Football player becoming a manager is an expected career track for thousands of football professionals. And yet, the phenomena of appointing a club legend as a manager became prevalent after Pep Guardiola. In 2009, Barcelona appointed the newly retired Guardiola as first-team manager. His experience? Barcelona youth team. The rest is history: Barcelona under Guardiola is considered to be one of the best teams ever, winning 9 titles in the same season and 14 overall.
Other teams wanted to emulate this success. Juventus have appointed Antonio Conte in 2011, and he won them 5 titles in 3 years. Zinedine Zidane became one of the most successful managers in history, taking 3 Champions League titles in a row, 2 Spanish Championships, and 6 other trophies, all with Real Madrid. Following this logic, should football clubs appoint former legendary players and just grab all the trophies?
Luckily for the competitors, it doesn’t always work. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was fired from Manchester United, in his third dry year in the club, with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad. Frank Lampard was let go from Chelsea, having the second worst loss percentage in the Abramovich era. That team won Champions League only a few months later. Many other football legends have also failed once they turned to managerial roles: Tony Adams, Thierry Henry, Gary Neville and even Diego Maradona himself.
Bottom line, is it worth it for big football clubs to gamble and hire a young former player to lead them to glory? The statistics don’t present a clear picture. Numerous factors, such as the management, the quality of the squad, and the competition level, must be considered as well.
Therefore, the only way is to rely on common sense. Don’t hire managers as a publicity stunt. Get experts who have some coaching experience, even if limited. Have a sustainable squad fitting your budget, and relevant to the sporting goals you’ve set prior to the season. Get someone who connects to the club’s culture and knows what it is like to win as a player.
Stari took those lessons to heart, and hired Andrey Demchenko, a former Ajax player, as a manager of our club, FC Dila Gori. He has shown great ability in dealing with locker room pressure and handling a mix of local and foreign players. His playing experience gave Demchenko the right tools for understanding the nuances and motivations of his charges. Andrey has just led us to Europa Conference League, second time in a row, despite having just the 7th biggest budget in the league!
As mentioned, hiring a former star can be tricky. You might win it all or lose spectacularly. But this is the nature of football, impossible to fully predict, and immensely fun to watch. So why not take a chance?