Are you a No.1 or a No.2? The best and worst promoted assistants

The last few days and weeks have seen the paths of two managers lead in very different directions. Terry Connor has looked a disconsolate figure in the Wolves dugout, having picked up two points from a possible (albeit unlikely) 30 on offer and seen his Old Gold side relegated to the Championship.

Meanwhile, some 135 miles south-east, Roberto Di Matteo has seemingly masterminded a Chelsea resurgence that has taken them to the cusp of a Champions League trophy – the one thing Roman Abramovich covets, and the one thing his stream of managers have failed to deliver.

Yet Connor and Di Matteo have something significant in common. Both were assistant managers promoted to the big job instead of serving another man brought in from outside. Given their identical tasks in trying to turn around a discontented, underperforming team, the fortunes of each manager couldn’t be more conflicting. Simply put, it’s been one big success story for Di Matteo, and one unfortunate tragedy for Connor.

So what does history tell us? Is promoting from within an inspired (and cheap) decision, or a disaster waiting to happen? Or is it the case that giving the keys to the second-in-command has always been as much a gamble, with just as unpredictable results, as Di Matteo and Connor have shown this season?

The successes

Bob PaisleyLiverpoolAugust 1974 – May 1983P535 W308 D131 L96 Win ratio 58%

There’s no better place to start than with a manager who carried on what his predecessor had begun. Undoubtedly the most successful embodiment of a coach-to-manager transition, Paisley was a managerial graduate of Liverpool’s famous ‘boot room’ under Bill Shankly’s leadership.

The switch was a smooth one, with Paisley already part of the furniture and seen as a kindly uncle alongside the father figure of Shankly. If anyone was reluctant to accept the change it would have been Paisley himself, a modest man who tried to sneak away from a Wembley win in 1983 without lifting the Milk Cup.

Paisley’s record speaks for itself: 19 major trophies, including six league titles. He is the only manager ever to win three European Cups, and it will stay that way for a bit longer now that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have failed to reach this year’s Champions League Final.

So successful he famously said, “I’ve been here during the bad times too – one year we came second”, yet all the while showing an unassuming persona, Paisley became a legend of the game. Not a bad internal appointment, then.

Bill NicholsonTottenham HotspurOctober 1958 – August 1974P783 W373 D189 L221 Win ratio 48%

‘Bill Nick’ took the reins at White Hart Lane after acting as a coach for Spurs, and also England at the 1958 World Cup.

Regarded as Tottenham’s finest manager, he won the league, three FA Cups, two League Cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a UEFA Cup, in a tenure that included the first ever domestic cup double of the 20th century.

As a player, coach, manager, scout and president, Nicholson stamped his image on Tottenham Hotspur, and like Paisley he proved that loyalty pays off – and so too does trusting your assistants with the managerial mantle.

David O’Leary Leeds UnitedOctober 1998 – June 2002 P203 W101 D47 L55 Win ratio 50%

Assistant to George Graham until 1998, O’Leary took the Yorkshiremen on a cash-fueled, four-year stag do around Europe (the less said about the hangover, the better).

Known for their array of young talent, or “honest bunch of lads who try to do their best” as O’Leary called them, Leeds reached their peak with the Irishman in 2001, beating AC Milan and qualifying at the expense of Barcelona en route to the Champions League semi-finals.

That fantastic European campaign will never be forgotten by Leeds fans, even though the money spent during the former Arsenal defender’s reign – nearly £100m in four years – would ultimately lead them to financial ruin. By then, O’Leary had been given the boot by the much-loved Peter Ridsdale.

But there’ll always be the memories...

Dave BassettWimbledonJanuary 1981 – June 1987P303 W144 D74 L85 Win ratio 48%

Unlike his satirical Scouse brother Mike Bassett, Dave never achieved England manager status, but his miracle work at Plough Lane did lay the foundations for one of English football’s most charismatic teams – the Crazy Gang.

Taking over in the old Fourth Division, Bassett guided the Dons to four promotions (and one relegation) in six years, taking them to the top flight just nine years after they joined the Football League.

He is also regarded as the architect of Wimbledon’s... ‘physical’ tactics, perfectly suited to a time when a two-footed dropkick to the face wouldn’t warrant a ticking off.

Alan CurbishleyCharlton AthleticJune 1995 – May 2006P514 W198 D137 L179 Win ratio 39%

Having been a player-coach for one year and joint manager with the wonderfully named Steve Gritt for four, Curbishley took sole command of Charlton in 1995 and within three years took them to the Premier League.

Final-day relegation swiftly followed in 1999, but promotion returned them to the top flight just as quickly and six happy years ensued, with the Addicks consolidating top-flight status under his tenure and under the radar.

When Curbishly left Charlton in 2006, they were comfortably mid-table. That two relegations in three years followed hints strongly at the positive impact Curbs had in his 16 years at The Valley.

