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Oliver McManus writes about some British managers who have made their name and fame coaching outside the United Kingdom.
Most of you will already know that I recently interviewed, former Sierra Leone and Rwanda national team manager, Johnny McKinstry. After the interview, I got thinking, “how many other British managers have gone unnoticed abroad?”
So, I set out to investigate and find out more about these courageous men (they are all men, I’m not being sexist), who have decided to follow their dreams – no matter where it may take them.
And I’m telling you now, stay tuned until the end and find out just why the 1998 Swedish champions were the weirdest champions in all of football;
Probably the most high-profile manager of everyone on this list, Stephen Constantine was, for a long time, the sole flag-bearer of British managers abroad but, nowadays, he finds himself leading an ever-growing collective.
Born in London, in 1962, Constantine had a short playing career in America – firstly for the Pennsylvania Stoners and then for New York Pancyprian-Freedoms – he was forced to retire at the age of 26 following a knee injury.
After his retirement, he decided to take up coaching and began in Cyprus (where his heritage lies) with Achilleas FC, in the 4th Division. He took the job in 1994 and an astonishing cup run saw him guide the team to multiple victories over both first and second tier teams.
As a result, he moved across the island and took charge of APEP, he stayed there until 1999 and in 1998, following promotion, he was awarded the honour of Manager of the Year.
Following this, he embarked on a journey which has seen him take control of teams – and countries – in 4 continents. His ‘big break’, so to say, came in 1999 when Nepal offered him the job during their “golden generation”.
Under Constantine’s guidance, the country finished 4th in the 1999 South Asia games and racked up wins against Sri Lanka, Macau and several others. He was held in such high regard that he was given a medal by the nation’s King and, in 2002, he was poached by the Indian Football Federation (for the first time).
It would be with the Indian National team that he would spend his longest period of time at any one team – from 2002 to 2005, Constantine would deliver considerable success to the people of India; firstly by finishing 3rd in the South Asian Gold Cup, the country won the tournament 2 years later (albeit without him at the helm BUT, with a core of players that Constantine developed). A sure-fire sign of progress, I think you’ll agree.
Rather unexpectedly came a return to England as he joined Millwall as part of their first-team coaching system and reserve team manager – during a tough season off the back of an over-achieving previous, the first team finished 23rd in the Championship but his work with the reserve team didn’t go unnoticed; several players have since made first team appearances.
Nonetheless, Constantine left at the end of the season and was placed on a two-man shortlist for the Malawi national team job and subsequently got the role; relations soured between himself and the federation, not helped by six successive losses at the start. Soon enough an ultimatum was issued – improve in the next two games or get sacked. Constantine won the two friendlies but resigned from the role in April of 2008, citing the rift in relations.
Following on from this tricky professional relationship, Constantine would soon find himself unable to fully settle at any one opportunity and found himself moving through the likes of Sudan before returning to the Cypriot leagues, and his family, with jobs at APEP, Nea Salamis and Ethnikos Achna. He spent little more than a year with each team and his main success was with Salamis, with whom he won promotion to the Cypriot First Division.
In July of 2013, Constantine was linked with the vacancy for the Jamaican national team – a job that would go to Winfried Schafer – but he would return to management in May 2014 after taking to the helm of the Rwandan national team, with ambitions of “being strong enough to challenge for the 2016 African Nations Championship”.
By December of 2014, Constantine had taken the Amavubi to the 2nd round of AFCON Qualification, courtesy of a 3-0 win against Libya and, in the process, to a *then* record high ranking of 68th in the world.
Constantine brought continued success to Rwanda with wins against Gabon and Congo and a draw with Morocco; following months of rumours, the Indian Football Federation offered the job to Constantine and he returned to his first real breakthrough job, 13 years later.
His tenure in India took a notable setback in June when, after 3 matches in charge, India lost 2-1 to Guam in a match that would go down in history – Constantine hit back and said that if he was able to use players of Indian ‘origin’, the team would be much stronger.
Since then, Constantine would take the Indian national team from strength-to-strength, winning 10 of the next 15 game and capturing the South Asian Football Federation Championship in the process.
Still at the helm, the main challenge for this year is qualification to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup; after missing out on qualification for the previous tournament, India have a favourable group with Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Macau being their rivals as they vie for a Top 2 finish.
Should Constantine achieve qualification then, safe to say, he will be an icon in India.
Now we go to Brian Deane; indeed, THAT Brian Deane. The former Sheffield United, Leeds United, Benfica, Middlesbrough, Leicester City and West Ham United striker who was, also, capped 3 times by England between 1991 and 1992.
Best known for scoring the first EVER goal in the Premier League (a fifth minute strike against Manchester United), the footballing world was shocked when, in 2012, it was announced that Sarpsborg 08 were to appoint him as manager.
Hold up, who exactly are Sarpsborg 08?
