Skip to main content

Where have all the English managers gone?

What now? When Sam Allardyce and the FA “mutually agreed” to end his reign as England manager prematurely at the end of September, two months into a two-year deal, that was the only question that the national team’s supporters could ask.

As soon as footage emerged of the former Bolton, West Ham and Sunderland manager telling undercover Telegraph reporters that it was possible to circumvent third-party ownership rules – rules imposed by his employers – Big Sam’s departure seemed imminent.

Just 67 days earlier, Allardyce had headed a shortlist of one to succeed Roy Hodgson following his and England’s Euro 2016 exit; after his departure, Gareth Southgate was named interim boss and then handed the reins on a permanent basis in November. At the time of writing, there are only four English managers in the Premier League: Allardyce at Crystal Palace, Paul Clement at Swansea, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and Sean Dyche at Burnley.

The situation has been brewing for two decades now. Between 1946 and 1996, only Walter Winterbottom – an FA man who had no previous experience as a manager – and Graham Taylor took on the England job without having won major honours. Since then, however, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Steve McClaren, Roy Hodgson and, briefly, Allardyce have all tried out the Three Lions hot seat with relatively modest CVs.

So how did it come to this? Have football’s inventors forgotten how to coach? Where have all the English managers gone?



Gordon Milne, Besiktas 1992/93: The former Liverpool midfielder had won three successive Turkish titles, but his men bowed out to Gothenburg in the last 32.

Howard Wilkinson, Leeds 1992/93: A replayed victory over Stuttgart (who illegally fielded a fourth foreign player) brought Rangers in the last 16. Leeds lost

Tougher times

“Sixteen?!” It’s impossible not to hear the shock in Frank Wormuth’s voice when FFT tells the German FA’s head of coach education how many Premier League clubs are being run by a non-English manager.

English coaches were once at the vanguard. William Garbutt all but introduced football to the Italians. Such was Fred Pentland’s popularity at Athletic Bilbao, the Spanish for ‘gaffer’ is ‘Mister’. And Vic Buckingham is credited with crystallising Total Football at Ajax in the late 1950s.

The success stories continued. From 1977 to 1982, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough and Tony Barton ensured that the European Cup was lifted by an English manager in six consecutive seasons. Shortly afterwards, Terry Venables became Barcelona’s manager and Howard Kendall took over at Athletic. Yet no English coach has won the European Cup since Liverpool’s Joe Fagan in 1984.

Too much of English management became about pure motivation or dressing-room provocation. At elite level, modern players need the carrot as opposed to the stick, and that arguably comes more naturally to tactile foreign coaches than their domestic counterparts.

“First you must respect the human being, then the professional,” said the Argentine Mauricio Pochettino shortly after taking charge at Spurs in 2014. “A good relationship comes naturally when they know how we behave and how we want to work.”

Early start

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was forced into coaching a lot earlier than most, his playing career cut short at 29 due to injury

It’s only logical that as the Premier League attracts more foreign players, managerial appointments from abroad increase in tandem.

“Foreign coaches definitely add to the Premier League’s evolution,” Burnley boss Sean Dyche tells FFT. “Fans and owners have a thirst for a foreign coach. That does, though, restrict opportunities for English and British managers. That’s the crux of the argument: how can you show you’re a good English manager if the opportunities aren’t there?”

Dyche believes there’s a big distinction between perception and fact. “The biggest head-scratcher for English managers,” he says, “is seeing a fan outside the training ground on Sky Sports News talking about the new boss and saying, ‘I’ve heard he’s a very good tactician’. When I was 16 most people played 3-5-2. Then it was 4-2-3-1, which is five yards away from a 4-4-1-1, which is five yards away from a 4-4-2. It’s like the fashion industry: there are so many things packaged differently.”

To get ahead, it’s vital that those in the next generation of English coaches start early. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was forced into coaching a lot earlier than most, his playing career cut short at 29 due to injury. Does that instil a greater hunger to achieve?

“That’s invaluable experience,” Liverpool defender-turned-Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher tells FFT. “People go on about getting 10,000 hours of practice to become skilled in whatever field – well, Eddie and others are getting that in early. The likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, who didn’t have big playing careers, get all that in the bank. If you finish playing at 35, they have got 10 years’ experience on you.

“Maybe they also have a hunger that top players lack. They’ve got the brain. I did my B Licence but, to be honest, the longer I’m out of it, the less chance I’ll use it. I love doing what I’m doing. Why stick your neck out and take the risk of getting sacked six months down the line?”

