The 8 Englishmen to have managed Barcelona – & how they fared
Barcelona is one of the most prestigious and successful football clubs in the world, one any coach would dream of managing. Eight Englishmen have done just that, to varying degrees of success.
It is quite difficult to imagine an English coach in the dugout at Barcelona these days, but that does not mean there is not a rich history of them at the Catalan club.
In fact, English immigrants were involved in the very foundation of FC Barcelona in 1899 and there was plenty of English influence on the club throughout its early years.
Though it diminished in degree, that influence carried on for decades, with the most recent of Barcelona’s English bosses taking charge for one season in 1996-97 and winning three trophies.
We’ve taken a look back at his Barcelona reign and the reigns of the other seven Englishmen who’ve taken charge of the Catalan behemoth.
Robson was that most recent British Barca boss, and though his spell in charge lasted only a season, it was a rollercoaster of emotions.
The County Durham-born coach had the unenviable task of following the great Johann Cruyff, who transformed the club as both player and manager.
At first, Robson did well, leading Barca to the La Liga summit by October with some high-scoring wins. But a wobble came; Barca lost three and drew two of their eight matches between February 2 and March 9.
When Atletico Madrid went to Camp Nou on March 12 for the second leg of their Copa Del Rey quarter-final and took a 3-0 lead, the terraces were calling for Robson to go.
But in a stunning second period, Ronaldo Fenomeno – who Robson had told the Barcelona president to sign – repaid his manager’s faith, scoring a blistering hat-trick. Luis Figo and Juan Antonio Pizzi also found the target as Barca eventually triumphed 5-4, saving Robson’s job.
From there, Barca did not look back. They couldn’t quite make up the gap to Real Madrid in La Liga, but they won the Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners’ Cup to add to the Supercopa de Espana they had taken in August 1996.
Ronaldo was the star of the season, getting 47 goals in 49 games. He later said: “I’m proud to have worked with [Robson]. He was an awesome coach and an awesome person. He was like a father to me.
“I have had a lot of managers in football but the difference between all of them and Sir Bobby was his humanity and the relationships he had with the players. He was always like a father to everyone.”
There’s a reason they call him El Tel.
After taking QPR from the Second Division to an FA Cup final and then guiding them to fifth place in Division One and European qualification in the 1983-84 season, Venables was recommended to Barca by Robson, who was already friends with the club vice-president.
“That call came right out of the blue,” Venables told the BBC in 2014.
“I just couldn’t believe it. Well you wouldn’t, would you? Going from QPR to Barcelona was amazing and it will never happen again. The stadium, the set-up – it’s all a bit different from Loftus Road.”
When Venables took charge, Barca had tasted recent success in the Copa del Rey, winning it in 1981 and 1983, and had lifted the Cup Winners’ Cup in both 1979 and 1982. But they had not won the league since Cruyff was strutting his stuff at Camp Nou in 1974.
Venables remedied that in his very first campaign, leading Barca to the title 10 points ahead of Atletico, which was a massive margin in the days of two points for a win. Scottish striker Steve Archibald – who El Tel had signed from Spurs to replace Napoli-bound Diego Maradona – top-scored with 15 in the league.
The next season, it almost got even better, Barca reaching the final of the European Cup. But they painfully lost out to Steaua Bucharest on penalties in their own stadium – missing all four of their kicks in the shootout.
Barca won the Copa de la Liga the following month, but it was scant consolation. Despite bringing in Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes that summer, they finished the following season second to Real Madrid and lost to Dundee United in the UEFA Cup last eight.
Venables was sacked in September 1987.
A man who should be an absolute legend of English football but whose name is not that widely known, Buckingham laid the groundwork for the great Dutch tactician Rinus Michels – who mentored Cruyff – at both Ajax and Barcelona. Indeed, it was Buckingham who gave Cruyff his Ajax debut.
Buckingham was obsessed with slick football. Graham Williams, who played under him at West Brom, is quoted in the book Mister as saying: “He was all about pass and move.
“He wasn’t interested in defending. He wanted to see tricks and goals and push and run… He always said he wanted us to play like ice cream and chocolate. That was his phrase. Just flow, like ice cream and chocolate.”
In his first season at Camp Nou in 1969-70, Buckingham’s Barca struggled. But, in his second, his pass-and-move style took them to victory in the Copa del Rey and second in La Liga, finishing behind Valencia only on head-to-head record.
He was still dumped to make way for Michels at the end of that campaign, however.
Greenwell is the only Englishman to have taken charge of Barcelona on two occasions, having managed them from 1917 until 1923 and then again between 1931 and 1933.
Like Robson, he hailed from County Durham and moved to Catalonia in 1912 to sign for Barca from Crook Town. He won two Catalan championships as a player before being appointed manager by Joan Gamper, one of the club’s founders and its then-president.
Greenwell won two Copas del Rey and four Catalan championships in his first spell before going on to further coaching success with Espanyol and a quick crack at top-level tennis, apparently taking part in the Spanish national championships.
He returned to Barca in 1932 and led them to the Campionat de Catalunya once again.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Greenwell fled. After a brief spell in Turkey, he moved to Peru, taking charge of the national team, before becoming manager of Colombian club Independiente Santa Fe in 1942.
He enjoyed some early success in Santa Fe, but died of a heart attack shortly after getting home from a training session in October 1942.
Bellamy was the man Greenwell took over from in that second spell in charge of Barca. After a long playing career in England and Scotland, Londoner Bellamy coached two clubs in Europe: first Brescia, then Barca.
At the latter, he was on the coaching staff alongside Roma Forns as Barca won their first-ever La Liga title before taking over as the main man and winning two more Catalan championships.
He was, however, also responsible for a rather less glorious entry into the record books, being the coach in charge when Barcelona suffered their heaviest defeat, a 12-1 loss to Athletic Club in 1931.
Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona 12-1, 1931. The heaviest defeat ever in La Liga. pic.twitter.com/jq223VZz3f
— LearnEnglishThroughFootball (@LETFootball) January 17, 2020
Kirby, whose real Christian name was Conyers, was only in charge of Barcelona for 14 months. But it was enough time to win a Catalan championship and the 1924-25 Copa del Rey.
He then moved to Athletic Bilbao for a single season.
Reporting his departure, the 28 May 1926 edition of El Mundo Deportivo read: “Our correspondent Neguri communicates to us that having finished his contract at Atheltic, Mr Kirby has returned to England, stopping to exercise the functions of coach of the champion club of Vizcaya, functions that you can be sure he will not go back to exercising.”
Sounds like they were going to miss him.
A one-cap England international and FA Cup winner with Nottingham Forest as a player, Spouncer’s managerial career was very brief, limited only to the 1923-24 season at Barca.
He won the Campionat de Catalunya with a 100% record, but a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Real Union in the Copa del Rey proved his demise.
Barrow is considered to be Barcelona’s first-ever coach, appointed by Gamper – who else? – in 1917.
He only lasted four months before getting the boot for failing to win any trophies, which seems a tad hasty to us.
Anyway, after he left, Greenwell took the reins for the first time, so Gamper’s decision did work out well.
By Joshua Law