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With Mikel Arteta struggling at Arsenal, should legends EVER manage the clubs they starred at?

Published on: 28 February 2021

Football is littered with stories of players either returning to old clubs to heighten already established legendary status, or departing after disastrous spells in the hotseat.

For Mikel Arteta, a dream return to Arsenal is turning into a nightmare as he struggles to hit the heights on the touchline as well as he did in the midfield.

In Italy, Andrea Pirlo started to show signs of recovery after an inauspicious start to life in the Juventus hotseat before another blip, having taken charge in the summer.

So should players stay away from their former sides to protect their playing legacies or is the lure of earning club immortality as player and manager too good to turn down?

Sportsmail looks at the most high profile of returns and looks at the major successes and failures.

Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)

No previous managerial experience at a senior team, and yet able to walk into arguably the biggest club in the world tasked with making them European champions again.

It's the sort of script that reads like a Football Manager save but when Zidane took charge of Los Blancos in 2016 he wasn't totally unprepared, having spent time at the Bernabeu as a player between 2001 and 2006 - helping them win the 2002 Champions League with his stunning goal in the Hampden Park final.

The Frenchman had also been managing the club's B team for the previous two years but even his most die-hard supporters couldn't have expected him to deliver so much success so quickly.

Taking over from the sacked Rafa Benitez in the middle of the season, he guided Real to the Champions League title... then did it twice more to make Madrid the first team to win Europe's top prize three years running since Bayern Munich in 1976.

He resigned soon after but returned again last year and delivered Real another league title after also winning the Spanish top flight in his first full season in charge.

Zidane remains in charge and although his side have been inconsistent this term they remain in the hunt domestically as well as in Europe.

Pep Guardiola (Barcelona)

Unlike Zidane, there was cautious optimism when Guardiola took over at the Nou Camp in 2008 following the departure of Frank Rijkaard.

That was quite a compliment even then, considering he had big shoes to fill in replacing the Dutchman whose previous five years saw him turn Barca from a basket case into one of Europe's most feared clubs.

But Guardiola, who was a Barca star on the pitch throughout the 1990s when they won six league titles and a European Cup, had worked with the B team the season before and showed impressive nous tactically and in working with youth.

A year after his appointment Barca's tiki-taka led by Lionel Messi and a dynamite midfield consisting of a prime Xavi and Andres Iniesta saw them outplay Manchester United to win the 2009 Champions League.

Adding the Spanish title and a Copa del Rey also saw them complete their first major domestic Treble. Two more league titles would follow over the next two years, before United were defeated again at Wembley in the Champions League final.

The current Manchester City boss could only land the Spanish Cup in his final season, but he departed as one of their greatest managers for a new challenge with Bayern Munich after a one-year sabbatical.

Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan)

Everton's current boss had enjoyed a successful playing career at AC Milan, being part of one of the greatest European sides of all time at the end of his career between 1987 and 1992, winning two league titles and two European Cups.

His managerial career had delivered early promise with Reggiana and another of his former clubs Parma, but his reputation then took a knock after he was sacked by Juventus in 2001 following two trophyless years.

Milan meanwhile were also enjoying a rocky start to new century and appointed their former midfielder to take charge. He never looked back.

Tweaks to his tactics saw him develop Pirlo into a more defensive playmaker, while he created one of Europe's most deadly strike parings in Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi.

Two Champions League titles would follow in 2003 against Juventus and in 2007 against Liverpool - gaining a measure of revenge following the 2005 final in Istanbul where his side threw away a 3-0 lead to eventually lose to the Reds on penalties.

Although this era also saw the emergence of Kaka, it strangely brought only one Italian title in 2004 over a period of eight years before he was poached by Chelsea.

Roberto di Matteo (Chelsea)

You are unlikely to see more contrasting fortunes in eight months of running a football club. It's also likely to be one of the few occasions a manager can be sacked at the end of that spell and leave with his reputation enhanced among fans.

Di Matteo started the 2011-12 season as an assistant manager to new boss Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea - a sensible choice given his playing history at the club where he won two FA Cups (scoring in both finals) and a Cup Winners' Cup between 1996 and 2002.

But once Villas-Boas was sacked with Chelsea on the brink of Champions League elimination to Napoli in the last-16, the Italian was given the reins until the end of the season with hopes on just trying to land a top-four finish.

