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The 13 maddest managers ever: silly superstitions, star signs and Sitton

Paolo Di Canio

The Italian’s nutter credentials were already well established when he moved into management, and he’s shown no signs of calming down. At Swindon he had a pitchside altercation with his own striker Leon Clarke, subbed goalkeeper Wes Foderingham after 21 minutes and signed off by storming into his office in the dead of night to rip mementos of his time there off the wall.

His reign at Sunderland was equally controversial, the ‘highlights’ being a provocative knee slide after the Black Cats scored at St James’ Park and a failed attempt to placate travelling fans after defeat to West Ham.

Marcelo Bielsa

“Is Marcelo Bielsa as mad as he seems?” a journalist once asked Athletic Bilbao winger Iker Muniain of his then-manager. “No,” came the reply, “he’s madder.”

It’s no more than you’d expect from a man nicknamed El Loco. The Argentine earned the moniker as much for his tireless, obsessive approach to life in the dugout as for acts of outright lunacy, although he did once visit a convent to ask nuns to pray for his team. For one so meticulous – he’s been known to draw on his shoes to show players which part of the foot they shout be using – he’s also a slave to superstition on occasion: he was once seen carefully marking out 13 (a lucky number in South America) steps in his technical area.

Hossam Hassan

There’s mad and then there’s Hossam Hassan, Egypt’s second-most-capped player and all-time top goalscorer who crossed Cairo’s great divide – Al Ahly to Zamalek – as a player, angering the former further by becoming manager of the latter.

What else could a national hero have done that was so unforgivable? How about sparking a brawl involving staff, players and fans during one derby and, after another, walking over to a stand full of Al Ahly fans, laying a Zamalek shirt on the ground and kneeling to pray on it. Amen.

Carlos Bilardo

Managers are a superstitious bunch – honorable mentions to Don Revie and Giovanni Trapattoni – but none have been ruled by ritual quite like crazy Carlos. The mastermind of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph was certainly stretching the truth a little in 2003 when he claimed: “There’s absolutely nothing unusual in what I do.”

This, after he told Estudiantes officials to track down the woman who’d wished him luck before a 4-1 win. El Narigon (‘big nose’) proceeded to call said lady before every game. This sort of behaviour first came to the fore in Mexico, where – among other things – he banned Maradona & Co. from eating chicken and made the team take taxis to every game after their coach had broken down and they’d been forced to hop into a cab.

Major Buckley

Some might say Franklin Charles Buckley was ahead of his time. Others would say he was just out of his mind. A pre-war pioneer of management, most notably during 17 years at Wolves, The Major’s moments of madness included having the local fire brigade water the Molineux pitch to suits his team’s strengths, encouraging his players to go ballroom dancing to improve their balance and, most controversially, having his players injected with extracts of monkey gland, believing it would make them taller.

John Sitton

All of the names on our list are serial offenders, but the wonderful Sitton is here on the merits of just two highly entertaining YouTube rants. Perhaps no manager has suffered a slip into insanity quite like him. Back in the mid-’90s, when letting cameras into dressing rooms seemed like a good idea, the Leyton Orient manager’s now-legendary expletive-filled shout-fests even made sailors blush.

In trying to create a ‘Crazy Gang mentality’ at Brisbane Road, the O’s former defender infamously sacked former team-mate Terry Howard at half-time, calling him a “little c***”, then told another player to “bring your f***ing dinner… we’ll have a right sort out”.

Luis Aragones

The late ex-Atletico Madrid striker and Spain coach was another superstitious sort – mainly over a dislike of the colour yellow, which nearly caused a diplomatic incident when la Roja played in Dortmund at the 2006 World Cup – but there was so much more when it came to barmy behaviour.

Forget, for a moment, the racist rant about Thierry Henry, and remember instead confrontations with fans in car parks, sending a player who had a broken jaw back out onto the pitch, telling him “there’s nothing bloody wrong with you”, and cutting a TV cable that was too close to the dugout for his liking.

Brian Clough

Just where do you start with Brian Howard Clough, a manager who trod the line between madness and genius more than any other? Fisticuffs with his own fans and players, curious motivational techniques and tactics, boardroom feuds and enough memorable quotes to fill several books.

Old Big ’Ed – “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business… but I’m in the top one” – had so much to say for himself, in fact, that he once prompted fellow motormouth Muhammad Ali to declare: “Clough, I’ve had enough, stop it!”

Raymond Domenech

Responding to being knocked out of Euro 2008 by proposing to his girlfriend on the pitch and overseeing a mutiny at the World Cup two years later seemed positively sane when you compare them to Domenech’s first act as France manager when he took over in 2004. Obsessed with astrology, the fruitloop Frenchman effectively ended the international career of Robert Pires because of a mistrust of Scorpios. He wasn’t keen on Leos either, since you ask.

Martin Allen

Another who qualifies by virtue of his nickname, ‘Mad Dog’ first earned his tag as a feisty midfielder, but it has endured for his unconventional approach to management.

At Brentford, he earned cult status by calling his own team “two bob” and taking a dip in strange places before big games – most notably the Tees before an FA Cup clash at Hartlepool, and the Solent (naked) ahead of the following round against Southampton. He recently compared managing current club Barnet to TV series Prison Break.

Egil Olsen

The studious Norwegian seemed a strange choice to inherit the Crazy Gang in 1999, but in his own peculiar way turned out to be crazier than the lot of them. A staunch Marxist, he would run after local residents to berate them for smoking, had memorised the height of every large mountain in the world and once lost interest during a game, with assistant Terry Burton having to tell him that John Hartson had been sent off. “Has he?” replied eccentric Egil. And he’s back in the room.

Ian Holloway

The most quotable manager ever? Certainly from these shores. Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore the bats*** Bristolian, whose memorable soundbites have inspired two books, if not all of the teams he’s managed across all four divisions.

Which other gaffer can claim to have discussed kidney stones, badgers in the mating season and Cristiano Ronaldo’s manhood in post-match interviews? It’s no coincidence that since vowing to shed the ‘comedian’ image in August 2013, his managerial career seems to have gone downhill. More quotes please, Ollie.

Barry Fry

The sweary septuagenarian is still going strong as director of football at Peterborough, having started his football career as a failed apprentice at Manchester United, enjoying “a binge of birds, booze and betting” with George Best.

But it’s in between that Fry did his best work. He was sacked – and reinstated – eight times across two spells by notorious Barnet chairman Stan Flashman, tried to cure a gypsy curse by urinating on the St Andrew’s pitch during a doomed spell at Birmingham and brought in Ron Atkinson as a troubleshooter for a TV programme when he was Posh head honcho. Is he the sweariest manager ever? “I’m in a photo finish with Graham Taylor,” he once told FFT.

#FFT50MANAGERS See our list of the top 50 managers and features on them here

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