9 managers who made the critics look stupid
Claudio Ranieri, Leicester
"Claudio Ranieri? Really?" That was Gary Lineker's reaction to Leicester City appointing the Italian as their new boss in summer 2015 – and he was far from alone. Few managers have turned around public opinion quite so swiftly and dramatically.
"It's a strange appointment," said another former Foxes striker, Tony Cottee. "They took a massive risk getting rid of Nigel Pearson."
"Can't believe Leicester appointed Ranieri," tweeted Didi Hamann. "I'm afraid it's MK rather than Old Trafford the season after next."
Can't believe Leicester appointed Ranieri ... Great club, great fanbase but I'm afraid MK rather than Old Trafford season after next.
— Didi Hamann (@DietmarHamann) July 13, 2015
In the history of predictions, that may be up there as one of the worst: given that MK Dons were in League One in 2016/17, Hamann still would have been wrong even if he'd been right about Leicester's relegation.
A manager is only as good as his last job, they say, and that was the biggest reason for the opposition to Ranieri's appointment. A few months earlier he'd been in charge of Greece when they embarrassingly lost at home to the Faroe Islands. "After what happened, I'm surprised he can walk back into the Premier League," said Harry Redknapp.
The punters were no less impressed. "Imagine bringing in Claudio Ranieri to manage your team when Sam Allardyce is without a club," said one. "How does Ranieri keep getting jobs? The Italian Dave Bassett," pondered another.
Bassett might welcome that comparison right now. Are you a Serie A club looking to upset the big boys? Then who better to appoint than 'the English Claudio Ranieri'? Dave Bassett for Udinese: the campaign starts here.
Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton
Just think, if Nigel Adkins had been in charge of Tottenham, they would have had the Premier League title sewn up by now. When Southampton surprisingly sacked him and appointed Pochettino as manager in 2013, there were plenty who questioned whether the Argentine would be able to match his predecessor's achievements at St Mary's.
Pochettino was pretty much known only as the guy who tripped Michael Owen at the 2002 World Cup – and he had long hair back then... was this definitely the same bloke? In contrast, Adkins had guided Southampton from League One to the Premier League in two years, and his side had drawn at Chelsea just two days before his shock dismissal. Saints were a respectable 15th in the table, in mid-January.
"I am shocked," said former Southampton boss Lawrie McMenemy. "To finish fourth-bottom in the first season in the Premier League is success. With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League? What does he know about the dressing room? Does he speak English?"
So many questions, Lawrie. But no, Pochettino didn't speak the language, and not until he joined Spurs a year later did he conduct his first full press conference without the use of a translator. He was, however, a resounding success at Southampton and has since continued in the same vein at White Hart Lane.
Saints went against all the traditional advice: they attempted to fix things that weren't obviously broken, they didn't give Adkins time, and they risked it all by going for some trendy foreign bloke ahead of an experienced domestic boss. But in the long term, it turned out that they got it right. Spectacularly right.
Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany
Die Mannschaft were arguably at their lowest ebb when Klinsmann was surprisingly installed as the national team's new coach in 2004, following a group stage exit at the European Championship. For a start, nobody worth their salt wanted the job.
Klinsmann had no managerial experience whatsoever and his plans quickly ruffled feathers. Michael Ballack admitted his scepticism over the team's new training methods, and the manager's plans of an open battle for the goalkeeping shirt didn't go smoothly. Long-serving No.1 Oliver Kahn and challenger Jens Lehmann didn't see eye to eye, and things got trickier when goalkeeping coach and national legend Sepp Maier publicly voiced his opinion that Kahn was the better goalkeeper.
The result? Maier was swiftly ousted. Lothar Matthaus responded in the press by labelling Klinsmann "cold-blooded" and "a killer".
Germany's 4-1 friendly loss to Italy months before the 2006 World Cup sent a wave of pessimism through the country, with many fearing embarrassment as World Cup hosts. As it turned out, they needn't have worried: a revitalised national team reached the semi-finals thanks to some of the most exciting attacking football that the country had witnessed for quite some time.
Klinsmann opted to step aside after the tournament, replaced as boss by his assistant Joachim Low. But he had set Germany on the path to redemption – one that would lead them to World Cup glory in 2014.
Mark Hughes, Stoke
As far as protests go, this definitely had the look of something Del Boy would have put together. Unimpressed by Stoke's plans for their new boss, one local got hold of a fetching yellow van – presumably sourced from outside Nelson Mandela House – and drove down to the Britannia with a massive 'Hughes Out' sign attached to the back.