Wealth vs innovation?



Ray Harford, Blackburn 1995/96: King Kenny’s successor brought no success: only last place in a group with Spartak Moscow, Legia Warsaw and Rosenborg

Bobby Robson, Porto 1995/96; PSV 1998/99; Newcastle 2002/03: The only Englishman to manage in the European Cup more than once did not reach the last eight

A media career will appeal to some, but many feel they are squeezed out by the natural progression of foreign club owners seeking a foreign coach to manage squads that predominantly feature foreign players.

“You have some jealous foreign owners who like to be the kingpin riding over the hill on their white horse,” one English manager with decades of experience in the top flight and Football League tells FFT. “Once, I was sacked over budgetary issues, only for the owner to then go and blow millions on one player just a few months later.

“There’s no reason why someone who hasn’t managed in the top flight isn’t good enough to do so. If Eddie Howe, for example, had Manchester City’s budget, scouting network and recruitment setup, I’m pretty sure he would be up there at the top of the table.”

The Premier League’s astronomical wealth could be another barrier to English coaches getting top jobs. “The Premier League has so much money,” says Wormuth, head of the DFB’s coach education programme, “so the expectations are way higher there than in Germany.”

The Germans don’t share England’s problem. Of the Bundesliga’s 18 managers, 12 are homegrown – 13 if you’re including Eintracht Frankfurt’s Croatian boss, Niko Kovac, who's lived his whole life in Germany, where he was born, but chose to play for his parents’ country. It’s the same situation in La Liga, where Barcelona’s Luis Enrique heads a list of 13 Spanish coaches. Why are they both so different to England?

“There’s confidence in our coach education system, but that took time,” says Wormuth. “I started here in 2007, and before that our reputation within Germany wasn’t very good, no matter what people thought abroad. So we restructured the programme and now we have a more modern model that others can then replicate.

“Those in charge can see that there are young coaches who can be successful at the highest level, and are worth taking a risk on. We have 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, while Thomas Tuchel [now at Dortmund] was 35 at Mainz.”

Next page: Why even Germany's top brass aren't happy

Thirst for big names

Ryan Giggs isn’t short of cheerleaders for any top-flight job going – up to and including Manchester United – yet Gary Rowett is rarely in the running

Does it help, FFT wonders, that the vast majority of German clubs are primarily fan-owned? Or that Spanish clubs elect their presidents, who are usually Spanish? “It could be that,” muses Wormuth, “but Hoffenheim’s owner, Dietmar Hopp, was responsible for bringing in Nagelsmann, while Mainz now have a Swiss coach in the form of Martin Schmidt, so it doesn’t necessarily follow suit.

“Academies from under-15s upwards require the Pro Licence, so young players who are struggling with injuries at 25 or so can start preparing for a life after football. It’s a springboard.”

Dyche is testament to that, having begun his coaching career with Watford’s academy before working his way up to the Hornets’ hot seat, and then moving to Burnley. “My pathway is, on paper, a good way into it,” he says. “It’s tough if you do it via the lower leagues, as if you’re not winning then the development soon stops – fans at every level want to win. But that pathway isn’t always there, because of the clamour for jobs at all levels.”

There’s also a clamour for managers who had a famous playing career in England. Ryan Giggs isn’t short of cheerleaders for any top-flight job going – up to and including Manchester United – yet Gary Rowett, who performed minor miracles at Burton and cash-strapped Birmingham, is rarely in the running. It seems impossible that Hoffenheim’s Nagelsmann could’ve been given an equivalent Premier League job, having never made it as a player.

A change of perception, then, is needed. The FA’s coach education programme should provide exactly that. Germany has more than 1,500 coaches with the UEFA Pro Licence – football’s most advanced qualification – around 500 of whom are currently in jobs. Spain has more than 2,000. England, from a decade less and having started from scratch – Germany and Spain automatically upgraded their already-qualified coaches – has 203, at an individual cost of £8,000.

“I’m really confident about the future of English coaching,” says Jamie Robinson, the FA’s head of elite delivery and lead UEFA Pro Licence instructor. “We wanted to research models from around the world, plus other sports and even higher education, to work out how we can stretch, challenge and support UEFA Pro Licence candidates.

“We see this as a leadership award. We want technical directors, academy managers, because it’s just as important to have a coach who's as fantastic at developing five- to 11-year-olds as it is to get a top manager. We want a conveyor belt of talent coming through. The reality at the moment is underwhelming, but that's only because the Premier League is the best in the world and home to the top managerial talent.”

