The coaches scarier than any opposition enforcer
The days of the authoritarian football manager are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, much to the relief of those kicking a ball around for a living. But it wasn't too long ago that bosses were ruling their own players out of World Cups by cropping them in training, making them run until they threw-up in pre-season or ordering their players to go out and kick the opposition to such an extent that two of them ended up in prison.
From ex-military men who survived the Battle of the Somme to former miners and with a rather predictable strong showing from Scotland, we take a look at the 11 hardest managers to ever take charge of a football team.
11. Paolo Di Canio
The Black Cats had fair warning. While at Swindon, Di Canio had shipped striker Leon Clarke out on loan following an on-field bust up between the pair – just 11 days after Clarke signed for the Robins. Three days after his resignation from the Wiltshire club, he was caught on CCTV in his former office tearing down pictures of his time in charge of the club.
But, somehow, the Sunderland players were still “shocked” when the Italian took over. “He said he didn’t want us to laugh and smile in training,” recalled striker Steven Fletcher. “To be scared to say anything in case he had a crack at you, it’s not nice is it?” But the Black Cats didn't have to whimper under the sideboard: Di Canio's fiery spell with Sunderland didn't last long, ending shortly after he fronted up his own fans on the pitch after yet another defeat.
10. Dave Robertson
There’s hard, then there’s Dave Robertson: a Royal Marine Commando who served in Kuwait in the First Gulf War, trained in the jungles of Guyana and completed his Arctic warfare training in Norway. If only such experiences could have prepared him for the rigours of Football League management.
After taking over as Peterborough’s caretaker boss in February 2015, he was handed the reins full-time in May, only to be given his marching orders in September after a poor run of results. Currently out of the game, he was last in charge of League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers. But still proper ’ard.
9. Major Frank Buckley
As his title, suggests, the Major was another military man. He fought in the Boer Wars, was involved in the Somme Offensive during World War One and was known for being a strict disciplinarian throughout his career as a manager.
Buckley was ahead of his time in many ways, paving the way for the likes of Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson and, in particular, Stan Cullis, who succeeded the Major at Wolves.
As Leeds boss, Buckley made a young Jack Charlton weed the Elland Road pitch in return for “five shillings for every bucket we filled”. But when Big Jack went to the Major’s office to claim his reward, “he nearly blew a bloody gasket. ‘Don’t ever let me see you up here again with your buckets!’” he raged. Message received and understood, sir.
8. Bobby Gould
We’ll let you decide whether Bobby Gould was hard or just plain stupid. Prior to a World Cup qualifier in 1997, the then 51-year-old boss affectionately known as ‘The Gouldfather’ squared up to 6ft 1in ‘Big’ John Hartson after their fractious relationship spilled over into violence.
Despite Gould’s Crazy Gang past, on paper it was no contest. But, in fact, it was the then-Wales manager who initiated the fight, squaring up to Hartson. Some minor scuffling later, senior players stepped in to put an end to the “embarrassing, weird, disturbing and totally undignified” episode.
7. Harry Storer
Storer was an England international footballer, played first class cricket for Derbyshire and was Brian Clough’s managerial mentor. Little surprise really that Old Big ‘Ead took inspiration from a man who once said, “I have a team of bastards and I am the biggest bastard of them all.”
While he was Coventry manager in 1950, the Daily Mirror described him as “the kind of man who meditates with Marcus Aurelius, daydreams with Omar Khayyam and shudders with distaste when a player shirks hard tackling”.
Storer would board the team bus shouting “How many hearts have I got today?” while thumping his chest, and while assistant manager at Sunderland he made the first team act as ball boys for the youth team, including a young Clough.
6. Jock Stein
Stein was a brilliant manager, leading the Lisbon Lions of Celtic to the European Cup in 1967. His single-minded approach to football brought with it a dark side to Stein’s personality. In his autobiography published in 2014, winger John ‘Yogi’ Hughes told of Stein’s distinct lack of man-management skills.
On a pre-season tour to South America in 1966, Stein kept news of Hughes’s wife’s miscarriage from the player – “Ach, what could you do about it, anyway? You’re here and she’s there” – and once gave him a pay cut when he’d asked for a pay rise following a prolific season.
5. Jock Wallace
In the other half of Glasgow, Wallace was every bit as hard as his forenamesake Stein. He served in Northern Ireland and trained in the jungles of Malay during his military service with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, surviving on “monkey steaks”.
During pre-season ‘Big Jock’ used to run his players up the dunes at Gullane Sands until they threw up, and scared the life out of many of his players, including a young Gary Lineker at Leicester. Lineker had scored twice in the first half with the Foxes winning 2-0, but that didn’t stop Wallace pinning him up against the wall while screaming that he was “a lazy English this and that”.
4. Rinus Michels
Michels had an enormous impact on the sport, perfecting Total Football with Ajax and the Dutch national team. Despite being known for his practical jokes, he was also a fierce disciplinarian as a coach. “Football is something like war”, Michels once said. “Whoever behaves too properly is lost”.
“His was the hardest physical preparation I ever had,” said Ajax outside-left, Piet Keizer. “We sometimes had four sessions a day. We would start work in the morning and carry on until the evening.” It worked, though. His Ajax side swept all before them at national and continental level, and he was coach in 1988 when the Netherlands won the Euros.
3. Helenio Herrera
Herrera was a visionary manager, perfecting catenaccio at Inter. One of the first coaches to control the diet of his players, he also forbade them from smoking and drinking alcohol – with excellent results: he led the Nerazzurri to three Scudetti and two European Cups.
But all of this was underpinned by a win-at-all-costs mentality. Herrera once suspended an Inter player for saying in an interview “we came to play in Rome” instead of “we came to win in Rome”. He also injured Alfredo Di Stefano with a violent training-ground tackle that ruled him out of playing in the 1962 World Cup for Spain (whom Herrera was managing), and once made two players walk six miles back to the team base because they were 20 seconds late for the coach. Ouch.
2. Osvaldo Zubeldia
Following a decent playing career in his native Argentina, Zubeldia excelled as a coach, most notably with Estudiantes De La Plata in the mid-to-late-60s. The Rat Catchers won three Copa Libertadores titles and beat Manchester United in the 1968 Intercontinental Cup, winning the first leg 1-0 and drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford. Juan Veron – whose son would later play for United – scored at Old Trafford.
Zubeldia was a tactical innovator but also encouraged the ‘killer juveniles’ to mix it a bit… well, a lot, actually. The Argentines’ display against Milan in the 1969 Intercontinental Cup final second leg was so violent that the whole team was arrested under the orders of the country’s president, with two players being sent to jail.
1. Alex Ferguson
Ferguson ruled by fear rather than physical violence, the occasional projectile boot aside. Two incidents from early in his managerial career prove that the Govan-born boss was as tough as they come, though.
While in charge at Aberdeen, he unleashed one of his infamous half-time tirades at Frank McDougall. The burly striker hit back – literally – flooring Ferguson in front of a stunned squad. Undeterred, the manager sprung straight back up “as if he were on a trampoline” and carried on.
On another occasion, Fergie took a swipe at a nearby tea urn. “We expected it to go flying,” recalled midfielder Neale Cooper, “but it never moved. I could see the pain in his hand – it was solid iron!” Suppressing the giggles, the players got the message and overturned a two-goal deficit.
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