7 legends managing their former clubs in 21-22 – & how they’re faring
For many devoted football fans, there is nothing quite like cheering on your team when they are led by a club legend.
While it is not all too common to see legendary players return to manage the clubs where they made their names, sometimes fate aligns for appointments you might usually only ever expect to see on Football Manager.
We’ve taken a look at seven current managers from around world football who have taken the risk of returning to where it all started in a suit rather than a jersey.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The name on everybody’s lips at the moment following his self-proclaimed “darkest day” when Manchester United were hammered 5-0 at home by Liverpool, the Norwegian’s legendary status as a United player cannot be understated.
Far from just that moment in the Nou Camp in 1999, Solskjaer was a loyal and devoted servant at Old Trafford for over a decade.
After his retirement he became a coach at Old Trafford and eventually reserves manager, returning as caretaker of the senior team following the sacking of Jose Mourinho. The incredible turnaround in form he then engineered earned him the role on a permanent basis, while last season he led the club to their joint-best Premier League finish (2nd) since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
But after considerable investment, a poor start to the 2021-22 season and more losses than wins since the grand return of Cristiano Ronaldo leaves his future in doubt.
Plenty of his old team-mates still believe in him, at least…
Another manager under pressure, Koeman left the Netherlands job for the hot seat at Barcelona with the club in crisis and with few managers wanting to take on the challenge.
Beyond his stint as manager, he is held in the highest regard as a Barcelona player. Playing under Johan Cruyff, Koeman was a vital part of one of European football’s greatest ever sides.
He won four straight La Liga titles between the 1990-91 and 1993-94 seasons, a Copa del Rey and famously scored the winning free kick in extra time in the European Cup final against Sampdoria at Wembley in 1992.
As manager he has had to oversee the club’s worst period in modern history with financial difficulties and the departure of Lionel Messi, but still managed to lift the Copa del Rey last season.
But he faces mounting pressure after leading Barca to just four wins in their opening nine La Liga fixtures in 2021-22, leaving them ninth in the table, while he became the first manager of the club to lose their first three Clasicos since Patrick O’Connell in the 1930s.
Things don’t look sustainable if this footage from after Barcelona’s 2-1 home defeat to Real Madrid is anything to go by.
Fans mobbed Ronald Koeman's car after Barcelona's defeat in El Clasico 😬
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 24, 2021
Of all the names on this list, Simeone is comfortably the name most synonymous with their club. As a player and now a manager, ‘El Cholo’ is a truly legendary figure at Atletico Madrid.
The Argentine had two stints as a player, making well over 100 appearances and constituting an important part of Atletico’s legendary Spanish double-winning side of 1995-96.
He may also be the only manager on this list to have surpassed his status as a player when managing his side. Now bordering on eleven years in charge of the ‘Colchoneros’, he’s among Europe’s longest-serving coaches and has overseen the best period in their modern history.
As coach, the Argentinian led Atleti to a second La Liga title last term, the Copa del Rey in 2012-13, two Europa Leagues and finished runner up in two Champions League finals.
This year’s title defence has started with mixed results, but they do sit fourth in the table, three points behind league leaders Real Sociedad with a game in hand. Never write them off under Cholo.
The youngest manager on this list, ‘legend’ might be too strong of a word to describe Arteta’s time status as a player at Arsenal, but he was most certainly held in high regard.
A technically gifted midfielder, the Spaniard immediately turned around their fortunes upon his arrival in 2011 and won successive FA Cups with the Gunners in 2013-14 and 2014-15, lifting the second as captain.
He made over 100 appearances for the North London side before retiring and joining Pep Guardiola’s set up in the backroom staff at Manchester City.
He returned to Arsenal as manager in December 2019, winning the FA Cup that season. Nearly two years on, the jury remains out. With no European football for the first time in 25 years, the pressure is on to get Arsenal back into the top six. They currently sit 10th.
Again, legend might well be too strong a label for Pochettino’s time at PSG as a player, but he did spend two and a half seasons at the Parc de Princes where he was a regular starter.
The Argentine, a central defender in his playing days, helped the Parisians lift the UEFA Intertoto cup and played alongside Arteta who also spent time in Paris.
As manager, Pochettino replaced Thomas Tuchel with the team adrift of Lille in Ligue 1 and struggling for results. He guided the side to the Champions League semi-finals last year and, whilst failing to win Ligue 1, his PSG side won both the Coupe de France and Trophee des Champions.
Now with Messi added to his attacking arsenal, Pochettino will have the Champions League he missed out on with Spurs firmly in his crosshairs. Results have been good – nine wins from 11 in Ligue 1 and that win over Man City in the Champions League – but there remain question marks over the performances.
Paris Saint Germain 2001-02 what a team !! With some world class players already : Heinze, Pochettino, Arteta, Anelka, Okocha or Ronaldinho !! pic.twitter.com/rJKv6Ljo6K
— Old School Panini (@OldSchoolPanini) February 7, 2018
Off to South America now, specifically Buenos Aires where former River Plate player Marcelo Gallardo has been in charge of the club since 2014.
As a player Gallardo had three stints with Los Millonarios, making over 200 club appearances. An attacking playmaker, the Argentine won six Primera Division titles and the 1996 Copa Libertadores, then only the second time the club had won the famous trophy.
His stint as manager has seen him lift the Copa Argentina three times, a Copa Sudamericana as well as River Plate’s third and fourth Copa Libertadores’ in 2015 and 2018 – a key role in three of their four in total.
River are now closing in on the Argentinian title, which would be his first since arriving as manager. It would be the perfect send-off for a coach expected to leave at the end of the year. Does Europe finally beckon?
Finally, to Brazil, where legendary goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni has just returned as manager of his beloved Sao Paulo.
Ceni never left the club as a player and is the very definition of a club legend, becoming one of the very few players in history to make over 1000 professional appearances.
More famously, Ceni has scored the most goals of any goalkeeper in history. A dead ball specialist, Ceni bagged 130 goals from freekick and penalties in his career with another one coming from open play.
He won 20 major titles with Sao Paulo, including two Copa Libertadores and three Brazilian topflight championships and has now replaced Hernan Crespo at the helm of the relegation-threatened side for a second stint as coach. So far, he’s won one, lost one and drawn one of his three matches back in charge.