The vast majority of managers in English football played the game at a high level before taking up the art of coaching. For decades, this was seen as the only route into management, and it was assumed that, in order to earn the respect of a squad of professionals, a manager needed to have a track record of their own to back up the instructions they dish out to players.
But a number of managers have broken that mould, and some in spectacular fashion, putting paid to the idea that not making the grade as a player closes the door on a management career. The success in management of these less notable players has led to a shift in the managerial merry-go-round, with some less familiar names beginning to appear in the football betting tips to fill vacancies at top English clubs each season. Here are three of the best managers who had a low key career as a player but have shook the world as a manager.
The young Arsene Wenger was noted for his vision and influence as a midfielder, but also his lack of pace. His managerial instincts were on show at the age of just 16, when he was nicknamed ‘Petit’ as a player due to being one of the smallest on his local village team, Duttlenheim.
Wenger combined football with his university studies during his time as a student of politics and economics at the University of Strasbourg. He played for the French students squad in the World Student Championships of 1976, before joining Mutzig Mulhouse, and then ASPV Strasbourg, where he was part of the team that won promotion to the third division in France.
His career as a player never really took off, but he showed the talent that would make him a great manager, and was taken under the wing of Max Hild at Mutzig, who would become his mentor at RC Strasbourg, where Wenger first became a coach.
At 13 years of age, Rafa Benitez joined the club he has recently re-joined as manager, Real Madrid. However, he never possessed the talent to graduate through the ranks at the Bernabeu, and made the decision to earn a degree in Physical Education whilst still maintaining his role as a player in Real’s youth and amateur sides.
He was transferred to AD Parla in 1981, and spent four successful seasons there, culminating in the club’s promotion to Spain’s Segunda Division. A knee injury cut Benitez’s playing days short in 1986, but he had amassed enough knowledge and tactical acumen to return to Real Madrid as a coach at the age of just 26. His management career has unfolded from there. It wasn’t just the beginning of his management career per se, but also to all the other choices he has made. Like, since then, he seems to have also shown interest in the overall development of the players, and thus has taken measures like treadmill hire, and more – all making room for player’s health and fitness.
Chelsea’s most successful manager knew from a young age that football management – rather than playing – was his calling in life. He might also have realised that managers are quintessential to building up a team. He has proven his worth and seem irreplaceable. But if (God forbid) something happens to him the team would suffer a huge loss and therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising if they have considered securing him with a key man life insurance or something similar. This football team like any other would also go far and wide to ensure the safety of every player and importantly their strength (manager, of course).
The son of a professional goalkeeper, Mourinho began studying what it takes to run a football team when he was in his early teens as he followed his father’s team – even “managing the ballboys”, according to his dad.
Mourinho went on to play for his father at Rio Ave as a defender, and, like Wenger and Benitez, he combined football with studying as he earned a Physical Education degree at the Technical University of Lisbon.
Recognising that he was unlikely to ascend beyond the Portuguese second division as a player, Mourinho worked to get his coaching badges, and at the age of 29 he worked with Bobby Robson as an interpreter and translator at Sporting Club Lisbon.
Robson took him under his wing, recognising that Mourinho had the potential to be much more than just a translator. The rest, as they, is history.