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10 Great football players who couldn't succeed as managers

Diego Maradona struggled during his time as manager of Argentina
Diego Maradona struggled during his time as manager of Argentina
Scott Newman
Modified 01 May 2020
Top 5 / Top 10

It’s safe to say that there is no magic formula when it comes to what makes a great manager. While successful bosses like Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho hardly had glittering careers on the pitch, the same cannot be said for Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino, who all reached the highest level of the game.

Despite this though, playing at the top level – and even becoming a legend on the pitch – is no guarantee that someone will make a great manager. We’ve seen on numerous occasions that for a variety of reasons, world-class players can actually be amongst the worst bosses out there.

Here are 10 football legends who couldn’t succeed as managers.

#1 John Barnes

John Barnes
John Barnes' tenure as Celtic boss was disastrous

John Barnes was one of the most talented players to be produced by England in the 1980s, but to say his managerial career went badly would be an understatement. For the most part, newly retired players moving into management look for experience at a lower level. But that wasn’t the case for the former winger.

After hanging up his boots at the end of the 1998-99 season, Barnes stunned the football world by being announced as the new boss of Scottish giants Celtic. However, rather than taking to the job like a duck to water, it quickly became clear that the former England man was miles out of his depth.

Barnes was fired after just 29 games in charge, with the final straw being a 1-3 loss at home in the Scottish Cup to part-timers Inverness Caledonian Thistle. It took him nearly a decade to find another job in management. But in 2008 he was appointed as the new boss of the Jamaica national team. And he actually didn’t do too badly there, leading them to a 2008 Caribbean Cup win.

That paved the way to Barnes taking a job as manager of League One side Tranmere Rovers – but once again, things ended in utter disaster. Barnes led his side to just 3 wins in 12 games. And it came as no surprise when he was fired after a horrific 5-0 loss to Millwall. The Liverpool legend has not taken a managerial role since.


#2 Gary Neville

Gary Neville
Gary Neville's appointment as manager of Valencia was always a strange choice

Gary Neville is widely recognised as one of the best defenders of his generation – and now known as one of Sky Sports’ top pundits. It’s easy to forget that Neville also had a disastrous stint in management a few years ago.

The former Manchester United legend first made a foray into coaching with the England national team. From 2012 he became Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson’s assistant manager, but even that stint ended in disaster. Hodgson’s England were eliminated during the group stage at the 2014 World Cup and then lost in embarrassing fashion to Iceland at Euro 2016. This marked the end of Neville’s time as a coach.

In the meantime though, he also had a diabolical period as boss of La Liga side Valencia after taking over in December 2015. It was an odd appointment to begin with considering he had no managerial experience and couldn’t speak Spanish. Unsurprisingly, Neville lasted just a handful of months at the Mestalla.


During his time in charge, Valencia crashed out of the Champions League, went on a 10-game winless run in league competition and suffered a 7-0 thrashing in the Copa del Rey at the hands of Barcelona.

It came as no surprise when Neville was fired in March 2016, after winning just three of 16 league games and keeping just one clean sheet. Since then, he hasn’t gone back into management.

#3 Tony Adams

Tony Adams
Tony Adams' time as manager of Granada was a total failure

A Premier League title-winning captain on two occasions with Arsenal, Tony Adams is still remembered as one of England’s greatest ever defenders. His attempts at management, however, leave a lot to be desired.

After his retirement at the end of the 2001-02 season, Adams took a year away from football before resurfacing as manager of League One side Wycombe Wanderers. But his year in charge there saw dismal results. The Chairboys were relegated to League Two in his first campaign before he resigned four months into his second.


A brief run as Portsmouth’s boss also went wildly wrong. Adams became the full-time manager at Pompey following the departure of Harry Redknapp. But he was fired in February 2009 after a poor run of results saw the side pick up just 10 points in 16 games. That would mark the end of his time as a boss in England – but didn’t stop him attempting roles elsewhere.

The former defender had a strange stint in charge of Azerbaijani club Gabala FC from May 2010 to November 2011. And after some time away from the game, he resurfaced in April 2017 to take over at La Liga strugglers Granada. Despite the club already being in trouble at the time of his appointment, the Arsenal legend failed miserably in his attempt to turn things around.

Granada lost all seven games they played with Adams in charge, and after their relegation, he was unsurprisingly fired. With his highest win percentage being 22.6% it’s probably fair to say he should probably stay away from management in the future.

#4 Alan Shearer

Alan Shearer
Alan Shearer's time in charge of Newcastle ended in a painful relegation

Still the Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer with a total of 260 strikes to his name, Alan Shearer is widely recognised as a genuine legend of the English game. However, it’s safe to say that his brief foray into management certainly didn’t contribute to his stellar reputation.