He failed in that aspect finishing only sixth... but he made up for it by masterminding an astonishing run to the Champions League final, defeating holders Barcelona with 10 men at the Nou Camp in the semi-final along the way, before then seeing off Bayern Munich in their own back yard.

Di Matteo became the first, and so far only, Chelsea manager to lift the Champions League and he also had the bonus of an FA Cup final win as well.

The Blues board were still reluctant to give him the job on a permanent basis, but backed into a corner handed him it full-time. However, Premier League form failed to improve and he was sacked just months later in November 2012 following a Champions League defeat in Juventus which left them on the brink of being the first holders to bow out at the group stage.

Kevin Keegan (Newcastle United)

The proof that you can leave a managerial position at a club without winning anything and still be a legend, and it's easy to see why with Keegan at Newcastle. His Toon side will go down as one of the best sides to never land a major trophy.

By the time Keegan had rocked up to Newcastle in 1982 he was already near the end of his career but his two years at the club saw him score 48 goals in just 78 games as he helped them back into the top flight before retiring. Eight years later he was back at St James' Park, this time to start his managerial career, to help steer the Toon clear of relegation trouble in the second tier at the end of the 1991-92 season.

After securing promotion to the Premier League in his first full season in charge, Keegan wasted little time in building not just one of the most eye catching sides in the Premier League but also one of the best as the goal-scoring exploits of Andy Cole helped form the early days of Newcastle's greatest Premier League run to date.

Even once Cole was sold, he was replaced by Les Ferdinand, and with the addition of flair player David Ginola to compliment the experience of Peter Beardsley, Keegan's side were soon dominating the Premier League as the team dubbed 'The Entertainers' went 12 points clear at the top in the 1995-96 season.

But as form wobbled and Keegan got involved with Sir Alex Ferguson's mind games and his infamous 'I will love it if we beat them' tirade, Manchester United relentlessly pounced with a winning run to snatch the title on the final day.

Despite breaking the world transfer record to sign Alan Shearer for £15million from Blackburn, Newcastle would not get as close to the title again, and Keegan resigned halfway through the 1996-97 season. He returned to much fanfare in 2008 but resigned again in the same year after a falling out with owner Mike Ashley over matters in controlling the first team.

Graeme Souness (Liverpool)

Liverpool were left in a mini-crisis in early 1991 when Kenny Dalglish resigned as manager of the champions, but nobody could have expected it would take them nearly 30 years to recover from it.

In fact, there were hopes a rather smooth transition was taking place when, after a caretaker spell lasting 10 games over two months under Ronnie Moran was brought to an end, Dalglish's former Reds' team-mate Graeme Souness was brought in to steady the ship at the end of the 1990-91 campaign.

Souness was a midfield warrior for the Reds between 1978 and 1984 helping the club to five league titles and three European Cup wins, but his three years in the Anfield hotseat were far less successful.

Despite an FA Cup win in 1992, the Reds never looked like being the title contenders they had been on an annual basis nearly every season going back two decades as they finished sixth. Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman were making progress through the ranks but it wasn't quick enough to replace ageing stars such as legendary goal scorer Ian Rush, John Barnes and Steve McMahon.

Sixth place at the end of the campaign was the club's worst since 1965 and the first year of the Premier League only replicated the previous year's disaster.

Patience was starting to run thin among Reds supporters, and although the 1993-94 campaign began well they soon hit a winter slump. Defeat by Bristol City in the FA Cup third round at Anfield proved to be the final straw, with Souness resigning shortly after.

Ossie Ardiles (Tottenham Hotspur)

If there are any modern-day football fans unfamiliar with Ardiles managerial work at Tottenham, it's almost the complete opposite of Jose Mourinho - all-out attacking football but don't expect many wins at the end of it.

Ardiles was back at Spurs for the start of the 1993-94 season who, following an eighth-place finish in the first Premier League season, were in need of a boost.

The Argentine was a Spurs favourite given his 10-year spell at the club which came to an end in 1988, following a decade that brought him a UEFA Cup, two FA Cup wins and even a successful Cup final song.

