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

To accompany FFT’s 50 Best Managers in the World list, Louis Massarella has cherry-picked a baker’s dozen of the most bonkers bosses ever. So bonkers, in fact, that Big Phil, Big Mal and Claude Anelka didn’t even make it...

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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.