Hi everyone, and welcome to a new feature. Here I’ll be asking you how you feel about various football issues, and hopefully we can discuss these in a way that feels a bit less destructive than it does on Twitter.
After years of feeling inevitable, Xavi is finally Barcelona manager. I wrote about my thoughts on this over on the paid side, but it got me thinking: we really never know what to expect from an ex-player turned manager until they get into the dugout. Football’s history is littered with great names who fell flat on their faces once they turned to coaching. Equally, there are figures who never seemed quite right for it but ended up thriving.
So I ask: who really surprised you, in either a positive or negative way?
I’ll go first: I never believed Steven Gerrard was cut out for management. He never struck me as someone with great tactical discipline as a player, so cue my surprise when he builds a Rangers team around supreme discipline and organisation. He’s an example both of how managers can approach things differently to their playing days, and the importance of delineating (people who know these things seem to rate Michael Beale very highly).
Who surprised you?
Zidane. As a player he was either floating in and above the game or unleashing sudden bursts of beauty/violence. He didn't seem that aware of the other human beings involved, other than as pieces in the pictures he was creating. Until he planted one on them of course. I was surprised that as a manager he was obviously very capable of engaging with all the egos and personalities in the Madrid changing room.
Vieira for me has been a pleasant surprise, especially at Palace so far. As a player, I always had him down as a domineering and almost individualistic midfielder just because of how good he was (maybe this is lazy from watching highlights rather than his full games), and fancied that aggression and directness to translate to his teams rather than the possession-centric style of Arsenal (and City I guess). However he's been refreshingly proactive in his approach; the way his Palace side have been controlling the ball already in games not against the top 4 has been really impressive - I banked on him being Zidane without the star quality which is... well I'm not sure, but certainly wasn't expecting this sort of structured build-up
As a Chelsea fan I can mostly only speak for Frank here. I guess I figured based on the era he played and had the most success in that he would have played a bit more conservatively, keep things compact, stuff like that. I especially expected him to stick with the older players in the squad, both because he was a new manager and because he could know what to expect from them more easily. What I did not expect was for him to sell David Luiz before the season started, throw basically everyone forward to attack and press high, counters be damned, and play a bunch of academy kids every week after decades of basically zero academy involvement in the first team. Well Frank's quality as a manager can certainly be critiqued, that 19/20 season is probably the most fun I've ever had watching Chelsea. Winning is great, but there's something about playing with joy that that team did that I haven't seen from any other manager. I never expected that Frank, who always seemed quite smart and tactically adept, to become a vibes manager, but for a little over a year they were some great vibes.
Koeman probably. Scored that famous free-kick in the 92 final for the dream team and then worked under LvG. Everything you hear about him suggests his approach is v laissez-faire despite playing and then working under some of the most meticulous guys around at the time and it’s reflected in his teams. Always found it surprising considering the type of player of he was.
Most interested in following Rooney’s career cause he didn’t always agree with Fergie, especially in that 2011 final
Wayne Rooney entering management was kinda odd. Guess the jury is still out on his qualities since he’s pretty new. But nothing as a player really ever made me think, “I could see him becoming a manager”
Lampard, not in terms of his quality (I figured he wouldn’t be very good) but in terms of his approach to the game. Obviously he had a ton of managerial influences during his career, but I assumed the Mourinho influence would have been pretty formative and that we’d see Lampard emphasize organization and structure off the ball. Instead he went with an extremely open high pressing system (the Double Pivot guys called him a “football pervert”). He was a much more tactically interesting and ambitious manager than I expected, even if it mostly didn’t work.
Roberto Mancini! He was a brilliant individual player and a serial winner, but he never struck me as tactically brilliant or anything, and none of his teams have been... innovative? But apparently he really has a way of handling players and creating a group for a certain spell, almost in an early Mourinho way but with way less vitriol.
I guess I've underrated him partly because his greatest extended period of success in club football came with Inter in Serie A, but only after Juve were riddled with the "calciopoli" scandal... looking back though I think his achievement with his Man City side is almost a little underrated, changing the mentality of the entire club to match their new finances, and managing some difficult personalities.
And now this summer's Italy side really cements him in my mind as a high level manager, and that is VERY surprising to me (to answer the question lol)
Agree on Gerrard. Relatedly, though not quite what you're asking, I was a bit surprised that Carragher didn't go into management. I had always just assumed that was the logical next step for him.
Russell Martin. Hoping to see a couple of shout-outs for EFL managers on the thread, but the one I want to spotlight is Russell Martin. Wasn’t expecting a former Norwich and Wycombe Wanderers right-back to take on the playing style that Martin has. The emphasis on possession-based football, the attacking nature of the wing-backs, and the forward movement already on display at Swansea (despite no pre-season) should have fans of the club extremely excited for their direction of travel.
I thought it was a flash in the pan when he started at Madrid. An emergency manager to guide them through.
The superstar player, decent director of football building the list but manager. I didn’t see that one.
I was really rooting for Thierry Henry when he took over Monaco. He had experience with the Belgian NT and as a player he carried a cool and graceful reputation so it was to my surprise that he adopted a very high-strung temperament with his players. I guess it goes to show that at the foundation of being a good coach lies communication and whatever ideas you might have about how to play football don't matter if you can't reach the players