Football Features

One-season managerial wonders: 10 of the most fleeting spells of success

By Squawka News

Published: 14:00, 11 January 2021

Football is a fickle old industry, with players and managers alike going from hero to zero in a matter of weeks.

Some men in the dugout – such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola – achieve sustained success throughout their careers and reach legendary status.

Others, meanwhile, are doomed from the off, remembered only as flops, if remembered at all.

But somewhere in the middle, there is a group of managers that burst onto the scene with an amazing season, building hope for a bright future among their club’s fanbase, only to fall off a cliff after that one, sweet season of success, failing in almost every other job they undertake.

At Squawka, we’ve put together a list of those one-season wonders.

1. Paolo Di Canio – Sunderland

Di Canio might need to be labelled ‘barely half-a-season hit wonder’ when he took charge of Sunderland for 13 exhilarating games in 2013. After losing his first game against Chelsea 2-1, the fiery Italian got ready for the Black Cats biggest game of the season, the Tyne-Wear Derby. Di Canio took his side to St James’ Park, a venue they hadn’t won at in 13 years, but the straight-arm saluting Italian was about the change all that.

His side tore through Newcastle, scoring three goals and leaving the Toon Army so mad they had to take out their anger on some horses. Di Canio managed to keep Sunderland away from relegation but was sacked just five games into his second season after his harsh methods were too much for the players.

2. Bryan Robson – Middlesbrough

Staying in the North East, Bryan Robson took Boro from the then First Division all way back up to the Premier League, almost qualifying for Europe before being sent back down again.

The former Man United and England star took charge of Middlesbrough in 1994/95 season as a player-manager and tried to rescue the club from their yo-yo status.

Robson lead them to First Division glory with Nigel Pearson, Phil Stamp and Uwe Fuchs smashing their way back into the Premier League. Once there, they snapped up Samba stars Juninho and Branco and won nine of their opening ten fixtures and were on course for a Uefa Cup spot before winning just three times in four months.

Though they survived by just five points, Boro managed to bring in Emerson and Champions League winner Fabrizio Ravanelli but were relegated after having three points deducted. Robson did get them back up the following season but was unable to replicate the heroics of 94-95.

3. Armin Veh – Stuttgart

After a 17-year managerial career where he didn’t really do much, Veh took over at Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart and made an instant impact. With his exciting youngsters in Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira, the German boss managed to pick up the club’s fifth Bundesliga title and first in over a decade, as well as the DFB-Pokal.

Veh outwitted Ottmar Hitzfeld, Mirko Slomka and Huub Stevens in what was a truly incredible bit of success. However, with having to cope in the Champions League as well as the Bundesliga, Veh’s side finished a tame sixth, 24 points behind winners Bayern Munich. The following season, after failing to win in six matches, Veh was sacked.

4. Raymond Domenech – France

Not exactly a one-season wonder, more a one-tournament wonder, but still… Never trust a man with eyebrows that are a different colour to his hair, as is the case with Raymond Domenech. After managing France’s U21s for over a decade, Domenech was the ideal man to take over Les Blues, who had sacked ex-Spurs boss Jacques Santini following their embarrassing defeat to Greece in Euro 2004.

Domenech managed to call Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram out of retirement, while calling up Franck Ribery and, oh yes, Pascal Chimbonda.

The Frenchman took his side to the 2006 World Cup with many believing they stood little chance. However, Zidane and Domenech got France to the final, only for the midfield maestro to lose his head and cost Domenech the World Cup.

Two years later, France failed to get out of their group at Euro 2008, but Domenech kept his job, as the almost-World Cup heroics of 2006 were still fresh in the public’s memory.

Another year later, the white-haired, black-eyebrowed manager was back with a French squad that despite having to cheat to get there, looked possible to go all the way.

However, after a training ground bust-up with Patrice Evra, Domenech lost the dressing room and his job as France failed to make it out of their group.

