brought through by Hodgson, is a throw-back type of full-back in that he focuses on defending not attacking.

So you’d never associate Hodgson with a rampaging full-back like Roberto Carlos. A man for whom the words “track back” may as well be “slap yourself” for all the likelihood that he’d do it. Yet when Hodgson coached Inter for just over a season back in the mid-1990s, he was in charge of Carlos, in fact he was the manager who brought Carlos to Milan. Then of course because Roy gonna Roy he was also the one to drive him away as he wanted to play the Brazilian as a winger, whilst Roberto Carlos knew he was no winger and refused, and so was sold.

Diego Simeone and Alexis Sánchez

Diego Simeone and Alexis Sánchez is such a fantastic match in terms of a manager’s tactics and a player’s skill-set that you’re probably wondering why Atleti never tried to sign the Chilean because it would be perfect for these two to work together.

Well, would you believe they already have? That’s right, when he was still at Udinese a young Alexis Sánchez went on loan to River Plate where a young Diego Simeone was coach. The spell didn’t work out tremendously well for either man which is why it is often forgotten, but it very much did happen.

José Mourinho and Figo

When you think of Mourinho and wingers, you think about Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Angel Di Maria, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff. You think of him playing them more as forwards than midfielders, and you think of goals.

When you think of Mourinho and Inter, you think about a tough defence, Walter Samuel and Lucio, you think about Esteban Cambiasso, playing Samuel Eto’o as a winger, Diego Milito and that celebration in the Camp Nou.

What you don’t think of is Luis Figo, the swarthy winger who swaggered his way up and down touchlines for Barcelona and Real Madrid. Figo was one of the finest players in the world, a wizard with the ball at his feet, but he is almost wholly associated with the Spanish giants and of course the Portuguese national side. No one remembers his four-year spell at Inter, the last of which saw him managed by his compatriot Mourinho. Figo retired in 2009 but stayed on at Inter as a club ambassador.

Chris Coleman and Claudio Bravo

Chris “Cookie” Coleman is most known for his adventures with Fulham, the Welsh national side and a Sunderland documentary. A no-frills straight-talking coach he looked impressive with his beloved Cottagers, but when he got sacked no one could have predicted he’d end up at Real Sociedad but that’s exactly what he did for a season (perhaps La Real were hoping to recapture the magic of Coleman’s compatriot John Toshack who had done so well with them).

Coleman did well in San Sebastian, surprisingly resigning halfway through his debut season with the club in fifth place. However in his brief spell in the Basque Country he coached one Claudio Bravo. No one would imagine that combination because the Chilean keeper has become so closely associated with Barcelona and now Manchester City, but at the time Bravo was a promising if erratic 25-year-old and the duo paired well together for the brief time “Cookie” was in Spain.

Zinedine Zidane and Guillermo Varela

Remember Guillermo Varela, that middling but intense Uruguayan full-back that Manchester United rolled out at the nadir of the Louis van Gaal era? The player who the risk-averse Van Gaal tried to convince United fans was better than Rafael da Silva? Yeah, he didn’t seem up to much, he’s probably never worked with another great coach, right?

Well, turns out that before Varela got his shot with Van Gaal, United decided to loan him (the first United signing in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era) out to Real Madrid Castilla where he spent one season playing fairly well in the lower leagues of Spanish football. His coach at Castilla? Oh, just footballing god Zidane.

The Frenchman was in the first of his two years coaching Castilla and worked with young Varela and showed that he clearly had a bit to learn in terms of talent assessment when he said, of Varela: “I’m delighted with Guillermo Varela […] I have no doubts he will make it to the top.”


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