Breaking the hex at Ibrox

Steven Gerrard celebrating the SPL title

Why Steven Gerrard is breaking the hex at Ibrox

It’s taken him a while to get going but having romped to the Scottish Premiership in style this season, overseen some memorable performances in Europe and with a domestic double still very much in his sights, Steven Gerrard is bucking the trend of so many England greats who have tried their hand and failed in management.

From Sir Alf’s “Boys of ’66” to Sven’s “Golden Generation” of the Noughties, we take a look at the somewhat underwhelming managerial records of some of England’s greatest ever players.

1966… And All That

Alan Ball in the Pompey hot seat.

With 353 caps, almost 80 international goals and four World Cup winners medals between them, you would think Messrs Moore, Charlton (R), Ball and Peters would be able to cut the mustard as managers. Think again. With a combined total of 5 relegations and win ratios ranging from 18.75% (Peters) to 38% (Charlton) it seems that it is very much a case of World Cup winners do not great football managers make.

Of the four, Alan Ball boasts by far the longest managerial career with almost 20 years; starting out as player-manager with Blackpool in 1980 and ending with a second stint at Portsmouth in 1999. He also secured the only managerial success of the four with a promotion as Second Division runners-up in the 1986-87 season during his first spell at Fratton Park.

Unfortunately for Ball, three relegations in eight years with Portsmouth (1988), Stoke City (1990) and Manchester City (1996) would overshadow his earlier managerial achievement. Keeping Southampton in the Premier League on two separate occasions in the mid-90s whilst famously “getting the best out of Matt Le Tissier” feels like surprisingly scant reward for somebody who lifted the Jules Rimet trophy during a 72 cap international career.

To be fair to Martin Peters, his managerial career lasted just 16 games in 1981 with Sheffield United whilst Moore and Charlton were both given a couple of seasons each at Southend United and Preston North End respectively. When you consider that one had captained his country to World Cup glory in 1966 and the other skippered his club to European Cup success two years later, it’s almost unfathomable that they couldn’t transfer their leadership skills from the pitch to the dugout.

Bobby’s Boys

Bryan Robson, Boro player / manager

When Bobby Robson took over the reins of the national team from Ron Greenwood in 1982, he did so as a former England international and with recent FA and UEFA Cup successes under his managerial belt. He would go on to lead England to the latter stages of the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, calling upon some of England’s most capped players in the process.

No fewer than nine of the players Robson selected to represent England at those tournaments would go on to win more than 50 caps for their country and later try their hand at management. Not one would come close to emulating the success their mentor had before, during or after his tenure in the England job.

His captain and namesake, Bryan Robson, has seen the most success as a manager having guided Middlesbrough to the top flight on two occasions (1995, 1998) and leading them to three domestic cup finals within 12 months. Dig a little deeper though and three relegations with three different clubs (Middlesbrough 1997, Bradford City 2004 and West Brom 2006) suggests that Captain Marvel was anything but a marvel on the training ground and in the dressing room.

Glenn Hoddle of course had a tilt at the big job himself from 1996 to 1999 and with a win rate of 60%, you would be forgiven for thinking he would go on to experience further success at club level. Not so, unfortunately for poor Glenn. With just a Worthington Cup runners-up medal whilst managing Tottenham to show for his post-England efforts, his overall win rate is below 40% as a club manager. Winning promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs whilst player-manager at Swindon in 1993 leaves a lot of blank paper on Glenn’s CV.

Shilton, Pearce, Butcher and Wilkins would make up the foundations of a great 7-a-side team and if you throw Platt, Waddle and Barnes into the mix too, you’ve got yourself a side that would take on all-comers. If any one of them arrived at your club though, scarf held aloft in their Sunday best, you could bet good money on seeing Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce rock up in January to try and save your season.

Only Hoddle of the above mentioned has less than 60 England caps and yet they have presided over no fewer than 7 relegation campaigns between them and consistently left clubs in worse positions than they found them. Is there a theme developing here?

Three Lions On Their Shirt – Three Relegations On Their Résumé

Alan Shearer at St James Park

In the last quarter of a century, a trend has developed where we have seen coaches and managers with meagre playing careers behind them have great success as managers with high profile clubs. To illustrate this point, whilst many England fans were still suffering hangovers from the trials and tribulations of Euro ’96, a certain Arsène Wenger walked into the famous old halls of Highbury and set about revolutionising the English game.

