Football's 20 maddest managers
As West Ham United players are forced to adjust to the very different working methods of David Moyes, and those at Moyes' old club Everton wonder who their next gaffer will be, they might be thankful they're not under the auspices of some of these engaging crackpots...
20. Luiz Felipe Scolari
Known during his playing days as "perna de pau" ("wooden leg") due to his rather limited skill-set, Scolari has won honours in Kuwait, Brazil, Uzbekistan and China during a lengthy managerial career which has also included stops in Saudi Arabia, Portugal, England and Japan.
His methods haven't always been conventional, however. His approach to holding on to a lead centred on instructing his Gremio ball boys to throw extra balls onto the pitch, while many South Americans weren't impressed with his open admiration for General Pinochet.
19. Joe Kinnear
Nicknamed ‘JFK’ (Joe F***ing Kinnear) due to his fondness for a swear word or four, the former Wimbledon, Luton and Nottingham Forest made his first steps into the world of management with India and Nepal in the 1980s.
His barmiest spell came at Newcastle, where his shock appointment in September 2008 jolted jaws to the floor throughout Tyneside. Results were mixed, but at least Kinnear was given a platform to vent his frustration at the local media. “Which one is Simon Bird?” the Magpies boss asked a press conference, before adding when the Daily Mirror journalist had been identified: “You’re a c***”. Quite the charmer.
18. Miguel Herrera
Perhaps the most GIF-able manager in history (he edges Roy Hodgson into second place), Herrera makes Phil Jones' face-pulling look positively normal. The passionate Mexican lost his job as national team coach after an altercation with TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinoli, who was allegedly punched in the neck by Herrera just two days after El Tri's Gold Cup triumph in 2015.
“If a player can’t go one month or 20 days without having sexual relations, then they are not prepared to be a professional player," the feisty, 5ft 5in former defender told Reforma before the 2014 World Cup. "So then we will not be looking for sex or having sex at the World Cup just to have it, we are going to go after what we came for, a competition that gives us the opportunity to rise above and do something really great.' Well, quite.
17. Brian Clough
Just where do you start with Cloughie, 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 ’Ead – “They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job” – had so much to say for himself that he once prompted fellow motormouth Muhammad Ali to declare: “Clough, I’ve had enough, stop it!”
16. Martin Allen
A man who thoroughly lives up to his nickname, ‘Mad Dog’ first earned his tag as a feisty midfielder, but it has endured for his unconventional approach to coaching.
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.
“When I was out of work I watched a series called Prison Break on Netflix,” he said after re-joining Barnet in 2014. “When I arrived here in March, that’s what this office looked like — a prison cell.”
15. Neil Warnock
The only thing larger than Warnock's perpetual sense of injustice is the "Disputes" section on his Wikipedia page. Never one to hold his tongue, the Yorkshireman has declared beef with Wally Downes, Shefki Kuqi, Lee Johnson, El Hadji Diouf (fair play on that one), Graham Poll, Stephane Henchoz, Stan Ternent and anyone associated with West Ham United, who were spared relegation at the expense of Warnock's Sheffield United despite breaking Premier League rules regarding third-party ownership in 2006/07.
"This is my last job, without a shadow of a doubt," he said at his unveiling as Crystal Palace boss in 2007. "There won't be another job for me." After subsequent spells with QPR, Leeds, Palace (again), QPR (again) and Rotherham, Warnock's still going strong at Cardiff.
14. Malcolm Allison
It says an awful lot about Allison's charm and charisma that he remains a hero at Crystal Palace, the club he led from the First Division to the Third in the 1970s. The former centre-half is best remembered for his association with Manchester City, with whom he won the title, FA Cup and League Cup, but he also took charge of Plymouth, Galatasaray, Middlesbrough, Sporting CP and, er, Kuwait.
A fedora-wearing, cigar-smoking, bunny-girl-dating, larger-than-life personality, Big Mal brought a touch of panache to the English game. As he quipped of his City successor in 1980, "John Bond has blackened my name with his insinuations about the private lives of football managers. Both my wives are upset."
13. Luis Aragones
The ex-Atletico Madrid striker and Spain coach was a 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.
Setting aside the racist rant about Thierry Henry, consider him confronting 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. Conclusion: don’t mess with Luis.
12. 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 coach 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 chief infamously sacked former team-mate Terry Howard at half-time, calling him a “little c***” and another cowering team-mate a "big c***" before offering to fight his players: “Pair up if you like... bring your f***ing dinner… we’ll have a right sort out”.
11. 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. Domenech’s subsequent failure at the 2010 World Cup was written in the stars.
10. Claude Anelka
Sam Allardyce recently bemoaned a perceived lack of opportunities for British coaches in today’s game, but perhaps the former England boss should take a leaf out of Anelka’s book.
Nicolas’ brother didn’t have the same talent as his sibling but clearly wanted a piece of the football action, promising Scottish side Raith Rovers £300,000 if they allowed him to take charge of first-team affairs in 2004.
Unfortunately for Raith, Anelka – a DJ by trade – didn’t have a clue what he was doing, and the Frenchman left a few weeks later after a run of seven defeats and a draw in eight games. “It was a big mess… it probably set the club back four years,” chairman Turnbull Hutton lamented in 2013.
9. 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 a loss to West Brom. It didn’t work: he was sacked the following day, with chief executive Margaret Byrne citing his “brutal and vitriolic” treatment of the squad.
8. 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.
7. Marcelo Bielsa
“Is Marcelo Bielsa as mad as he seems?” a reporter once asked Athletic Club wide man Iker Muniain of his then-boss. “No,” came the response, “he’s madder.”
It’s nothing less 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 – the current Lille boss is 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.
6. Hossam Hassan
There’s mad, there’s madder and then there’s 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 mass 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.
5. Ian Holloway
The most quotable gaffer 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 manager 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.
4. Carlos Bilardo
Managers are a superstitious bunch, but none have been ruled by ritual quite like Bilardo. The mastermind of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph was certainly stretching the truth when he claimed in 2003: “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. Bilardo proceeded to call said lady before every game. This sort of behaviour first came to the fore in Mexico, where he banned Maradona & Co. from eating chicken and made the team take taxis to every match after their coach had broken down and they’d been forced to hop into a cab.
3. 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 ran after local residents to berate them for smoking, 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.
2. Major Buckley
Some might say Franklin Charles Buckley was ahead of his time; others would assert 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. Bananas.
1. Felix Magath
“I once got a dead leg, which is pretty painful,” former defender Brede Hangeland, who played under Magath at Fulham, revealed in 2017. “[The club doctor] informed me that due to a new policy Magath had to approve all medical procedures.” That policy, it transpired, involved rubbing cream cheese on the affected area.
Nicknamed “Saddam” for his gruelling pre-season fitness regimes – he was also labelled “the last dictator in Europe” by former Eintracht Frankfurt charge Bachirou Salou – Magath had a miscellany of mad methods, including a supposed propensity to call players into his office and just stare at them for up to five minutes without saying a word.