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6 club greats who returned as manager... then failed spectacularly

Alan Shearer Newcastle manager

From Zidane at Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona, all the way to Neil Harris at Millwall, sometimes a club legend returning as manager is a feel-good story for player and club. But sometimes, it isn’t.

Frank Lampard, who played for Chelsea between 2001 and 2014, could replace Maurizio Sarri as the Blues' new boss this summer. These returning greats say he should be careful what he wishes for...

Alan Shearer (Newcastle)

What could possibly go wrong? On April Fool’s Day 2009, Newcastle made the surprise announcement that Alan Shearer would be taking over as manager until the end of the season to try to save the club from relegation, while manager/Bird hunter Joe Kinnear recovered from heart surgery.

Big Al’s legend credentials were unquestionable as the local hero who turned down Manchester United in 1996 to sign with his boyhood club, going on to become the Magpies' all-time record scorer. Yet right from the start, this didn’t click.

Shearer brought relegation specialist Iain Dowie with him as assistant manager, plus all of the passion that Alan himself brings to the Match of the Day studio. Newcastle took just two points form Shearer’s first five games, before hauling themselves out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 win over Middlesbrough.

Yet the celebratory fence creasoting that Shearer was planning never came to pass: Newcastle lost their last two games 1-0 to Fulham, then Aston Villa, and were relegated. Shearer hasn’t managed since.

Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest)

Pearce’s first stint as boss at Forest – the club where he spent 12 years terrifying right-wingers – wasn’t actually too shabby. Made player/manager in 1996 after Frank Clark was fired, Pearce admitted that his first team selection didn’t go too well: he tossed and turned before settling on a final XI, only for his wife to point out that he hadn’t picked a goalkeeper.

Despite this, Pearce beat Arsenal in his first game in charge and was named Premier League Manager of the Month for January. Forest were relegated at the season’s end, but Pearce had stepped back down to the playing ranks by then.

He had a spell managing Manchester City, then as Fabio Cappello’s assistant for England, where we had the indignity of seeing England’s Psycho manhandled by the aged Italian indexer during the 2010 World Cup. 

Later, Pearce returned as Forest boss in the summer of 2014. Displaying his newfound ability to pick 10 outfield players plus a goalkeeper, he actually won five of his first seven Championship matches – but then it all went wrong. Forest won just three of their next 21 league matches, exited the FA Cup to Rochdale and Pearce was duly sacked by February.

Gareth Southgate (Middlesbrough)

The first captain to lift a major trophy with Boro via the League Cup in 2004, Southgate also led them to the 2006 UEFA Cup Final, all the while doing that weird post-match elbow-spasm celebration that they go wild for in Yorkshire.

The very season after that UEFA Cup loss to Sevilla, a 35-year-old Southgate was appointed Boro manager to replace Steve McClaren, who was packing his umbrella and heading for the England job. Southgate had some good results early on, including a Middlesbrough 8-1 Manchester City victory, which we’re guessing is a scoreline we won’t be seeing anytime soon.

Yet results slowly worsened during his three full seasons in charge and the club were relegated in 19th place in 2009. After just a few months in the Championship, Southgate was fired. And just look at him now...

Ossie Ardiles (Tottenham)

Oh, Osvaldo. The Argentine spent the 1980s thrilling Spurs fans at a time when signing exotic foreign imports was a novelty rather than something Watford do six times every summer. Yet as skilful as he was on the pitch, he was as haphazard off it.

Bluntly, Ardiles – who got a heroic reception as he took charge of Tottenham for the 1993/94 season – played a kamikaze style of football that made Kevin Keegan look like Jose Mourinho. Defending was paid little heed as Tottenham bombed forward, and while that worked for a bit when Teddy Sheringham was fit, Spurs also suffered a seven-match losing streak and finished 15th.

Ardiles responded to those defensive flaws by cunningly signing international attackers Jurgen Klinsmann and Ilie Dumitrescu in the summer of 1994, and was let go in October with Tottenham in the bottom half of the table. At least it was fun. 

BIG INTERVIEW Ossie Ardies: "At Spurs, Alan Sugar said he was mortified when he fired me"

Bryan Robson (West Brom)

A caveat as big as Robbo’s medical history to this entry. When the former West Brom midfield dynamo – who played over 200 games for the club before he joined Manchester United – came back to the club in November 2004, he pulled off a rather spectacular feat.

He lost his first game in charge and had the club rock bottom by Christmas Day (note: this is not the spectacular feat). However, a turnaround in form during the second half of 2004/05 saw West Brom survive by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the season – the first club to do so having been 20th at Christmas (note: this is the spectacular feat).

Robson was rightly hailed a black-and-white messiah, but unfortunately his form wouldn’t last. West Brom finished 19th in 2005/06, their end-of-season form as weak as it had been strong the previous term, as they failed to win any of the last 13 games. Robson was given a crack at the Championship, but the Baggies won three of eight games and he was let go.

Kevin Keegan (Newcastle)

We’re not referring to King Kev’s first spell at the club, which while marked by the odd outburst, was undoubtedly a success as he took the club from second-bottom in the second tier to oh-so-close for Premier League glory.

No. We mean his second stint, when Keegan made a surprise return to the Magpies in January 2008, admitted that he hadn’t really been watching much football of late, then set about proving he was a man of his word as he failed to win any of his first eight matches in charge. After this, Keegan actually turned the club’s fortunes around, leading Newcastle to the security of a respectable 12th place.

However, tensions between Kev and the club hierarchy soon arose, and early on the following season he was gone. Keegan later took successful legal action, claiming he was misled about his role within the club - and few (if any) Geordies laid any blame at his door. But a post-exit legal wrangle after just 22 games (seven wins, six draws, nine losses) is hardly the final departure a club icon deserves.


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