When the player-manager was in vogue

The 1980’s invokes images of big hair, shoulder pads, crap but catchy pop tunes, blockbuster movies that were original and a time when there was only four TV channels to choose from.  It was also the period that the player manager became fashionable after Liverpool led the trend by appointing Kenny Dalglish as player manager who promptly led the reds to the double in his first season in charge.

Prior to 1985 the view was pretty much the same as now.  A manager needed to be experienced to manage at the top-level.  Furthermore a manager needed to take a detached view to assess the play and make changes when required.  Being on the pitch would limit that opportunity whilst also making the relationship with players slightly difficult.  The role of manager also means responsibilities off the pitch such as contracts, scouting, discussions with the coaching staff, and media work.  Something which can distract from concentrating on your game.

The only time that a player became a coach was either in a moment of instability such as the manager being dismissed.  In other circumstances it would be due to a lack of numbers such as when Don Revie had to name himself as a player when he first took charge of Leeds.  A player manager was never intended to be a long-term prospect.  That of course belonged to the comic pages of Roy of the Rovers.

One of the greatest players in the club’s illustrious history Kenny Dalglish could quite easily have hung up his boots and still have been a Liverpool legend.  As it was Kenny Dalglish was to become an icon for his achievements and statesman like support for the city.

There are no specific reasons as to why the Liverpool board decided to appoint Dalglish as manager.  With Fagan being the last of the original boot room staff perhaps they felt it was time for a new generation to lead Liverpool forward.  They may also have felt with the likes of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans as part of the backroom staff it would make the transition easier whilst Dalglish learned the ropes.  For extra support Bob Paisley was to provide assistance and advice when required.

With the aftermath of Heysel which led to English clubs being banned from Europe after Liverpool fans were responsible for the death of thirty-nine mainly Juventus supporters it was in some respects a season of uncertainty for the 1985-86 season.

Everton were very much in the ascendency whilst Manchester United’s ten straight wins to the season saw them viewed as genuine title contenders.  It seemed that this was to be a season of transition as Dalglish got to grips with management.  Alan Hansen would later complain to his friend and manager that it was the worst Liverpool team that he had played in.

That was something else that Kenny Dalglish had to get to grips with and that was the relationship between being a player and now being their boss.  It meant distancing himself away from his teammates and not allowing himself to be involved with the jokes of the changing room.  Now it was his responsibility not just to install discipline but ensure that there was no favouritism.  Players would have to be dropped even sold whilst Dalglish picked what he thought would be his best eleven. That incidentally also meant dropping himself if appropiate.

Despite all these problems Liverpool still managed to keep themselves within distance as Manchester United faltered.  However a 2-0 defeat at home against Merseyside rivals Everton in February saw many believing that the title would be staying at Goodison.

This though was when it started to resemble a story from Roy of the Rovers as Liverpool went on a twelve game unbeaten run gaining thirty-four points.  The turning point had been when Everton had unexpectedly lost 1-0 away to Oxford whilst Liverpool beat Leicester at Filbert street.  It meant that the title was no longer in Everton’s hands with Liverpool needing to beat Chelsea to clinch their sixteenth championship.

It was to be a spectacular goal from the player manager Kenny Dalglish as he carefully chested the ball with his upper body before rifling the ball into the Chelsea net.  No manager had single-handedly won the title but that goal by Dalglish did.

 

A week later Liverpool had the chance of becoming only the fifth club to win the ‘Double.’  Standing in Liverpool’s way was Everton who had narrowly missed out on winning the title.

Once again the story of the match resembled something out of the pages of Roy of the Rovers.  Everton started off well and took the lead courtesy of a Gary Lineker goal as they led at half-time.

The second half was to be Liverpool although a bust up between Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Beglin after a mix seemed to galvanise the team.  It was to be the finger tip save over the bar from Grobbelaar from a Graham Sharp header that was to be turning point.

By now Jan Molby was running the midfield and played the ball through for Everton’s kryptonite Ian Rush to equalise.  It was Molby again who set up Craig Johnston before Rush secured the cup and broke the camera as it hit the back of the net.