But Ossie's dreams soon turned into a nightmare back at White Hart Lane. A positive start to the season hit 180 degrees once star striker Teddy Sheringham was sidelined for much of the campaign with injury resulting in Spurs only beating relegation on the penultimate day of the campaign and recording their worst Premier League finish of 15th.

Ardiles correctly identified goals were a problem and pulled off a masterstroke in bringing Jurgen Klinsmann to the club. But with a surplus of attacking players and not many defenders, the Argentine deployed a formation that at times resembled a 2-3-5 with Klinsmann, Sheringham, Darren Anderton, Nicky Barmby and summer arrival Ilie Dumitrescu leading the line.

Klinsmann and Sheringham found the net regularly... but so did the opposition. Results barely improved and once the goals up front started to dry up as well, Spurs looked in trouble. A 3-0 League Cup defeat at a Notts County side bottom of the second tier proved to be the end of Ardiles who was sacked shortly after.


After Arsenal opted for Unai Emery as Arsene Wenger's successor in the summer of 2018, that would have been a real blow for Arteta after it looked like he would be the man tasked with replacing the legendary Frenchman for quite some time.

But after Emery's failed tenure, Arsenal went back in for Arteta and in December 2019, he finally found himself in the hotseat. But it has been a very bumpy ride at the Emirates with a squad that has needed freshening up for quite a while now.

With the Gunners eight points off the top four when Emery was sacked, Arteta struggled to boost his new side's fortunes due to inconsistent displays and they ended up finishing eighth in the Premier League - a far cry from their glory days.

However, an FA Cup triumph at the end of last season, followed by victory over Liverpool in the resulting Community Shield was meant to be the start of something hopeful.

But quite quickly, the new season turned into a nightmare and as we reached Christmas, there was even some talk of a relegation battle. That threat has now disappeared but they still find themselves in the bottom half of the table, 11th to be precise, while out of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup already.

Arteta will be given time but their attacking performances this season will have worried fans and already their season is hinging on the Europa League, and it's not even March yet. There is still promise but there will need to be a dramatic upturn in form soon.


Pirlo was a huge star of the Juventus side between 2011 and 2015, winning four consecutive Serie A crowns and one Coppa Italia. But not long after moving onto New York City FC for the final two years of his career, the top job in Turin would come calling for him.

The legendary Italian midfielder was sensationally the man tasked with replacing Maurizio Sarri at Juventus, and it came quite the shock to football fans worldwide given his real lack of coaching experience.

And while there have been signs of encouragement, you can tell that he is an inexperienced manager, just like Arteta, who needs time to turn around his side's fortunes.

After nine consecutive Serie A titles, Juventus are in real danger of relinquishing their power over the rest of Italy - with Pirlo's side currently sitting third, seven points off Inter Milan with 15 matches remaining.

They have been very inconsistent in the Italian top-flight and while they have reached the Coppa Italia final, they find themselves in a precarious position in the Champions League - losing 2-1 to Porto ahead of the second leg of the last-16 tie in Turin.

The Juve hierarchy knew there would be ups and downs along the way with Pirlo but if his side fail to progress in the Champions League and don't put up a fight in Serie A, then who knows how long Pirlo's reign in Turin will last.


Lennon enjoyed a hugely successful period as a player of Celtic, making over 200 appearances - winning five Scottish Premiership titles, four Scottish Cups, two League Cups while helping guide the club to the 2003 UEFA Cup final.

And after leaving Celtic as a player in 2007, just three years later he would go onto manage the Scottish giants - in a period where they certainly enjoyed the bragging rights over their arch rivals Rangers.

During his first spell as boss, Lennon won three Premiership titles and two Scottish Cups. Lennon then departed Celtic for Bolton in 2014 but that wouldn't be the last we would see of him in Glasgow.

In February 2019, Lennon replaced Brendan Rodgers at Parkhead and then went onto help the club achieve an unprecedented third domestic treble - with Rodgers doing the majority of that work.

At the end of the season, he was appointed permanent manager and the 2019-20 campaign saw similar success as the previous one, winning the Scottish Premiership, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup.

But the next season quickly turned into a nightmare for him after failing to qualify for the Champions League group stage, elimination from the Europa League group stage, and exiting the League Cup at the second round.

And with Celtic miles off the pace in the league with Rangers running away with things, there were protests for his sacking and he duly quit earlier this week amid the dismal campaign.


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