From a World Cup finalist to failing to qualify from a group stage, twice.

5. George Burley – Ipswich

The Scotsman was in charge of the East Anglian side for six seasons but his greatest success was in the 2000/01 season, where he took his newly promoted side to within a whisker of the Champions League.

With players like Matt Holland, Richard Wright and Marcus Stewart, Burley masterminded his relegation favourites and finished an impressive fifth.

The following season, Ipswich crumbled under their own hype and after beating Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup, the Tractor Boys were relegated, despite qualifying for the Uefa Cup again.

6. Roberto Di Matteo – Chelsea

From Champions League glory to being sacked in just seven months, Di Matteo’s time at Chelsea was a bit of a rollercoaster. After taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo was tasked with overturning the 3-1 deficit AVB had left him against Napoli. The Italian dramatically got them through against the Serie A side, then went on to beat Benfica and cause Gary Neville to change his boxers against Barcelona.

Against all odds, Di Matteo managed Chelsea to a win over massive favourites Bayern Munich in the final and he was dubbed the ‘the greatest caretaker manager of all time.’

As soon as he got the job permanently, the Italian had a bit of a tough time in the Champions League. Despite having Europe’s top title to his name – as well as the FA Cup – he was sacked.

7. Steve Coppell – Reading

Another case of first season glory, Coppell’s Reading side were brilliant in the 2006/07 campaign, with Kevin Doyle, Leroy Lita and Dave Kitson all doing the business.

The Relegation favourites finished just one point off a Europa League spot after their stunning final day 3-3 draw with Blackburn wasn’t enough to see them through.

Like Ipswich and Middlesbrough before them, Reading got the yips the next season and were relegated on goal difference despite thrashing Derby 4-0 on the final day.

8. Andre Villas-Boas – Chelsea

AVB was hot property after winning the Europa League and Primeira Liga with Porto and was seen as the man to take over from Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea, having been labelled the Special One Mark II.

After winning a massive 84% of his games at Porto, everyone expected the gruffly voiced youngster to work wonders at Chelsea immediately. However, after several arguments with senior Chelsea players, including forcing Brazilian defender Alex to train on his own, the players were a bit annoyed with him.

When Chelsea lost 3-1 to Napoli, enough was enough and AVB got the chop.

9. Andre Villas-Boas – Tottenham

Yep, him again. Spurs snapped him up after Harry Redknapp was sacked and AVB was handed a young Welshman called Gareth Bale. With the now world-class attacker in his side, AVB made Spurs one of the most potent attacks in the country.

However, after missing out on the Champions League to Arsenal, losing Bale to Real Madrid and having loads of average players bought for him by Daniel Levy, AVB was in a tight spot.

When Liverpool ripped through Spurs in a shocking 5-0 win, the nice coat wearing boss was sacked again.

Poor AVB!

Honourable mention: Claudio Ranieri

It didn’t feel right to make Claudio Ranieri a genuine part of the list. He’s been around for so long and let’s face it, he’s too nice!

But that title win with Leicester City. My word. After managing a list of clubs which includes Napoli, Valencia, Chelsea, Monaco, Juventus and Atletico Madrid – a list that is nowhere near exhaustive – the Italian rocked up at the King Power Stadium in 2015 as the unfancied man to take over an unfancied Leicester side.

Nigel Pearson’s dismissal after keeping the Foxes up the season before drew widespread criticism and the Tinker Man’s appointment was widely mocked. Less than a year, pretty much every journalist, fan and pundit in the country was eating their words as the for the first time in a managerial career going back to 1986, Ranieri finally won a top-flight league title, doing so with a side that finished 14th the season before.

Unfortunately, a horrendous start to the 2016/17 season saw Leicester plunged into a relegation battle and with the Foxes just one point above the relegation zone with 13 games remaining, one of the nicest men in football got the sack. Not that it did anything to taint his hero status in that particular corner of the Midlands.