Despite never really expressing any interest in coaching upon his retirement from the game in 2006, Shearer found himself back in the spotlight three years later. He was appointed as Newcastle’s new manager in April 2009 when health issues sidelined the club’s permanent boss Joe Kinnear.

With the Magpies in trouble in the Premier League and relegation a definite possibility, Shearer promised to do his best to salvage their season. Unfortunately, his skills in the dugout paled in comparison to those he showed on the pitch.

His first match in charge saw his side slump to defeat against Chelsea, and it quickly became clear that the former striker was out of his depth.

Newcastle ended up suffering relegation to the EFL Championship, with Shearer’s run as boss being one of the worst sequences of the club’s campaign. They won just one game and collected five points from a possible 24, a diabolical return by anyone’s standards.

Once the 2008-09 season was over nobody was shocked when Shearer was not given the job permanently. Instead, he moved back into television work. On the other hand, his assistant boss Chris Hughton took the reins at St. James’ Park – and subsequently won promotion in his first full season in charge.

#5 Gianfranco Zola

Gianfranco Zola struggled as boss of multiple sides, including Watford
Gianfranco Zola struggled as boss of multiple sides, including Watford

Gianfranco Zola established himself as one of the best playmakers of his generation during his time with Parma and Chelsea. He was loved as a player for his mercurial style on the pitch and affable personality off it. Unfortunately, after hanging up his boots, the Italian’s career in management hasn’t gone quite so well.

After a brief stint in charge of Italy’s U-21 side, Zola was appointed as West Ham United’s new boss in September 2008. However, after a solid ninth-place finish in his first Premier League season, things went horribly wrong. The Hammers narrowly escaped relegation in 2009-10 – resulting in the Italian’s firing.

A strong start at his next club Watford followed, but again the same pattern emerged. After a good first season, Zola resigned midway through his second with the Hornets on a terrible run of just one win in 11 matches.

Next up was a short stint in charge of Cagliari. But his time there also went badly as his side won just two of 10 games before he was fired after just three months.

In 2016 meanwhile, the Italian took charge of EFL Championship side Birmingham City. But despite taking over with the club outside the playoff positions on goal difference, Zola again struggled to make a mark.

He resigned with the club just three points away from the relegation zone – winning just two matches during his 24-game tenure.

Most recently, Zola returned to Chelsea as assistant coach to manager Maurizio Sarri. But when Sarri left the club in the summer of 2019, Zola departed too. He hasn’t resurfaced as a boss since.

#6 Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona was tactically found wanting during his period as Argentina boss
Diego Maradona was tactically found wanting during his period as Argentina boss

Undoubtedly one of the most talented players of all time, Diego Maradona did it all during his on-pitch career. He led Argentina to their second World Cup triumph in 1986, carried them to the final of the 1990 tournament, and won major trophies in Spain and Italy with Barcelona and Napoli.

However, the fact that Maradona’s playing career was beset with plenty of personal problems – from disciplinary ones to issues with drug abuse – should’ve been a red flag when it came to a potential career in management.

Instead, despite a couple of failed stints with smaller Argentine clubs, El Diego was handed the reins as boss of his national team in late 2008. Despite some early struggles – including a 6-1 loss to Bolivia – Maradona led La Albiceleste to the 2010 World Cup, and responded to his critics in the press by telling them to “s*** it”.

At the tournament itself though, Argentina flattered to deceive. Despite winning all three of their group games thanks to attacking talents such as Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, it soon became clear that Maradona was tactically naive.

And those tactics – basically a gung-ho system of all-out attack – were painfully exposed in a 4-0 quarter-final loss to Germany.

It came as no surprise to see the legend relieved of his duties after the World Cup, and his managerial stints since have failed to help his reputation too. Currently, he’s managing Argentine side Gimnasia de la Plata – with whom he’s won just seven of 20 games.


#7 Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne
Paul Gascoigne's career in management was an unmitigated disaster

Like Diego Maradona, Paul Gascoigne was an unbelievably talented player whose career was also tainted with bizarre disciplinary issues. The very definition of the word ‘maverick’, Gascoigne’s personality was clearly not suited to the world of management.

But that didn’t stop the England legend trying his hand in the role on a couple of occasions.

His first foray into management came in a bizarre way – coaching in China – but it didn’t take long before an English club were willing to take a risk on him. The summer of 2004 saw him take control at non-league Boston United.

But his time there lasted just 11 games before he resigned. His reason? The club wouldn’t grant him leave to allow him to appear on reality show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!

