Football can be described in countless words, but unpredictable would surely be the one leading the pack.
A manager knows this all too well. More on that in a bit.
One simply has to remember that 1966 World Cup final. Or THAT 1999 Champions League final. Or T.H.A.T. 2015-2016 Premier League season, the title race last season, the nail-biting one underway this season and the ones of the seasons gone by to gauge just how wildly amazing the game can be.
Oh, and how can one forget VAR!?
Behind the scenes, it’s no different. Transfer records are now shattered in a heartbeat, including – in some cases – by the same club, in the same season.
New and unexpected stars rising, old allegiances being swapped, and so on. In fact, one can safely say that football’s behind the scenes is a game within itself.
However, by far the most unpredictable, and some would say dicey, role in modern football is that of the manager.
With clubs (and their owners) possessing a large appetite for success and a low tolerance for failure, a manager - more often than not - finds himself being shuffled around like cards in a deck.
A manager who led his team to multiple honors last season could be leading a bookmaker’s odds for the sack race in the next one.
A manager’s job security is virtually non-existent today, which has led to some major sackings over the years.
Equally shocking have been a few appointments. With that in mind, let’s take a look at 5 managerial appointments that shocked the footballing world.
#5 Fernando Hierro as manager of the Spanish National Team
In Hierro’s case, it was the circumstances surrounding his appointment as manager of the Spanish national team during the 2018 World Cup rather than the appointment itself that shocked the footballing world.
After 14 glittering seasons with Real Madrid, which resulted in five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and scores of other honours, followed by brief spells at Al Rayyan and Bolton Wanderers, the ridiculously high-scoring defender moved into coaching.
After a four-year stint with the Royal Spanish Football Federation and a short stint as director of football for boyhood club Malaga, Hierro returned to Madrid as then-manager Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant. It was followed by his first managerial role with Real Oviedo before returning to his position as sporting director with the Royal Spanish Football Federation in 2017.
The legendary defender was comfortably serving in that role before events during the 2018 World Cup changed the course of his career forever.
Two days before Spain were due to take on Portugal in their first match of the 2018 World Cup, then-manager Julen Lopetegui, who announced that he would be replacing Zinedine Zidane as manager of Real Madrid following the conclusion of the tournament, was unceremoniously sacked.
Hierro was named as his successor, and his first match – a 3-3 thriller against Portugal – proved to be as dramatic as the circumstances he was appointed in.
Following a slim victory over Iran and a tight draw against Morocco, Spain were shockingly eliminated by hosts Russia via a penalty shootout in the Round of 16.
Hierro stepped down as manager following the early exit while also departing his role at the Federation, which were his last roles in football as of this writing.
#4 Gary Neville to Valencia
If there’s one name that’s synonymous with success it has got to be Gary Neville’s.
He was a part of the fabled Class of ’92 at Manchester United, where he won an astonishing eight Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and two Champions Leagues.
Neville then emerged as one of football’s most influential and respected pundits post his retirement. He has now successfully branched out into business with investments that include the popular Hotel Football and League Two side Salford City – both of which are co-owned by his former Class of ’92 teammates.
The former England international, who holds UEFA Pro Coaching Licences, even got a good break into the managerial side of things in 2012. He was made a part of the England senior coaching staff by then manager Roy Hodgson.
And then, much to everyone’s shock, Valencia appointed the former right-back as their manager back in December 2015.
The surprise soon melted into criticism from Valencia fans, who didn’t fancy his lack of experience or negligible fluency in Spanish one bit.
That he lost his first game, a 2-0 Champions League defeat against Lyon which relegated Valencia to the Europa League, didn’t help things.
An eight-game winless streak in the league soon followed, making Neville’s time in Spain a complete nightmare.
Valencia’s first win under Neville came a little over two months after his appointment in the form of a 2-1 Europa League victory over Espanyol. However, elimination from the competition followed in the second leg, after which Valencia pulled the plug on his tenure.
Neville’s win rate at the time of his Valencia departure was a meagre 35.71%. The team was 14th in the league, six points clear of the relegation zone and had won just three out a 16 possible league games while failing to keep a clean sheet.
All in all, his time as manager wasn’t just a surprise but also a complete shocker.
#3 Jose Mourinho to Tottenham Hotspur
One can call him arrogant, one can call him self obsessed, but no one can deny that the Special One isn't truly an extraordinary manager.
After making a name for himself in his homeland with Porto – where he won two league titles, one Champions League – and a host of other titles, Mourinho moved to Chelsea in 2004.