The failures

Les ReedCharlton AthleticNovember 2006 – December 2006P7 W1 D1 L5Win ratio 14%

We’ll stick with Charlton as we begin our search of the assistants-turned-managers who, like Terry Connor, seemingly found themselves out of their depth.

Les Reed did not look like a football manager. Sadly for Charlton, appearances weren’t deceiving. Harshly branded ‘Les Miserables’ by a press unaware of standard French pronunciation, Reed was another member of the earpiece brigade, and was more of the Sammy Lee ilk (see below) than Sam Allardyce in terms of getting results.

‘Santa Clueless’ – another cracker from our friends on Fleet Street – was relieved of his duties on Christmas Eve, presumably not because he had work to do at the North Pole. He’s often regarded as the worst manager of all time, which isn’t very nice, but isn’t easily deniable either.

The Addicks went down under Alan Pardew that season, and have yet to return.

Sammy LeeBolton WanderersApril 2007 – October 2007P14 W3 D4 L7 Win ratio 21%

As Big Sam departed the Reebok for Newcastle, Little Sam took over at Bolton – but he looked a weak figure throughout his short time in charge, especially given Allardyce’s success with the club (not to mention his size).

Sammy Lee’s tendency to sport the Britney Spears earpiece on the touchline raised a few giggles, and an important question too: who was on the other end?

In a few months, Lee – now back at Bolton, working with the Academy after a stint as assistant manager at Liverpool – took Bolton from the European spots to the relegation places, and he was let go before things got out of hand.

Still, his enthusiastic, positive nature meant that Wanderers fans bear him no ill will. They just don’t want to ever see him in the manager’s seat again.

Wilf McGuinnessManchester UnitedJune 1969 – December 1970P87 W32 D32 L23 Win ratio 37%

A harsh inclusion? Revisionists would argue that Wilf McGuinness did a decent job in very difficult circumstances, but nobody ever said being a football manager isn’t hard. And looking back, maybe appointing a 31-year-old first-teach coach as Matt Busby’s successor, while the greatest manager in the club’s history is upstairs watching your every move, isn’t a tip-top idea.

Certainly, leading Manchester United to eighth in 1970, a three-place, three-point improvement on the previous year under Busby, doesn’t represent an absolute disaster. But the team began the following season badly, and they have high expectations up at Old Trafford. In an incredible case of surrender and retreat, the United hierarchy sent McGuinness down to his old position in charge of the reserves, and brought Busby back to take the helm once more.

McGuinness may have been a victim of circumstance in his unsuccessful move up the ladder, but it’s worth pointing out that he went on to take York City from their highest ever league position to two successive relegations, leaving them needing to apply for re-election to the Football League.

Tony AdamsPortsmouthOctober 2008 – February 2009P22 W4 D7 L11 Win ratio 18%

Four years out of practice after taking Wycombe down to League Two in his debut managerial job, Tony Adams was nonetheless named as the man to follow Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth.

He only followed him out the door, however, as his tenure at Fratton Park lasted just a matter of months. Once a fantastic defender, Adams was arguably let down by a back line that threw away 10 points in the last 15 minutes of his 16 league games in charge – but the manager can hardly be absolved from all blame for such a record.

Still, chief executive Peter Storrie should probably get some of the flak, for saying on Adams’ appointment that he hoped “Tony will be here for as long as he wants to be here.”

Yes, Peter, unless you sack him first.

Chris HutchingsBradford CityJune 2000 – November 2000P21 W7 D4 L10 Win ratio 33%

Wigan AthleticMay 2007 – November 2007P13 W2 D2 L9 Win ratio 15%

Hutchings is a fascinating creature; an assistant who keeps getting managerial work even though he clearly isn’t very good at it.

Assistant at Bradford, Hutchings took over the then Premier League side when Paul Jewell left at the end of the 1999-2000 season. A markedly poor few months followed for the Bantams, with just one win from 12 – against Chelsea, admittedly – proving evidence enough for the inexperienced manager to be given his P45.

Still, we shouldn’t be too harsh on Hutchings: he did take Bradford to the semi-finals of the Intertoto Cup in the summer with wins over FK Atlantas of Lithuania and Holland’s RKC Waalwijk. Then there was that 7-2 win over Darlington in the League Cup. Take that, Darlo!

It was evidently enough for Wigan chairman Dave Whelan to give assistant manager Hutchings another bite of the spam fritter some seven years later – again after Paul Jewell had left the club. Six straight defeats led to Hutchings’ demise, in a perfect example of how to save your season by getting rid of your malfunctioning gaffer at the first sign of collapse (NB: This does not always work).

There was a sense of the inevitable when Jewell resigned as Derby County manager in December 2008, and sure enough Hutchings once again took the helm, albeit only in a caretaker role this time. He was replaced by Nigel Clough, still manager at Pride Park today.

Time in charge of Walsall followed, but Hutchings seems to have accepted his true calling as a No.2, rather than a leader of men. He is now assistant at Ipswich Town. You can guess who their manager is – and probably who their next one will be.

Topics