Hughes wasn't even 'in' at the time, with the appointment yet to be confirmed. "It's not just me, it's the thought of 90 per cent of Stoke fans," said the supporter, who refused to be named but insisted that he was most definitely not a Mr T Pulis. "Security made me move on from the Britannia so I drove around, I parked on motorway bridges and people were beeping their support at me and taking photos."
Hughes had disappointed in his previous job at QPR, but guided Stoke to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes – their highest since 1975 – before it all went wrong. Very wrong.
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
The little-known Nagoya Grampus Eight boss was not an entirely popular choice as Arsenal boss in 1996, with Johan Cruyff the bookmakers' favourite and Evening Standard asking, 'Arsene who?'.
"I remember when Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names," famous Gunners fan and scribe Nick Hornby said. "It was Terry Venables, Johan Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsene Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan, I bet it's f***ing Arsene Wenger, because I haven't heard of him and I've heard of the other two. Trust Arsenal to appoint the boring one that you haven't heard of."
"At first I thought, 'What does this Frenchman know about football?'" Tony Adams admitted. "He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher."
Wenger, it turned out, knew rather a lot about football and soon guided Arsenal to three league titles.
Chris Coleman, Wales
Not everyone was convinced when Coleman was chosen as the man to take charge of Wales following the tragic death of Gary Speed.
"He did a fantastic job at Fulham," said former Wales striker Iwan Roberts. "But since then it's sort of gone backwards for Chris. He didn't really do the best at Coventry. He's been managing in Greece and we all know that he's resigned from his post there. I'm not too sure if Chris would be the answer."
If Ranieri proved anything, though, it's that any manager who doesn't succeed in Greece must in fact be brilliant. True, things didn't look too brilliant for Coleman during a difficult qualifying campaign for World Cup 2014, when Wales lost 6-1 in Serbia and his job started to come under real pressure, but it turned out he was just lulling the continent into a false sense of security before unleashing Bale & Co. for a charge to the Euro semi-finals.
Howard Kendall, Everton
Kendall is now regarded as one of the finest managers in Everton's history, but his time at Goodison Park almost came to an end before it had really got going.
The former Blackburn Rovers boss took charge of the Toffees in 1981, but two years later Everton were 16th in the table and fans were firmly unimpressed. Only 13,659 turned up to watch a home match against Coventry and leaflets were circulating calling for the removal of both manager and chairman. "Kendall and Carter must go, 26,000 stay-away fans can't be wrong," they said.
That very same season, Everton would go on to reach the League Cup final and win the FA Cup. Two league titles and a European Cup Winners' Cup would follow. In fact, Kendall became so popular that he was later invited back for two more spells as boss.
Alex Ferguson, Manchester United
Kendall's journey from the brink to FA Cup success was one that Ferguson would follow six years later at Old Trafford.
A crushing derby defeat at Manchester City in 1989 was the nadir. So shocking was the 5-1 loss that Ferguson's wife Cathy exclaimed 'That's brilliant!' when informed of the scoreline – assuming that United had been the winners. Son Darren had to quietly explain that United had actually lost. Fans chanted 'Fergie Out' at Maine Road and the manager later revealed that he hid his head under a pillow that night and hoped he wouldn't wake up.
"He's not the man for United," his former Aberdeen striker Joe Harper said at the time. "The club and the job are too big for him."
Ex-Liverpool skipper Emlyn Hughes wrote a newspaper column entitled 'Fergie OBE (Out Before Easter)', but everything famously turned on that Mark Robins goal at Nottingham Forest, and the run to an FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace later that season.
Bobby Robson, England
ONE-ON-ONE Bobby Robson
"Even the Arabs are saying it: Go, in the name of Allah, Go!" was the Mirror headline after England could only draw a 1988 friendly in Saudi Arabia. "Robbo should be a train driver," added the slightly puzzling sub-header.
That was later followed by an article entitled '20 facts that say Robbo must go – there's 101, but we've run out of space'.
Robson had come under severe pressure after England's failure at Euro '88. He hadn't escaped flak when the national team failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship either, with The Sun handing out badges calling for his sacking on that occasion.
But Robson remained long enough to become a national hero and a knight of the realm following England's World Cup semi-final appearance in 1990. He never did have to take that train-driving course.
While you're here, why not take advantage of our brilliant subscribers' offer? Get 5 issues of the world's greatest football magazine for £5 – the game's greatest stories and finest journalism direct to your door for less than a pint in London. Cheers!