Image result for kenny dalglish 1986 cup final;

Wearing a large red hat and a beaming smile Kenny Dalglish had led Liverpool to an unexpected double.  Both on and off the pitch he had been influential in adding a new chapter of continued success for Liverpool.

The next season was to see Liverpool end the season empty-handed finishing runner-up to Everton in the league and being beaten by Arsenal 2-1 in the Littlewoods league cup final.

Although Dalglish had tried to restrict his presence on the pitch Liverpool still missed his influence.  Conscious that the team couldn’t rely on his presence on the pitch forever he aimed at bringing in players to remedy this concern.  Spending some of the money as Ian Rush had been sold to Juventus it was to lead to one of the most exciting Liverpool teams as Dalglish signed John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge, and Ray Houghton.

For the 1987-88 season Dalglish’s influence was now from the dug out as the reds ran away with the title going twenty nine games unbeaten.  A FA cup win the following season followed although that season would be remembered for the ninety-six lives lost at the semi-final at Hillsborough through the gross negligence of the Police and authorities responsible for hosting the venue.  Kenny Dalglish was to be a statesman and support for the club and the city of Liverpool during this traumatic time.

The club retained the title in 1990 with Kenny Dalglish to make his final bow as a player coming on as a substitute against Derby County on the 5th May when Liverpool had clinched their eighteenth league title.  A year later Kenny Dalglish had left Liverpool after the 4-4 all draw against Everton in the FA cup final.  The pressure and Hillsborough had caused a massive strain on Dalglish who for the sake of his health stepped down.

Due to the success of Kenny Dalglish there was a spate of player-managers.  Glasgow Rangers had decided to follow Liverpool’s lead and appointed Dalglish’s former team-mate Graeme Souness in 1986.  Prior to taking charge, Rangers had last won the league in 1978 with the only recent success coming in the Scottish league cup.  Aberdeen under Alex Ferguson prior to taking charge of Manchester United had knocked Rangers into the shade to become the dominant force in Scottish football.  With Celtic winning the title in 1986 Rangers felt that swift action was required to ensure that they did not stagnate further.

rangers_souness_0

As a player Souness was a proven winner as he won numerous league championships and European cups with Liverpool.  Sampdoria had also brought success with a Coppa Italia and he was still very much a formidable player at thirty-three.  With money to spend Souness signed the top stars of the English game.  The likes of Chris Woods, Terry Butcher, and Graham Roberts were signed.  Other English stars to follow were  Mark Walters, Gary Stevens, Trevor Stevens Ray Wilkins, and Trevor Francis.

It was to have an instant impact even though Graeme Souness was to mark his tenure on his debut by being sent off in the 34th minute for two straight yellows against Hibernian.  The second yellow could quite easily have been a red for what was a nasty challenge on George McCluskey.  Despite this Rangers won the Scottish Premier league and league cup beating Celtic in the final of Souness’s first season in charge.

During his time in Scotland Souness was constantly at loggerheads with the SFA with Souness admitting years later that he ‘was obnoxious and difficult to deal with.’  One touch-line ban saw Souness provocatively get round it by naming himself as a substitute.

Some viewed Souness’s time as manager of Rangers as a revolution and he certainly built the foundations for the Gers dominance and nine in a row Premier league titles.  Souness also has to be given credit for ending the club’s sectarian view on not signing Catholic players.  Of course there was controversy when Souness signed Mo Johnston in the summer of 1989.  To add fuel to the fire Johnston had reneged on agreeing to re-join his former club Celtic meaning he received from both sides.

Souness was unperturbed and simply stated that he signed players purely on their footballing ability and not the religion of the footballer.

Following Dalglish’s shock resignation from Liverpool it was Souness who promptly accepted the offer to join his former club in April 1991.  That though was not to be successful.  Apart from an FA cup, Souness was unable to bring the success that Liverpool had become accustomed to.