‘Gazza’ didn’t end up on the show anyway – reportedly failing a psychological test – and instead, he emerged from the shadows in late 2005 and was appointed as the new boss of another non-league side, Kettering United.


This move went even worse for him, as he was fired after just 39 days. Rumours suggested he spent the majority of his time there drunk and even fell off the team bus in a stupor at one point.

Since then, Gascoigne’s personal issues have kept him largely out of the game. He’s been sectioned under the Mental Health Act twice and has been entered into rehab facilities on numerous occasions. The chance of a managerial return for him now seems highly unlikely.

#8 Ciro Ferrara

Ciro Ferrara was out of his depth during his time as Juventus boss
Ciro Ferrara was out of his depth during his time as Juventus boss

A genuine legend at Juventus, Ciro Ferrara won the Scudetto on five occasions over a 10-year period with the Old Lady. After his retirement at the end of the 2004-05 season, it seemed like a given that the defender would move into coaching. And in 2006 he was part of the Italian technical staff when the Azzuri lifted the World Cup.

After earning his UEFA Pro License, Ferrara was surprisingly named as Juventus’ caretaker boss when they fired Claudio Ranieri in May 2009. And after winning his two games in charge, he was handed the role on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, though, things quickly went downhill from there for this club legend.


Despite starting the season with four wins, Ferrara’s Juve side quickly slipped. They were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage and were struggling in Serie A action too. A run of one win in six matches – and elimination from the Coppa Italia – was enough for Juve’s power-brokers. Ferrara was fired at the end of January.

The former defender would claim that he had issues with coaching some of his friends. But his stints in charge of Sampdoria and Chinese Super League club Wuhan Zali also saw him struggle greatly. His 15 matches in charge of Sampdoria resulted in just 5 victories and a poor win percentage of 33%.

As of the time of writing, Ferrara has not made his way back into management since 2017.

#9 Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry struggled during his brief period as Monaco boss
Thierry Henry struggled during his brief period as Monaco boss

One of the Premier League’s greatest ever European imports, Thierry Henry became a legend at Arsenal after scoring over 200 goals for the club. A move to Barcelona bought him two La Liga titles and the 2008-09 Champions League, and he eventually hung up his boots at New York Red Bulls in 2014.


The French striker’s coaching career began at Arsenal in 2015. And by the summer of 2016, he’d taken over as assistant manager with the Belgium national side, who went onto reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Following that, Henry made the decision to move into management – and was shockingly announced as Monaco’s new boss in October 2018.

The Arsenal legend lasted just three months in charge of his boyhood side and was fired in the final week of January 2019. His record at the club stands out as one of the worst managerial stints of all time. Henry oversaw 20 games, winning just four and losing 11. Along the way, his Monaco side scored 15 goals – but somehow conceded 36.

After months away from the game, the French World Cup winner resurfaced last November, taking charge at MLS side Montreal Impact. Since his arrival the club have played five matches, winning just one, drawing three and losing one.

It’s still too early to judge his time in charge there as the 2020 MLS season was postponed due to COVID-19 in March. But the fact that his win percentage thus far – 20% - is identical to the one he had at Monaco doesn’t bode well at all.

#10 Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton
Bobby Charlton's managerial career did not go as well as his playing career

A World Cup winner with England in 1966, a European Cup winner with Manchester United in 1968 and a Ballon d’Or winner - it’s safe to say that Bobby Charlton is one of English football’s most decorated players. However, this goalscoring midfielder’s brief career as a manager was almost as unsuccessful as his playing career was successful.

After 17 seasons at Old Trafford, Charlton hung up his boots at the end of the 1972-73 campaign. He then moved to Second Division side Preston North End to take over as their new manager. Despite appointing fellow United and England legend Nobby Stiles as an assistant coach, the World Cup winner’s first season was a disaster.

Preston won just nine of their 42 league games and were relegated to the Third Division – and were even deducted a point for fielding an ineligible player. Charlton’s second season in charge was hardly much better despite his return as an active player. His side finished in ninth place in the Third Division. He resigned at the end of the season following a clash with the board.

Nearly a decade passed before Charlton’s return to management. The World Cup winner became a director at Wigan Athletic in the early 1980s and took over as their caretaker boss in 1983. However, he decided to move back upstairs after a dire run of just two wins in his ni games in charge.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Charlton’s failure as a manager was the fact that his brother Jack was so successful. He led the Republic of Ireland to their first-ever World Cup appearance, reaching the quarter-finals in the 1990 tournament. 

Published 01 May 2020, 19:31 IST
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