Well, as you might have assumed from their two-digit suffix, the club were formed in 2008 after an historical merger of Sarpsborg-based teams joined forces to, try and, make a club strong enough to compete in the top-division, was rebranded.
After promotion to the Tipppeligaen (the top flight of Norwegian football), the club were in the mood for a big name manager. Naturally, Brian Deane was their first port of call. Now, of course that sarcasm was unnecessarily brutal; Deane is a UEFA A qualified coach so, no doubt, has he got the ability.
Having applied for a couple of jobs in England, without even getting a reply, he was introduced to Tore Pedersen (former footballer, turned agent) and discussed getting into management.
A few months later, the phone call came. It was Pedersen, telling him to go for the Sarpsborg vacancy. The interviews went well and, as you already know, the job was Deane’s.
His tenure got off to a good start, with the club losing only one of their first 8 games, putting them in 5th place with 13 points (they would finish the 30 game season with only 31 points).
But soon enough the restricted quality of the squad would begin to show, their next 17 games would see them lose 13 games – but, oddly, they kept on scoring. More often than not, they’d score one goal, even two but they just had an incredibly leaky defence.
With 5 games to go, they were sitting at the bottom of the table and, frankly, needed something special to save them from relegation.
Sarpsborg played 5, firmly, top-half teams in these last few games. The odds were stacked against them, but who listens to odds these days?
A draw against IK Start. Okay, still bottom of the table.
A gutsy 3-2 win against SK Brann. Getting better, still 15th and in the relegation zone though.
2-2, away at Odd BK. Still 15th, the writing is on the wall now.
A 1-0 win against Molde, the giants that are. Up to 14th now, come on!
Final game of the season. Away to Viking. They only go and lose 2-1.
They finish in 14th place, they’re in the relegation play-offs. If they’re going to stay in the top-flight, they’d have to beat Ranheim over a two-legged match.
Confidence is shattered, emotions fraught, the team is fighting for survival and they only go and bloody do it. 1-0 in the first leg, 2-0, in the second. Sarpsborg were safe and they had Deane to thank for it.
Such were the emotions of Deane that he locked himself in the toilet after the match and, to be fair, you would have forgiven him had he chosen to walk away after that rollercoaster of a season.
But he didn’t, he saw a project that he could turn around so, with no expectations for the following season, Deane and the Sarpsborg board managed to make some astute signings – most pivotal of which was Frank Dja Djedje.
They had a decent start, 14 points from their first 12 games isn’t particularly impressive but, in a close table, they were 11th which seemed like a new world of stability for them.
In the final 18 games of the season, it was expected of them to hold pace and they did, they did that well, winning 7 and drawing 5 as they collected 26 more points and finished 8th – just 2 points away from 6th place.
But the main story came in the cup competitions, helped by goals of Dja Djedje, Deane masterminded some beautiful attacking football – he tightened that defence up as well, making oppositions’ lives a misery.
21 goals in 6 games (including 11 against their ultimate rivals Sarpsborg SK) saw them get all the way to the semi-final where they would be outwitted by Odd. It mattered not, though, for the club had a renewed sense of optimism.
He left the club at the end of the season, via mutual decision, and has yet to come back into the managerial game.
Which is a shame, the man has talent, he has heart and it was always going to be tough in Norway. I’d love him to see him try his hand again, maybe not in the Premier League but he can certainly be a project-worker, a builder of success.
If only football was capable of being patient.
So, we come to the final manager on our whistle-stop tour of Brits abroad and, what a final manager we have; he goes by the rather inconspicuous name of Stuart Baxter but he has one hell of a story behind him.
Baxter has managed in Sweden, Norway, Japan, England, South Africa, Japan, Finland and, even, Turkey! Sit back and let this winding path get you to the pot of gold at the end of the road;
A professional footballer who enjoyed an 11 year career, between 1973-1984, (albeit without ever achieving too much), Baxter played in midfield for Preston, Morecambe, Dundee United and Stockport over here in the United Kingdom before making the switch abroad to South Melbourne, Helsingborgs, San Diego and Orebro.
200 appearances and 96 goals later, it was time for the Scot to hang up his boots and look for a career elsewhere.
Thankfully though, his final club Örebro were willing to give Baxter a shot as they looked to get promotion to the Allsvenskan (the Swedish top-tier), following their previous coach, a certain, Roy Hodgson’s move to Malmo.
His one season in charge was fairly average by the standards of Örebro, as they finished 4th in their division and missed out on promotion – for a first attempt though, Baxter had proven his worth and moved to IF Skarp, a minor Norwegian team, in preparation for the following season in order to hone his skills.
With those skills honed, a big move to Vitoria de Setubal emerged in time for the 1986/87 season as he took control of a freshly relegated club looking to get back into the big time. During his time at the club, he led a free-scoring team with an equally tight back-line.