Other clubs seeing the success that Dalglish and Souness had brought to Liverpool and Rangers felt it was the way forward.  One of the reasons was that a big name could attract the best players.  Seeing a renowned player manager gave the impression that the club had ambition.  Furthermore it also meant having an experienced head on the field and with the likes of Glenn Hoddle who was in the autumn of his career could still be influential on the pitch for Swindon Town and Chelsea respectively.

Hoddle became the second-player manager to lead Chelsea to the FA cup final against Manchester United.  Naming himself as a substitute and coming on in the sixty-eighth minute for Craig Burley there was no inspired come back as Chelsea were soundly thrashed by Manchester United to claim their first double.

The former Everton star midfielder Peter Reid became Player-Manager of Manchester City after Howard Kendall returned to his former love and club Everton in November 1990.  It didn’t bring Manchester City any silverware but brought stability and whilst Reid was in charge a hope that they were building towards something long-term.

After Lennie Lawrence had failed to get Middlesbrough promoted straight back to the Premier League the club’s chairman Steve Gibson turned to Manchester United’s Bryan Robson who became player manager in the summer of 1994.  It was seen as a mutual arrangement for both parties.  For Bryan Robson it was a chance to cut his teeth in management away from the harsh glare of Old Trafford as well as a chance to keep on playing.  Of course Robson saw it is a learning curve with the ambition at the time to replace Alex Ferguson when he decided to retire or to take the England job.  With Middlesbrough promising the financial backing it was a job that Robson felt was hard to refuse.

For the Teessiders it was a signal of intent and that the club were ambitious in not just getting back into the Premier league but to be a footballing force.  With a shiny new stadium far removed from the dilapidated and tired Ayresome park it meant that with Bryan Robson in charge that they could show how serious the club was in trying to attract the best talent.

It certainly worked with Robson leading Boro to promotion to the Premier league as Champions.  This was to be an exciting period for Middlesbrough with the club living up to its ambitions.  Juninho was in many respects a shock signing as Robson signed the Brazilian from São Paulo for £4.75 million in October 1995.  Seen as one of the best young Brazilian prospects not many expected Juninho to sign for a newly promoted club that had been in many respects been a yo-yo club between the divisions.

Image result for bryan robson and juninho

The signings didn’t stop there with Ravanelli and Emerson also purchased in the summer of 1996.  It was a season in some respects to rival Sky’s football soap Dream Team that also began in that year.  Middlesbrough suffered a three-point deduction for not fulfilling a league game against Blackburn Rovers.  Robson cited a bug that had hit the squad but the FA felt that it was too late notice and that Boro could have fielded a team hence the points deduction.  Ironically the three points was the difference between staying in the Premier league and were relegated as a result.

However the drama didn’t stop there as Middlesbrough reached two cup finals for the first time in their history.  Both were to end unhappily as Boro lost to Leicester in a league cup final replay 1-0 after drawing the first game at Wembley 1-1.  The FA cup final was to end in defeat as Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.  Ironically Chelsea’s manager Ruud Gullit was also a player as was Gianluca Vialli when Chelsea again beat Boro 2-0 in the 1998 league cup final.  Neither Robson who had played his last game as a footballer in January 1997 against Arsenal or Gullit would play in the respective final.

That though was to be the height of Robson’s managerial career.  Although they won promotion back to the flight at the first attempt that was about as good as it got.  Middlesbrough still signed the top stars such Boksic, Ince, and Karembeu but Robson was unable to win the club silverware.  He resigned as manager in 2001 with his replacement Steve McClaren winning Boro’s first trophy the league cup after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at Cardiff’s Millennium stadium.

Chelsea seemed to think that the player-manager was still in vogue with Ruud Gullit being appointed player-manager.  Although sacked nine months later after winning the FA cup he would later describe his time at Chelsea as the ‘happiest time in his career.’

Gianluca Vialli was Gullit’s replacement and again he was also player-manager in 1998.  This though was to be the last time time that a player-manager would be appointed full time with a top flight club.

