THE evidence that great players become great managers is scant. It rests largely on such as Franz Beckenbauer and Dino Zoff talking national sides to the ultimate triumph. It does not, however, survive forensic scrutiny, save for brilliant exceptions.
Great players can become great managers but one skill does not translate into the other. Bobby Charlton walked away from Preston North End in 1975, accepting that management was never going to be his forte. Others have tried and failed.
The success of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona lends weight to the great player/great manager theory but he has been eclipsed by another great player, one who could give encouragement to Zinedine Zidane as he steps into the lead role of the extraordinary drama that is Real Madrid.
Zidane has great players, including a candidate for best in the world, a strong backroom staff and the infrastructure that should leave him time to concentrate on tactics and selection. His strongest trait may be that he is respected for his abilities as a player. Rafa Benitez had no such currency and his managerial past was also tainted by failure and an obstinacy that could be characterised as arrogance. Zizou, at least in the short term, will have the players on his side. How long this patience lasts depends on results.
The best player to become the best manager is, perhaps, Jupp Heynckes, though Kenny Dalglish for his achievements at Blackburn Rovers and in his first spell at Liverpool deserves the most honourable of mentions. There will be those who scream that Guardiola must be the best in this category but Heynckes defeats him in three categories. As a player, he won the World Cup and European Champions. As a manager, he is better than Guardiola in two aspects: he won the European Cup/Champions League with two different sides (Real Madrid and Bayern Munich) and he won a treble with Munich. Guardiola can achieve both these managerial feats this year but his spell at Bayern has been disappointing in that a general superiority has not been translated into the tsunami of trophies that marked his time at Barcelona. He has been very successful, with one domestic double and a world club championship. Just not as successful at Heynckes was in his last year.
As he prepares to leave Munich, the Champions League must be Guardiola’s priority now that the Bundesliga is almost within his grasp.
In Spain, Zizou will reflect that La Liga and the Champions League are still possible, though Real are favourites for neither. He will try to repeat the feats of Heynckes without sharing the fate of the German. Heynckes won the European Cup with Real and was sacked. He won the treble – Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League – with Bayern and was told to vacate his office for a certain Guardiola.
Greatness as a player and a manager does not make one invulnerable to the whims of fitba’.
By Hugh MacDonald