The role of the player-manager in football was something that we thought we’d seen the end of, but now that Wayne Rooney is set to take up a player-coach role at Derby County, and Vincent Kompany is returning to Anderlecht to play and pick the team, is this role on the brink of a comeback?
In the 1980’s and 1990’s the likes of Glenn Hoddle and Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea, Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough, Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool and Graeme Souness at Rangers, all attempted to juggle the two jobs.
Perhaps we won’t see player manager’s back, but player-coaches is a much more likely scenario and there certainly seems to be some sentimentality sweeping through football. Both Manchester United and Chelsea’s recent managerial appointments of relative novices in ex-players, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard, shows that clubs are embracing the romance of a returning player.
However, over the years it has often been the outsiders who have created dynasties. Look at Herbert Chapman at Arsenal, Sir Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Bill Shankly at Liverpool, and Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest – none had a playing association with the clubs they went on to manage so successfully.
One thing they did have in common was they had near total control in the job and a huge number of responsibilities across the club; perhaps one reason why the first wave of player-managers struggled.
Nowadays, with more clubs operating a more continental model we might see an upsurge in player-coach appointments. Managers now have data analysts and medical experts behind them, a director of football looking after the club’s long-term future, and board members negotiating player deals – todays manager has much more time to devote to the training ground, as do coaches who could, if young and fit enough, combine coaching with playing.
Former players also bring a level of empathy to their dealings with current players during a time when the power has shifted from manager to the player. There’s a different way of thinking and coaching now. Clubs are also wary of making a costly mistake by hiring someone who once had a big reputation, so instead, new, inexperienced managers or coaches are being given a chance.
What is definitely true is that former players have a stronger emotional bond with a club, it’s supporters, and the local media – which allows for added time, extra patience and an acceptance of mistakes.
The role of the player-coach will return in big numbers – and it is a win-win for both parties. For the money, the club gets a returning player and a coach that they can prepare to be the new manager; whilst the player has a pathway to a managerial career and can still eek out the twilight years of their playing career.
Although Rooney won’t be a returning player at Derby, the move makes complete sense for both.