Success also came Vialli’s way as he led and played in the 1998 Cup Winners Cup final with Chelsea beating Stuttgart 1-0 courtesy of a Zola goal.  Vialli also played the full ninety minutes of the final although did not start or name himself for the League cup final when Chelsea beat Middlesbrough 2-0.

eb9d34cc5e4ec6dfa3972c0b5e221e8d

That though was to be the Indian summer for the player-manager as the big clubs gravitated back to the experienced coaches.  Now the criteria was a manager’s past success and whether he was tactically astute.  A footballing legend as player-manager is no longer a pull of ambition to attract the top stars.

Of course there are other reasons why the player-manager has fallen by the wayside.  As previously stated the role has become much bigger in terms of dealing with off the pitch activities expected of a manager.  This can vary from dealing with contracts, agents, scout players and the opposition as well as having to constantly deal with media demands.  Managing full time can be a tough and lonely job without the added worry of your current form as a player to contend with.

A Premier league manager is now expected to hold a UEFA pro licence which again means a player finding the time to complete and pass prior to a football club offering a manager’s job.

There still has been player-managers in recent years but these have been more of an emergency due to the manager being sacked.  Garry Monk for example was interim manager after Brian Laudrup was sacked in 2014, whilst Ryan Giggs was an interim manager for Manchester United in 2014 after David Moyes was dismissed.

With expectations and the pressure to succeed so high football clubs are now reluctant to take a chance with a young player manager.  There is also less job security as a football manager with clubs getting itchy as soon as the team hits a bad patch of form.  Consequently most clubs would rather now go for experience believing it to have a higher chance of success rather than pitching into the unknown.

Nevertheless there is a certain bit of magic and drama of having a player-manager in charge of your football club especially if he scores the winner that clinches the league title.    After all isn’t that part of the charm of football that it brings unreal magic and stories that would make the editor of Roy of the Rovers think twice as a story line?

The shadow of the FA Cup

Despite hype from the BBC and BT sports there was a time when the third round of the FA Cup was genuinely something that people got excited about.  For starters it was a trophy that was worth winning.  On a sunny May morning everybody would tune in from breakfast with the two finalists right up to the final whistle and presentation of the Cup.  There would even be street parties in the cities or towns that reached the Cup final.

The third round was a chance for clubs who perhaps had not made the best of starts to the season and could rescue it with a good cup run.  There was excited talk of ‘whose name was on the trophy,’ which would refer to those teams that somehow scraped through via a last-minute equaliser for a replay and to win the replayed tie with a bobbled goal on a muddy pitch.

Giant killing was something that was always discussed as lower league clubs got a chance to host and possibly knock out one of the top dogs.  It was a chance to be forever remembered like Hereford’s Ronnie Radford’s winning goal that knocked out Newcastle United.  Then of course there is Mickey Thomas’s winning goal for  fourth division Wrexham against Arsenal in 1992.

Gradually though and certainly after the Premier league had started the FA cup started to lose its allure.  Most point to the FA allowing Manchester United to abstain from the 1999-00 competition in order to allow United to compete in the World Club cup.  Although it was a nail in the coffin for the FA cup it wasn’t just that moment.  It could be argued that it was already building up to the FA cup losing its sparkle but it certainly speeded up the process with the FA voluntarily undermining their own competition.

As always it is a culmination of events that saw the FA cup become a competition that became less attractive.  With the newly formed Premier league formed in 1992 it became apparent that money was the big appeal.   Thanks to the mammoth TV money of Sky that was pumped into the Premier league the gulf in finances between those football clubs that were unlucky not to be in the ‘big,’ league grew with those playing in the elite league more interested in bank balances with the Premier league the be all and end all.

During this period UEFA decided to revamp their club competitions in order to placate the big clubs who felt the current set up did not suit their needs.  To avoid the threat of a breakaway European Super league or even an alternative European cup, UEFA made significant changes to the European Champions cup.

