How do you follow greatness? The glorious successes – and crushing failures – of 15 men who came next
1. Bob Paisley (Liverpool 1974)
When Bill Shankly took over Liverpool on December 1, 1959, the Reds languished in the second tier. By the time he retired nearly 15 years later in August 1974, to be replaced by his assistant Paisley, they were English football’s dominant force. No pressure, Bob.
Previously an unassuming right-back and physio at Anfield, whose hole-filled cardigans and shabby slippers swiftly became sartorial trademarks, Paisley took the Scot’s passing philosophy, perfected it and won 20 trophies in the process. He was also the first manager to win three European Cups (later joined by Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane). “It was like having your granddad in charge,” admits centre-back Mark Lawrenson. “He was just a really nice bloke.”
Before all that, however, pupil had to see off master. Unable to deal with retirement, Shankly had to be banned from arriving unannounced at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, his presence undermining Paisley. There could only be one ‘boss’. Within three years, the one-time pit worker and bricklayer was guiding the Reds to a first European Cup, with a 3-1 victory against Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico in 1977.
“This is the second time I’ve beaten the Germans here,” he cheered. “The first time was in 1944. I drove into Rome on a tank when the city was liberated.” The self-perpetuating cycle of the Boot Room had begun.
2. Ariel Ortega (Argentina 1994)
The first in a never-ending, pre-Messi phalanx of New Maradonas, Ortega is the original and best. Where others failed to match the hype with little more than an insouciant shrug – we’re looking at you, Juan Roman Riquelme – Ortega’s approach was the most, er, Maradonian.
He was selected in the USA '94 squad as a 17-year-old to ‘learn’ from a Maradona sent home for a failed drugs test, but the Little Donkey – he was as stubborn as a mule – undoubtedly had the talent. Seven league titles, one Copa Libertadores with first love River Plate and 87 Argentina caps are proof of that.
But battling alcoholism, a lax attitude towards training and a volatile temper (see France 98’s headbutt of Edwin van der Sar, following a balletic dive), the lank-haired playmaker couldn’t match his predecessor’s on-field majesty. The New Maradona curse was born.
“Everyone thinks the Little Donkey is a little idiot, but I think he is very intelligent,” pondered Maradona, who gave Ortega a sentimental international recall in 2010, seven years after his previous cap. “He spoke to me about how professional he was and also about how unprofessional he could be just because he f***ing felt like it.” So not that different after all, really.
3. Rafael Benitez (Inter 2010)
How do you follow a manager who you openly dislike, at a club that has just won an unprecedented treble, and is universally adored by the squad you’ve inherited? Whatever you do, don’t follow Benitez’s lead when taking over Jose Mourinho’s Inter in 2010.
The duo's antagonism spawned during their time as Liverpool and Chelsea managers. As such, the Spaniard allegedly took down every photograph featuring Mourinho from the Nerazzurri training ground, while questioning his new charges’ past fitness plans and attention levels.
“I don’t need photos to make those around me love me,” winked the Special One in response. “They carry me in their hearts.”
After safely negotiating the Italian Super Cup against Roma, a 2-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in the European counterpart did little to bring fans or players onside. “Mourinho’s not here anymore,” Benitez spat at one press conference, “so if everything was so perfect then why did he leave?”
When the elephant in the room was brought up again after winning the Club World Cup in December – “I thought he was going to thank me for the title I gave him,” trilled Mourinho – Benitez issued a back-me-or-sack-me ultimatum to president Massimo Moratti. He chose the latter.
4. Marino Magrin (Juventus 1987)
The laconic swagger, tousle of curls and delicious right foot with which Michel Platini illuminated a five-year, seven-trophy spell at Juventus in the mid-80s will never fade in Bianconeri minds. Platini’s replacement, after he retired at just 32 in 1987, didn’t quite leave such an indelible impression. Not in a good way, at least.
Magrin had been central to catapulting unfancied Atalanta from third tier to Serie A in three seasons, but was something of a low-rent alternative and lacked the game-changing magnificence of his Gallic predecessor. He even admitted as much during his unveiling in Turin.
“I know my limits,” sighed Magrin, “therefore I’m not going to try to replace a genius. I just hope to be able to fill up a bit of the gap that Platini’s departure has left.” Perhaps aware of the increasingly haunted look that Magrin was sporting, coach Rino Marchesi gave Platini’s legendary No.10 shirt to Luigi De Agostini. A left-back.
After one underwhelming season when even his trademark free-kicks failed to bring any relief, Magrin was cast to the bench in a team struggling to recover from the departures of Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli and Zbigniew Boniek: the heart of 1985’s European Cup-winning side.
He remains best remembered as one of the Bianconeri’s worst buys, and for singing Forza Atalanta – a 1984 update of the club’s hymn – with the confidence of a seasoned velvet-voiced crooner. Most Juve fans would wish he’d stuck to latter, instead of becoming the former.
5. Carlos Bilardo (Argentina 1978)
A chain-smoking, lamb chop sideburn-sporting coach (and part-time philosopher) who won Argentina’s first World Cup in 1978 with supreme panache, Cesar Luis Menotti wanted his teams to be beautiful and evolve.
Carlos Bilardo, his square-jawed, win-at-all-costs successor – a part-time gynaecologist in his playing days – couldn’t have been more different. “Being second is a failure,” he once thundered. “You play football to win. Shows are for the cinema or the theatre.”
Seeking detente, or at least a smooth handover between contrasting styles, the Argentine FA arranged a meeting in 1983. Menotti told the new guy what he thought of the squad. Predictably, Bilardo ignored most of it and did what he wanted regardless, while Menotti took frequent pot shots. They haven’t spoken since.
For all his Machiavellian ways – Brazilian forward Branco claims a bottle of water passed to him from the Argentine bench at Italia '90 was laced with tranquilisers – Bilardo was effective. Getting the best out of Diego Maradona, he lifted the World Cup in 1986 and reached the final four years later.
“Wherever I go around the world,” he beamed two years ago, “people roll out the red carpet for me.” Except in the Menotti household, obviously.