So impressive was his tenure that he was offered a 3-year stint, back in Sweden, at Halmstads BK;
During his first season in charge, Halmstads were in the Swedish second division and looking for promotion; Baxter continued his combination of flowing attacking football and miserly defence by losing just 4 of 26 games and scoring 50 goals on the way to promotion.
The step-up the following season was always going put some strain on Baxter’s ideology and, so it proved, as they struggled to score more goals than they conceded; yet, somehow, they still managed to eke out result after result, as they finished in 5th place (just the one point off European football for the following season).
Due to the way the league system works in Sweden, Baxter managed to squeeze 4 seasons into his 3 year stint and, in a way, he was the enemy of his own success; expectations were heightened following the incredible antics of their first return and, as such, their following inevitable downfall was viewed rather more harshly than perhaps it should have been.
A struggle to 11th the following season followed by relegation in the 1991 Allsvenskan – admittedly due to the sort of restructuring of the league system which meant 4 teams were relegated instead of the usual 2, hmm, confusing – meant Baxter’s reign at the club came to an end but, all told, he was still a popular guy in the town.
From 1992 to 1997, Baxter would be working in Japan; firstly for Sanfrecce Hiroshima and then for Vissel Kobe.
Now, in my research for this article, I found that in these 5 years, the, then, 40 year old managed 112 games in the J League and never drew once.
Naturally, I was astounded at this feat, it seemed genuinely incredible. But then I did a bit more research and found that, in those days, there was no such thing as a draw in Japan. If, after 90 minutes, it ended all square then, very simply, they’d just keep playing until someone EVENTUALLY won.
It was also really hard because the league system was split into two parts and the results merged but each part had a trophy attached and kind of counted as a league in its own right; I know, confusing, but after finally managing to make sense of it all, it’s evident that Baxter performed very well in Japan.
After finishing 5th with the team in his, and indeed the J-League’s, first season, he managed to push on and, frankly, instil his ideology of fast, attacking football on the club in a very short space of time.
The next season, they won the “first stage” of the League (called the Suntory Series) before losing out on the overall league after getting beaten 2-0 by Verdy Kawasaki in the play-off. Despite all this confusion, technically, Baxter delivered a first league title to the team in 24 years.
We can fast forward the next few years because, frankly, they passed without any notable achievements and, also, I don’t want to prattle on to such an extent that I bore you.
In 1998, he returned to Sweden with AIK, who had last won the Allsvenskan in 1983, and in his first season at the helm he managed to guide the team to the title.
And it was a weird title as well, a really weird title. Because, it didn’t fit with his style of play; in fact, AIK scored the FEWEST goals with just 25 goals in 26 games. Even more impressive, they only lost two games and conceded just 15 goals themselves. Impressive.
The next season them played in the Champions League against Barcelona, Arsenal and Fiorentina, despite finishing bottom of their group, they still carried themselves to a proud. 2nd placed finish in the Allsvenskan, but it wasn’t enough to persuade their manager to stay, as Baxter moved to Norway after the season.
Yet again, we can fast forward a few years as Baxter took charge Lyn Oslo and England Under 19’s and, briefly the South African national team.
Just touching on that, he was appointed in 2005 but resigned after 16 games, having failed to take them through to the 2006 World Cup.
He then went to Vissel Kobe, again, and Helsingborgs IF before landing a huge job as the manager of the national team of Finland.
So, somehow, we’re now in 2008 with Baxter having signed a 2 year contract to take charge of Huuhkajat (The Eagle-Owls) where, yet again, he would succeed Roy Hodgson.
Good wins against Azerbaijan and Wales, as well as a 3-3 draw against Germany encouraged the Federation to extend his contract until 2012 and, continued form, sparked the interest from Celtic in appointing him to a backroom position.
Having finished 3rd in their World Cup qualification group, confidence was high as they attempted to get to the 2012 Euro’s but key losses to Moldova and Hungary prompted calls for Baxter to either walk or get sacked.
Neither of these options looked like happening, despite the fact that Finland’s ranking had dropped 55 places, Baxter refused to resign and Finland simply couldn’t afford to get rid of him. Eventually, though, in November 2010, it was revealed that the two had agreed to go their separate ways.
After two years out, South Africa’s most successful team, Kaizer Chiefs (no, not the band) were graced with the management of Baxter. And success blossomed from the start;
A Premier League win in his first season set the tone for the rest of his spell; the Cup competition was wrapped up in the same season, the MTN 8 Cup the following season and then, in 2014-15, another Premier League title.
It seemed as though this was a dream combination but, in September 2015, Baxter left the club. He just can’t settle, can he?!
Since then, Baxter had an ill-fated, 3 month, 2 league-game spell at Gençlerbirliği (Turkish football, bloody hell) and is now coaching back in South Africa with SuperSport United where he has won the Nedbank Cup in his first season.
It seems amazing that he’s still only 63 and he’s basically managed every single club under the sun. More recently he’s been linked with a return to the Bafana Bafana which just goes to show the high regard in which he is held in.