You didn’t need to be the actual champion of your league you could finish second for what would now be called the Champions league.  Eventually for the main leagues the top three places would guarantee you a spot with the fourth placed team being able to take part providing they could get through a two-legged qualifier.

Once in you now played the first proper stage in eight groups of four teams with the top two qualifying for the knock out stages of the last sixteen.  There was none of those risky two-legged affairs were a bad result meant that you were out.  Furthermore there was a guaranteed income as huge money was also pumped into the Champions league.  The UEFA cup became the poor relative and rebranded as the Europa league.   It now became a competition so long-winded with the financial reward nothing compared to the Champions league that a lot of clubs saw it as more of a hindrance.  Incidentally the Cup winners cup became defunct.

It now meant that for clubs the priorities changed.  Whether it was staying in the Premier league or trying to finish in the top four the FA cup became less of a priority.  As more and more money was being pumped into the Premier and Champions league it made supporters accountants.  Incredibly fans would be talking about a good season being finishing in the top four over a good run and possibly winning the FA cup.  Slowly the romance and excitement of the FA cup was eroding as there would be a shrug of the shoulders if their team was knocked out.  The Premier league was all that mattered rather than the glory of a Cup win.

Slowly over time football clubs started to play weaker teams citing that the Premier league took priority.  Previously this would have caused uproar but again there are the nods of the head from some fans who believe it to be the right thing to do.  This season’s third round for example Bournemouth played with a different and weaker XI to their previous league game.  None of it makes sense especially as Bournemouth look comfortable in the league that you would think they would give the FA cup a serious go and a chance of winning a trophy.

Football is about the memories, the day outs and the drama if you go all the way.  Which supporter honestly remembers a season of mediocrity by finishing tenth?  Instead its the trips, and last-minute winners that stick long in the mind.  But again the money of the Premier league overrules any romance.

Another attraction of the FA cup was getting to Wembley.  To see your team play amongst the white towers and to play on that beautiful lawn of a pitch.  It made all those earlier rounds of scraping through on farm fields of a pitch more worthwhile.  Furthermore it made you feel exclusive that your club was one of the few that had the chance of playing at one of the cathedrals of football which was Wembley.

Money though inevitably talks that the semi-finals were no longer played at neutral club grounds like Old Trafford or Villa Park they would all be played at Wembley.  Once again the FA undermined their own competition and upped it by changing the kick off time for the final to five o’clock simply to satisfy TV companies.

The FA cup is only just above the league cup in terms of prestige and that’s only because of its history.  Even then some clubs see it as an inconvenience and only start to take it seriously if they get to the semi-finals.

Money has been one of the major factors on why the FA cup is not as prestigious as it once was.  It certainly hasn’t been helped by the FA who have undermined the Cup.

Winning the FA cup was something major.  It made the headlines and legends were made.  Liverpool for example despite winning league championships only felt that they became part of the elite after beating Leeds United in the 1965 FA cup final.  Then there is the Stanley Matthews final of 1953 or what about second division Sunderland in one of the big cup upsets as they beat Leeds 1-0?  Coventry beating Spurs 3-2 is one of the great cup finals and then Wimbledon preventing Liverpool winning a double with a Sanchez header to claim the Cup.

The competition it was said also saved Alex Ferguson from being sacked as the Manchester United Manager in 1990.  Mark Robins goal against Nottingham Forest in the third round being credited as the goal that saved him.  You only have to see the picture of Alex Ferguson lovingly cradling the FA cup after United beat Crystal Palace in a replay to see how much it meant to him.  Ironically winning the FA cup was not enough to save Louis Van Gaal’s job as Man Utd manager last season.

It’s hard to see if the FA cup will ever regain its former glory especially as it is seen as the poor relative.  At present money seems to talk but as previously stated the FA has not done enough to protect or promote its competition.

Maybe there will be a time when supporters will demand that their clubs take the FA cup serious and see a good cup run as a distraction from a poor season like it did in the past.  After all nobody dreams of scoring a goal to secure fourth place but of a rocket goal in the last-minute that dramatically wins your club the FA cup.

Brian Benjamin