Are clubs right to turn to former players?

By Peter Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2019/7/18 15:13:40

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard reacts during a preseason friendly at Dalymount Park, Dublin on July 10. Photo: VCG

The new soccer season brings with it almost as many changes in the dugout as in the playing staff.

Nowadays it seems like more and more big clubs are turning to their former players to guide them back to the top of the table and succeed in Europe.

Chelsea have notably done so with the appointment of Frank Lampard as the replacement for Maurizio Sarri. The former Blues midfielder impressed during his first managerial role at Derby County last season, taking the team to the edge of Premier League promotion in their heartbreaking loss to Aston Villa in the Championship playoff final in May.

The Londoners clearly saw enough in that season to decide that their topscorer warranted a go at one of the most high turnover roles in soccer. The questions on everyone's lips are: Were they right to take a chance on a former player and is he ready after just one season of professional coaching?

Experience has also been questioned when it comes to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. The club turned to the former striker and reserve team coach when they needed a caretaker manager to replace Jose Mourinho and there was a honeymoon period when results improved.

That run of form stopped around the time that the club appointed the Norwegian as the permanent successor for the Portuguese and the club finished the season outside of the UEFA Champions League spots and fell short in both the Champions League and the FA Cup.

Questions were asked about whether a man whose only previous Premier League experience was in getting Cardiff City relegated and whose only other managerial experience was in the Norwegian Tippeligen with another former club Molde.

Solskjaer's appointment was heralded as a return to United's "DNA," something that many considered lost in the managers who have stepped into the breach in attempting to replace Sir Alex Ferguson.

Is club DNA even a thing? At United it is supposedly a willingness to promote from the academy, the club has a long-standing record of featuring a former academy product in the first-team matchday squad, and to play attacking soccer.

However, neither Ferguson nor the club's other long-standing successful manager Sir Matt Busby was a United man before their appointment. Busby had even spent some of his playing days with the club's greatest rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

Instead, they bent the club to their own image over decades. So why is now DNA such an important factor? Is it in fact the case that this is merely myth-making to paper over the cracks?

Chelsea have never had to deal with the issue of DNA before. 

Their success since Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003 has seen them employ a variety of managers and the greatest of them all, Jose Mourinho, had never managed in England before arriving at Stamford Bridge. It's been a similar story with those that followed, with the exception being caretaker boss Roberto di Matteo who was a former Blues player.

DNA has not been an issue for either Liverpool or City who turned to Juergen Klopp and Pep Guardiola the last time that they needed a change in the dugout. Again, neither of them had managed in England before and neither had a previous connection with the club.

City's case is perhaps more interesting as they identified Guardiola long before hiring him and had already brought in many of the executives that had previously worked with the Catalan when he was manager of Barcelona.

Despite his lack of a pre-existing connection with City, Guardiola has been a great success at the Etihad. He has guided his team to the title in the last two seasons, racking up 100 points in the 2017-18 season and 98 points in 2018-19.

Klopp has had a similar success, with two Champions League finals in a row climaxing in winning it this season, the club's sixth European crown. He also took Guardiola to the wire in the league and their 97 points total would have it every other season except for when City reached the century mark.

There is not a chance that either club or their fans would replace these managers with someone who had the club's "DNA." Liverpool fans would remember all too well their last such appointment of backroom staff member Roy Evans, whose uninspired reign in the mid-1990s sums up the club's ­listlessness in between the 1970s and 1980s dominance and the Klopp era.

While Rafa Benitez delivered a Champions League and Brendan Rodgers threatened in the Premier League, they were brief bright spots in a largely league title challenge-free generation. That Klopp has developed a side to challenge on both fronts is testament to how far the club has come under him.

The worry for United is that they are the new Liverpool and will be out of the running for the Premier League that they so long dominated. Worse still this downturn in form in the post-Ferguson era has conspired with their greatest rivals getting back to the very top under two of the very best managers in the modern game.

Arguably United have bigger problems than who is in the dugout, with Solskjaer making changes across the club in his staff and those in charge of the academy and reserves. He has done so while parroting the line about "DNA" and these being "Manchester United people." That feel-good factor and nostalgia for a time when United meant winning will only last for so long.

Perhaps he is the man to do that but the examples of former players returning as managers fall largely into the failure category. United fans will need to hope that failure is not part of his DNA.
Newspaper headline: In the DNA

Posted in: SOCCER

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