He quickly established himself as one of the best coaches in the world.
After securing a double in his first season, the Portuguese proceeded to win one more title and the FA Cup before his departure to Inter Milan where he won two Serie A titles, including the coveted treble in the 2009/10 season.
Success with Real Madrid followed in the form of the La Liga, Copa del Ray and Spanish Super Cup before a return to Chelsea in 2013, where he secured another double.
The Special One’s magic touch continued at Manchester United where he won three trophies in his first season in the form of the Community Shield, Carabao Cup and Europa League before departing in 2018.
Now one wouldn’t expect a manager of Mourinho’s calibre to be out of work for too long, yet he took almost a year off – choosing to focus on punditry – before sealing his next move.
And when he did, he sure did it in style – shocking the entire football world by making a return to London by replacing Mauricio Pochettino as Tottenham boss.
The world was stunned, not least the Tottenham players – whose reactions of utter shock were captured in Amazon’s recent fly-on-the-wall All Or Nothing documentary.
Mourinho led Spurs to a sixth-place finish in his first season. He got off to a wonderful start in the 2020/21 campaign, whose highlights include a stunning 6-1 victory over former club Manchester United.
For a time, his team looked like genuine title contenders before slipping to their current 9th place standing.
Where Mourinho goes from here is anyone’s guess, but then again it’s the Special One we’re talking about, so expect the ridiculously unexpected.
#2 Avram Grant to Chelsea
One can’t have a list of five managerial appointments that shocked the footballing world without Avram Grant’s name featuring amongst the very top.
Then again the number of shock managerial appointments at Chelsea can be an article in itself, which we’ll leave for another day.
A personal friend of Blues owner Roman Abramovich, the Israeli arrived in London as Chelsea’s Director of Football after managing a host of clubs in his homeland as well as the national team followed by a short stint as Portsmouth’s Technical Director.
Following Jose Mourinho’s acrimonious exit on September 20th, 2007, Grant took over the reins on October 11th, naming Steve Clarke and Henk ten Cate as his assistants.
Grant’s appointment was met with much shock and anger by Chelsea fans due to him neither possessing a top-flight coaching certificate from UEFA nor its B or A level certifications.
The players didn’t take too kindly to his appointment either, and even went on to state that his methods were ’25 years behind the times’ as well as belittling his ability to manage a big club like Chelsea – so much so that some of his staff even considered leaving the club.
His first game in charge was a 2-0 humbling against Manchester United, but what followed was nothing short of brilliant.
Grant’s Chelsea proceeded to go on a 16-game unbeaten streak, including a famous 6-0 thrashing of Manchester City – following which he was tied down to a lucrative four-year contract.
More success soon followed, with Chelsea narrowly losing to Tottenham in the 2008 League Cup final and posing a serious threat to Manchester United’s title hopes before eventually finishing second.
However, the highlight of Grant’s rein will undoubtedly be taking Chelsea to the Champions League final, something not achieved even under Mourinho. They lost the final in a painful fashion to eventual winners Manchester United in a nail-biting penalty shootout in the Moscow rain back in 2008.
Grant left his position soon after, and later stated that he declined a chance to remain as Chelsea’s Director of Football.
#1 Arsene Wenger to Arsenal
Did you really expect anyone else to lead this list?
After making a name for himself in his homeland as manager of Nancy and Monaco as well as Japanese outfit Nagoya Grampus Eight, Wenger arrived in England to take the reins of Arsenal as a virtual unknown, an event immortalised by the Evening Standard’s legendary ‘Arsene Who?’ headline.
Le Professeur quietly went about revolutionizing the game by rejigging the diets and training regimens of players – skills he picked up from his time in Japan – as well as making robust changes to the scouting system.
And the results?
They came in the form of a double in 1998, followed by another in 2002, an FA Cup in 2003, and their legendary Invincibles triumph, wherein they ended the entire season unbeaten, in 2004.
Not to forget the noteworthy signings made under Wenger, which include Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Freddie Ljungberg, Nicolas Anelka, Kolo Toure, Robert Pires, Gilberto Silva, Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Alex Song, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – all of whom made Arsenal the global superpower that it is today.
Wenger’s shrewdness in the transfer market, highlighted by bargain signings being sold for a king’s ransom later, was one of the main reasons why Arsenal were still able to compete with the biggest clubs in the world despite their money-sucking move to the Emirates back in 2006.
When Wenger called time on his fabled 22-year Arsenal career in 2018, after winning an astonishing 17 trophies and permanently changing the game forever, it’s safe to say that the world knew who he was.