Educating England



Harry Redknapp, Tottenham 2010/11: His Bale-fuelled side beat both Milan and Inter to make the last eight, but a 4-0 loss at the Bernabeu brought a humbling end

Gary Neville, Valencia 2015/16: Sky Sports’ poster boy lost his only Champions League match, against Lyon, before getting the sack four months later

Carragher's in the FA’s corner, telling FFT: “Some players complain that it’s too difficult, but if you want to be a manager, that’s what you have to do. In any other employment, you need that apprenticeship.”

Dyche agrees. “There’s a depth to those courses,” the Clarets boss explains, “because you speak to different managers and get new ideas. I am not saying you can make someone a great coach just by getting them on courses, because a hands-on job is different, but having more education before you get there can only help. My football education has cost £25,000-£30,000. That could be applied to a Master’s degree. Most people would agree that someone with that degree is pretty bright. 
So with that, plus 25 years as a player, it’s fair to say you’re educated.”

The FA don’t stop once a graduate has received their certificate. “We want to establish a culture of lifelong learning,” says Robinson, whose team of 26 coaches helps alumni across England’s top four divisions to implement new strategies. “We have to make our coaches equipped for the realities of modern football. This is a unique programme in world football: club coaches getting help after qualifying to continue learning.”

And it’s not just the FA. The League Managers Association offers its ‘Institute of Leadership and High Performance’ for already-qualified coaches to continue their education, through a series of vocational workshops and diplomas from the University of Liverpool.

“Coach education in England is great,” says Wormuth. “They’ve taken the best models to go their own way, as every country is different, and I’m 100 per cent sure that if the plan continues, English coaches will come to the fore in the future. It’s vital you don’t lose faith.”

With hundreds more expected to qualify over the next five years, will there come a time when English coaches go abroad in search of work? “I think they should,” says Carragher, despite his Sky Sports colleague Gary Neville struggling in a brief stint in charge of Valencia. “Why not? However well or badly it goes, it’s experience on the CV.

“With Gary, the language was a problem – not necessarily before a game, but at half-time, when you have to react. He normally thinks long and hard about things, but with Valencia he decided to go there in a couple of days. He regrets that, but it’s part of the learning curve.”

Exports required

If the national team wins a World Cup or a European Championship, a lot of countries and clubs around the world will want English coaches

Right now, though, there’s scepticism that foreign clubs would be interested. One Football League manager tells FFT that a parallel of Bob Bradley’s move from Ligue 2 to the Premier League – a top-flight club abroad appointing an English lower-league boss – is “laughable”.

Germany has a similar problem, in fact. “A big advantage is that you speak English – effectively the world’s language,” Wormuth says. “We need to educate with the language more and hope Jurgen Klopp and David Wagner at Huddersfield open the door to Europe’s top leagues.

“Going abroad depends on the quality of the national team. If the national team wins a World Cup or a European Championship, a lot of countries and clubs around the world will want English coaches. We saw this in Germany. That’s how you get noticed.” In the short term, then, glory in Russia in 2018 would lift English coaching stock.

“After the Sam incident, why wouldn’t you at least look at Gareth Southgate?” Dyche asked prior to the ex-Middlesbrough boss's appointment. “He's been around the FA for some time, knows the system and is very articulate. People need opportunities. English or foreign, every manager has to win games. You can moan about not getting a chance, but when you do, grip it and be successful.”

Will things get better?

Crucially, however, plans are in place for English coaches to succeed beyond Russia and into a better, brighter coaching future.

“We want our education to embody English football,” says Robinson of the FA. “We have coaches who do the courses and come back to help educate the next generation. There’s no better confirmation than that.

“But we have to stick to our principles. With the flexibility to equip coaches for the modern game, understanding what Pep Guardiola is doing at Manchester City and learning from the very best while they are here, we’ll be on course to be leading the game again in 10 years.”

What now? A long-overdue revival for English coaching, that’s what.

Additional reporting: Nick Moore

This feature first appeared in the December 2016 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!

New features you'd like every day on

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Andrew Murray is a freelance journalist, who regularly contributes to both the FourFourTwo magazine and website. Formerly a senior staff writer at FFT and a fluent Spanish speaker, he has interviewed major names such as Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero and Xavi. He was also named PPA New Consumer Journalist of the Year 2015.