So how do Terry Venables’ Class of ’96 fair when it comes to their managerial pedigree – starting with the shop steward himself, Gary Neville? Not great is the answer. Lauded for his leadership ability as a player, Neville was never really more than a stand-in captain for Manchester United and only wore the armband once for England, during the ill-fated World Cup quarter-final of 2006 against Portugal. Following an ill-advised stint at Valencia in 2015-16, Neville is now forging a career as a very knowledgable and rather likeable pundit, history shows that his 85 England caps are anything but a guarantee of success should he decide to return to management in the future though.

Several of Neville’s Euro ’96 teammates have ventured into management to some degree or another since their playing days came to an end. Pearce and Platt who we have mentioned previously are accompanied by Adams, Ince, Shearer, Sheringham and Southgate – all mainstays of a Terry Venables squad which came oh so close to blowing the roof off Wembley Stadium in June ’96.

In Tony Adams, Paul Ince and Alan Shearer, three players who captained their country 56 times between them, we have the spine of Venables’ team – leaders one and all. But, like so many before them, they have failed to transfer those leadership qualities from the field of play to the manager’s office. Adams was the first to jump on the managerial merry-go-round when taking over Wycombe Wanderers, then of League One, in November 2004 – by May 2005 they were Wycombe Wanderers of League Two.

Ince fared much better at the start of his managerial career, turning Macclesfield Town’s fortunes around by staving off relegation in 2007 before guiding MK Dons to promotion and Football League Trophy success in 2008. The fairy tale was supposed to continue when Ince leapfrogged the Championship to take the Blackburn Rovers job in June 2008 but after just 3 wins in 17 games he left Ewood Park with his tail between his legs, returning to Milton Keynes shortly afterwards.

Which brings us to Alan Shearer or “Wor Alan” as he his affectionately known on his beloved Gallowgate End. 63 England caps (34 as captain) and 30 goals meant next to nothing to the Toon Army. It was what he did in the black and white stripes of the Geordie nation that mattered most to them. What he did on April Fool’s Day 2009 was agree to take over as manager for the last 8 games of the season in a last ditch bid to save them from relegation to the Championship.

With no previous managerial experience to his name, Shearer brought in his former Southampton teammate and the more experienced, Iain Dowie, to help secure the points required to maintain the Magpies’ Premier League status. However, five points secured from two draws and a solitary victory, against north east rivals Middlesbrough, wasn’t enough and on 24th May 2009 Shearer went down with the club he loves so much. Neither he nor Dowie have managed since.

In more recent times, Gareth Southgate and Phil Neville have guided the England men’s and women’s national teams to fourth place finishes at their respective World Cup competitions. At club level however, Southgate oversaw Middlesbrough’s relegation from the Premier League in 2009 and Phil Neville has yet to get started at David Beckham-owned Inter Miami.

Sol Campbell, mainly used as defensive back-up for England in that barmy summer of ’96, has tried his hand at lowly Macclesfield Town whom he saved from relegation in 2019 but have since gone bust and, more recently, at Southend United with whom he was relegated to League Two when the 2019-20 season was truncated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Golden Generation

Super Frank, hero returns to Stamford Bridge

And so, what of England’s infamously under-achieving and so-called “Golden Generation”? How do they match up against their not so illustrious managerial forebears? Not brilliantly, it has to be said. Gerrard aside, those who promised so much and delivered so little on the international stage during the first decade of the 21st century have, to put it bluntly, performed miserably as managers too.

Thus far, Frank Lampard (106 caps), Paul Scholes (66) David James (53) and, most recently, Wayne Rooney (120) have all followed Mr Gerrard into the relentlessly demanding world of football management. 

Its obviously early days in the post-playing careers of this latest batch of England legends but it’s fair to say, with the exception of Gerrard, they are yet to pull up any trees having made the transition from pitch to dugout. 

Lampard has shown promise both at Derby and Chelsea but, after two wins from eight in the winter of 2020-21 with the latter, he was replaced at Stamford Bridge by the Thomas Tuchel (caps for Germany – 0) in January 2021.

It would be unfair to read too much into the performances of Scholes (seven games as Oldham manager and six as Caretaker Manager at Salford), James (41 games with Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League) and Rooney who is still cutting his managerial teeth at the wrong end of the Championship table with Derby County. But, that said, they would all have hoped for a smoother start to their managerial careers.

So, it is left to a former Liverpool captain who is bringing back the good times to Ibrox to fly the flag for England’s 50+ cap club. Many of his contemporaries – Ashley & Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey amongst them – will have to decide whether to join the rat race with Gerrard or to lock horns with the likes of another certain former Liverpool skipper as a pundit, who himself got the Gers going again in the 1980s.

Written by Ade from @RothmansYears

The Hex Blog

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