There is an old footballing cliché that says that great players can never become great managers. Whilst that holds true most of the time, there are some, who are an exception to that role and manage to have a stellar career in both aspects.
This article will look at the five best players, who, in my opinion managed to make the smooth step up from playing into management. This is not meant to be a definite list and there are those who have been successful, but have not managed to maintain that over a length of time. Case in point, would be someone like Frank Rijkaard, who had an amazing short spell at Barcelona, but wasn’t able to replicate that anywhere else. If you feel that there is someone that I missed out, feel free to comment below.
5. Kevin Keegan
As a player, Keegan was arguably the first English player to have the paparazzi hound him 24*7 and was the first proper “superstar”. He started his career at Scunthorpe United, but made his name at Liverpool, where he won three First Division titles, the UEFA Cup twice, the FA Cup and the European Cup once. He then moved to Germany to play for Hamburg, with whom he won the Bundesliga once, whilst finishing as a losing finalist in both the European Cup and the European Super Cup. After three hugely successful years, which saw him named European Footballer of the Year twice, in 1978 and 1979, he moved backed to England and finally retired from football in 1984 having been capped 63 times for England, scoring 21 goals.
After an illustrious playing career came to a close, he switched to management and has unique accomplishment of having won promotion at Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester City in his first full season with all three clubs. He was hugely successful at Newcastle, where he helped them finish runners up in the Premier League twice whilst winning the manager of the month award five times. Whilst he is well known for his time as manager of the England national team, for all the wrong reasons, he also managed Newcastle United, Fulham and Manchester City with varying degrees of success.
4. Kenny Dalglish
In a player career that lasted over two decades, Kenny Dalglish became Scotland’s most capped player and joint-leading goal scorer of all time. At club level, although he won four Scottish Cups and First Division titles with Celtic, it was his time with Liverpool that was the more remarkable one. As, he won six First Division titles, four League Cups, three European Cups, two FA Cups and a grand total of 23 trophies in little over a decade with the club. On a personal note, some of his achievements include, winning the Ballon d’Or Silver, PFA Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year in 1983.
Towards the end of his playing career, Dalglish became player-manager of Liverpool and ended up winning a further three First Divisions, two FA Cups and four FA Charity Shields. After that he managed Blackburn Rovers, who led from the Second Division to win the Premier League in 1995. He then left for Newcastle United, with whom he finished runners-up in both the Premier League and FA Cup during his first season. He eventually went onto manage Celtic and even managed to win the Scottish League Cup before an acrimonious departure.
3. Jupp Heynckes
As a player, Jupp Heynckes spent the majority of his career as a striker for Borussia Mönchengladbach during their golden era of the 1960s and 1970s, where he won four Bundesliga titles, the DFB-Pokal as well as the UEFA Cup once each. He also played in the club’s only European Cup final in 1977, which they lost to Liverpool and ended his club career as the third highest goal scorer in the history of the Bundesliga, with 220 goals. Internationally, he is one of an elite band of footballers to have won both the European Championship and the World Cup.
As a manager, Jupp Heynckes has won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich across three different spells. He also won the DFB Pokal and the Super Cup in both Spain and Germany and also won the Intertoto Cup twice with Schalke. And to top it all off, he has also won the UEFA Champions League twice, with two different clubs, Real Madrid in 1997–98 and Bayern in 2012–13, a unique achievement in itself.
2. Carlo Ancelotti
There are few players who can claim to have won the European Cup twice, in successive seasons as a player. There are even fewer players who have won the European Cup twice as a manager. But, there is nobody apart from Carlo Ancelotti, who can claim to won the European Cup twice as both a player and a manager, with the same club (AC Milan).
As a player, Ancelotti won the Serie A thrice, twice with AC Milan and once with AS Roma. He also won the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup twice in successive seasons with AC Milan. As a manager, he has won everywhere he has been. He is one of a select few managers to have won the League in England, Italy and France. He has also been awarded the Serie A, Ligue 1 and UEFA Manager of the year. He is currently at Madrid, trying to pick up the League title there as well, so he can rightfully claim to have won the league in four different countries, something not many can lay claim to.
With such a stellar CV, you might be tempted to think that there can’t be anyone better than this, but you are in for a surprise when you find out who is number one on the list.
1. Johan Cruyff
He was arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time, certainly the greatest Dutch footballer and one whose playing career was filled with silverware, both individual and as a team. He was a revelation at Ajax for whom, he won eight Eredivisie titles and three successive European Cups from 1971. In just 10 years at Ajax, he won 20 trophies before he left for Barcelona, with whom he won La Liga and Copa Del Rey. On an individual level, he won the Ballon d’Or three times, European Golden Shoe once and the Golden Ball at the 1974 World Cup, in which he was unlucky to not win.
After an illustrious playing career ended, Cruyff went into management and arguably had an even successful career. He started with Ajax again, where he won the league and Cup double in 83-84 and then moved to Barcelona. It was here that he transformed the Barcelona side into a super power and shaped the club philosophy, which is the reason why they are where they are today. He finished his spell as Barcelona’s manager with 11 trophies, which was a club record until his pupil Pep Guardiola overtook him a few years ago.
So, Cruyff is quite simply a man who could do no wrong in football, whether it was as a player or as a manager and is simply the greatest player to ever make it as a manager and not do too badly there as well.